Use Routine to Help Your ADHD Child Start the Day Off Right

parenting kids with adhd

It's a topic that for most parents needs no explanation. Slogging through a before-school routine can challenge ADHD kids who naturally resist structure. How do you dodge conflict and instill sound habits during the morning crunch time? It just takes practice, say the experts.

The Kids Benefit Most

Few adults enjoy grinding through a routine but most admit they are a fail-safe way to get things done. Kids, on the other hand, don't necessarily buy into that. This is especially true of ADHD kids who struggle to stay focused on what they must accomplish before school and in what order to do them. Waking up on time, tidying their beds, bathing, and getting dressed may seem too complicated, according to this article in Healthline. If kids don't feel they can finish on time, they grow frustrated and give up.

If your child hasn't had success with routines before, try convincing him that he'll be the one to benefit most. So, talk up the rewards of before-school regimens: always having time for his favorite breakfast, never showing up at school without the right shoes, not forgetting lunch money or homework, even carving out a few minutes to play. If it's him rather than you who gains, he may get on board.

Morning Routines Start at Night

Your morning sprint should begin the night before. That's when you lay the groundwork for the high-stress mornings. Start by jotting down a simple list of tasks that must get done before your child heads to school. Then decide which can be done ahead without subtracting too much time from your evening. This planning stage is one extra step, but it adds precious time to your morning routine and might ensure that things run smoother.


Here are a few suggestions for an effective nightly ritual:

  • Get kids to bed early. Performing well in school, says Dr. John Taylor, requires they sleep about 10 hours. If your child has trouble dozing off, try creating a more peaceful environment. Reading stories and listening to music may calm them. You can also offer a snack of turkey or chicken along with milk. These foods contain tryptophan, a protein that encourages sleep.
  • Have kids bathe at night. This reduces the chance of time-killing bathroom squabbles in the morning.
  • Plan wardrobes--your child's and yours. Set out not only clothes and shoes but outerwear such as scarves, mittens, and boots.
  • Prepare backpacks, ensuring they contain homework, books, pens and paper. Set backpacks by the outside door so they're not forgotten.
  • Fix lunches or arrange lunch money.
  • Set the breakfast table.
  • Pad the alarm clock to ring ahead of the time you and your child need to be out of bed. The ten minutes of sleep you've been robbed won't hurt as much when you've avoided stresses such as racing to catch the bus.

Wake Them, Nice and Easy

Success with your morning routine depends on more than just finishing tasks on time. It also requires a calmer pace. When your child feels less pressured, she might be more receptive to the regimen you've established.

Wake-up time shouldn't go past 7 am, but go easy when rousing kids from sleep. Avoid bursting into the room and yanking down the blankets. Instead, try whispering 'good morning' in your child's ear or stroking her face with a cool washcloth. One ritual she might enjoy is setting a glass of juice or mug of hot cocoa on her nightstand.

It's wise to set an alarm. Just make sure to choose one that doesn't have a startling ring. ADHD kids are especially sensitive to loud noises. Consider an alarm that plays music instead. If your child has no problem sleeping through the alarm, Dr. Taylor suggests setting it somewhere in the room where your child must get out of bed to turn it off. And she'll be sure to hear it if you've placed the clock inside a metal pie plate and thrown in some dimes that rattle when the alarm sounds.

If your child takes ADHD medication in the morning, you can give him a small dose about a half hour before wake-up time. Then allow him to relax or go back to sleep until it's time to get out of bed. He can take the rest of the dose at the usual time.

Relinquish (Some) Control


Yes, you must monitor your child's morning activities but don't even think about crowding her space. ADHD kids become defiant under pressure.

Instead of following your child around with a clipboard, let her run the show. When blogger Penny Williams wanted to keep her 9-year-old ADHD son on schedule, she created a checklist of what he needed to do before school. Williams laminated the list and attached paper clips on either side. The clips served as pointers, showing which task her son was on. She then allowed her son to control the list, carrying it with him and moving the clips to chart his progress. As a special treat for him, the last item on the list was a reward. If he completed all tasks by a certain time, a treat awaited him.

Mealtime offers another chance to put your kid in charge. A protein-rich breakfast prepares your child for a long day at school. But if sitting down with the family is too structured for him, allow him to eat in his room or on the go. Many healthy foods transport well, such as breakfast sandwiches on whole-grain bread, cheese chunks, fruit, breakfast bars, and yogurt.

Exercise Works the Brain and Diffuses Morning Tension

school bus

Routines to ADHD kids are not mindless activities. They demand attention, self-control, and commitment. Sometimes just the idea of being held to a standard will frustrate your child, pushing him to quit.

Such pitfalls might be avoided by adding exercise to his morning regimen. Not only is exercise fun, it stimulates the brain's ability to perform the mental processes required to tackle a routine. Science backs this up. Researchers from the University of Vermont and Michigan State University have shown that ADHD children who participated in before-school exercise performed better in class.

Exercise can also diffuse stress your child might feel over having to finish things on time. You don't need to sign her up for morning yoga classes. Simply allowing extra time to run in the yard or dance along with morning TV shows can relieve boredom, setting her at ease even though the clock is ticking.

By Michele Vrouvas
February 2017
parenting kids with adhd parenting tips & tricks

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