Mastering a Morning School Routine With Your ADHD Child
Morning school routines are hard with any child, but with ADHD children, they’re near impossible. Getting ready for school in the morning requires a lot of precise steps—children must eat breakfast, brush their teeth, wash their face, brush their hair and get dressed all within a short amount of time. Trying to make it out the door in just enough time make the first bell is stressful, and as any parent with an ADHD child knows, stressful situations don’t bring out the best in their children.
If your little one has ADHD and if you’re finding it difficult if not impossible to get out the door in the mornings without someone shedding tears, we understand your frustration. Fortunately, our team at The Reynolds Clinic has extensive experience in dealing with children and adults with a multitude of learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, and we have helped countless parents develop morning routines that allow them to get out the door with their patience and sanity intact.
Now we want to help you.
Use this guide to master your mornings with your ADHD child and to enjoy your time together before school rather than simply deal with it.
Be Prepared the Night Before
Being prepared the night before is helpful with any school aged person, but it is especially so with ADHD children. Have everything ready to go before your kid goes to bed each night. Lie out their clothes, place their shoes and backpack by the door and let them pick out what they want to eat for breakfast. Lay their toothpaste, toothbrush, washcloth and hair brush on the bathroom counter, making it easy for them to know what to do and in what order to do them in.
Wake Them Gently
Nobody likes being woken roughly, and the same can be said for your ADHD child. Don’t rip the covers off of them or turn on all the lights at once; instead, ease them into the world by rubbing their back until they starts to open their eyes, or tickle them awake, as laughter is always a good way to start the day. If your youngster is older, set an alarm clock to go off half an hour before they have to get up. However, forgo the loud, buzzing alarm and choose something a little more soothing, such as birds chirping or music playing. Every person is different, so determine what works for you and your child and go with that.
Control the Environment
It is up to you to set the tone for your little one’s day, which you can do by creating an appropriate environment on weekday mornings. While it may be common for other parents to allow their children to watch TV with breakfast or to wake up with their favorite show, this won’t work with your child. If your adolescent does need stimulation, play gentle music in the background. Furthermore, keep lights dim. Bright lights in the morning can agitate your child’s senses, which, as you know, can significantly disrupt your child’s train of thought. Avoid fluorescent lights as well, which can have the same effect.
Don’t Stress Breakfast
Unfortunately, even if you plan everything to a T the night before, there is no telling how the next morning is going to go. Brushing your child’s hair might be an ordeal one morning when normally it isn’t. Getting them out of bed might prove more trying if they had a bad dream the night before. The garbage truck might distract them when normally it doesn’t. The best way to navigate these distractions is to have a backup plan.
Have cereal bars on hand for your kid to enjoy on the way to school, or buy yogurt smoothies for them to enjoy. If you have time on Saturday or Sunday, make breakfast burritos for the week, which you can heat up in a minute and allow your child to enjoy in the car. Think in terms of portable breakfasts—protein bars, smoothies, protein shakes, parfaits, fruit, breakfast sandwiches, etc.—and you might find that your mornings go a lot more smoothly.
Find Time to Let Your Child Move
Children with ADHD need to be allowed to move as much as possible. To make the most of your mornings, let your child spend 10 to 15 minutes playing outside, or if the weather is bad, let them dance around the living room. Play along with them if you have time, as doing so will inject good energy into their day.
This will probably be the most important thing you do every morning, as your child feeds off of your energy and not the other way around. We know that it may seem impossible that they take their cues from you, but they do. Yelling at your little one or making threats will only send them into an emotional upheaval, which can set you back precious minutes. If your kid is particularly difficult one morning, take a deep breath, ask them to stop what they’re doing and calmly tell them that if they don’t start doing what you ask there will be consequences. Set a good example for them—if you’re calm, they’ll be calm too, but if you overreact, so will they.
Use Behavior Charts
Every juvenile reacts kindly to rewards and your ADHD child is no different. However, while some experts will tell you to use behavior charts for everything, doing so is actually counterproductive. If your child learns that they get rewarded for every little thing they do, and that the most that can happen for not following the rules is no sticker on the chart, they’ll start to pick and choose when they want to behave. Use behavior charts sparingly, and when you need them the most (such as in the mornings), to see the most results.
Behavior charts tend to work with most children with ADHD, as most children diagnosed with the disorder are visual learners. To make things easier on your child, create a chart that has the specific morning tasks you want them to complete, in the order you want them completed in, and by the time you want them completed. Every time they complete one task, allow them to move a paperclip or clothespin down to the next. At the end, put something like, “If completed by 7:30 am, you may earn one dollar to use towards a new toy.”
Try to include a visual next to each task item just to make sure your child fully comprehends what they’re supposed to be doing.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Parenting is hard enough as is, and every child poses his or her own learning curve. Children with ADHD are especially challenging though, and they can make their parents feel as if they are doing everything wrong. If this is how you feel, just know that you’re doing nothing wrong. It can be difficult to get a little one with to complete even just one task on schedule, but ask them to do a multitude of tasks in just 45 minutes to an hour and it’s like pulling teeth. While you may always have your hands full with your little one, you can at least make things easier on yourself (and him or her) by using the tips above. Be prepared, take control and be flexible. And most important of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Read our guide on Raising Kids With ADHD When You Have ADHD Too if that’s your case. And we have another general guide for families with girls that got diagnosed ADHD.
At The Reynolds Clinic, we strive to help parents and children alike deal with their disorders together. By working as a team, parent and child can accomplish much more than had they tried to do things their own way. If you’re tired of fighting with your child every morning, reach out to our team today to learn more about how you and your child can work together to create a harmonious morning routine.