How I Fixed My ADHD Family’s Morning Routine
A smart morning routine — thoughtfully planned and religiously executed — can reduce your family’s daily chaos and stress, though it won’t happen instantly. The trick is exercising patience and praise as you follow these guidelines for getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door on time and with all socks, shoes, and backpacks accounted for.
Without our bullet-proof morning routine, there isn’t enough coffee in the world to help me manage my family’s chaos. Before our routine, rousing my oldest was like waking the dead. My other two, meanwhile, would take a bite or two of their protein-filled breakfast while whining for frosted cereal, begging, “Please, can we watch TV?”
Many mornings would go like this: When I would ask them to get dressed, put homework in backpacks, and meet me by the front door after brushing their teeth, only one would show up, with no shoes or pants on. I’d spend the next 10 minutes shouting orders while pulling on socks. The youngest, meanwhile, would sometimes start crying. As we finally drove off to school, my oldest would turn to me, unprovoked, and say she hates me. And then we were late for school – again.
There’s no magic fix for such chaos when you have one or more kids with ADHD. Their brains are under-stimulated in the area responsible for planning, organising, and working memory. Caregivers, then, need to work on reinforcing these skills for longer than they do for neurotypical children. Setting up a clear morning routine can work wonders in putting everyone’s best foot forward.
What Is a Good Morning Routine for ADHD Families?
Setting up a good morning routine begins well before the morning of. It starts with preparation days before, along with communication on best steps to make sure everyone is on the same page.
To counter erratic mornings, start by creating a weekly overview of what’s to come. While steps in my morning — like brushing your teeth or making the bed — may not change on a daily basis, erratic changes like dentist appointments, a hockey tournament, or a school project can certainly throw off mornings and create unpredictable situations.
The weekly overview, therefore, should be reviewed every night with everyone in the family. You’ll soon note that the kids will start to plan ahead themselves and come to feel more secure about the week ahead.
Here are other ideas to make the most out of a morning routine:
1. Shape your child’s path by using visual prompts or morning routine checklists that remind them what to do or ensure that potential distractions are out of sight. Giving multi-step directions to a child with a working memory deficit means they may hear only the first or last steps, so visual cues can help. A path may look like physically setting out clothes, a favourite hat, a notebook and pen, and a sticky note with a written reminder before going to bed.
2. Always take off shoes by the front door and place in a basket, so they don’t get lost in the morning flurry.
3. Automate everything you can think of — eventually, your child will do these things on his own.
Help for the Morning Meal Routine
Take the guesswork out of breakfast by co-designing a menu for the week with the family — you’ll reduce morning stress and ensure that your children get the brain food they need to start the day off right.
Preparing breakfast with the family on a Sunday, for instance, can make the rest of the week go smoothly. You can prepare a batch of batter for quick pancakes, slice fruit and stick it in the fridge, cook sausages so they can quickly heated up in the microwave — the possibilities are seemingly endless. Bonus points for making it easy for your child to prepare breakfast themselves! A chart with the week’s breakfast in the kitchen for all to see can also help.
Involve Your Children
Your children may not be able to use a knife or stove, but they can pass things, break eggs, or set the table. The more involved they are, the more likely they will eat the food that is prepared. This will also instill responsibility in them as they come to understand their part in having an organised, efficient morning.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
These breakfast-time tips won’t instantly change a child’s ability to sit quietly while eating, so be flexible. Some behaviours, like standing to eat, are biological responses that can’t be helped. If they need to stand to eat, let them. If they need to do a lap mid-meal, it’s OK. Your kids will eventually be able to sit through breakfast and all other mealtimes as they mature.
A Good Morning Routine Begins the Night Before
Children with ADHD are notoriously bad sleepers. For some, it’s the residual effect of ADHD medication. For others, it’s hyperactivity. Key to a peaceful and successful morning routine is a fairly rigid evening routine that starts with a consistent (and early) bedtime.
The Right Time to Snooze
Many parents put off bedtime for their kids until late, hoping that they’re exhausted and practically begging for sleep. But this actually has the opposite effect.
When the body misses its natural sleep window, a child becomes overtired, can’t fall asleep, wakes frequently, and sometimes winds up crawling into bed with you. To avoid this, do the following:
1. Watch for signs of tiredness (yawning and stretching).
2. Move bedtime to an earlier hour.
3. Eliminate screen watching at least an hour before bedtime, and establish a nighttime ritual: candles and lavender soap (calming), story time, a song, lights out.
Consistency is crucial. This may mean declining the invitation to the back-to-school dinner or the basketball party. Or, if you go, anticipate the probable meltdown afterward and prepare accordingly.
Set an Intention
It’s important to impress upon your child that they can be in control of how they want the morning to go.
Teaching your child to write down or state intentions can set them up for a better day, and can lead to the formation of positive habits. Intentions can take on the form of: I’m going to wake up feeling rested or I’m going to have a super smooth morning!
Integrate Self-Care Into Your Morning Routine
Exercise, meditation, affirmations, reading, writing, and visualisation can all help with reducing stress for everyone in the family, helping that much more with better mornings. Practicing daily visualisation for a couple of minutes, like lying in bed, listening to a song, and envisioning how we want our day to go can help you feel more calm, inspired, and focused.
Our sensitive kids are also highly attuned to our energy, so if we’re feeling rushed, stressed, or frustrated, our kids will know it (likely before we do). It’s critical that we do our own work to set our energy each morning — anything from a minute of conscious breathing or doing a guided meditation (I love the app Headspace for this) to going for a walk or engaging in living room yoga. Taking this time helps to quell the morning chaos puts us in the best frame of mind to deal with challenging situations that may arise.
Praise Progress on the Morning Routine
A new morning routine won’t take hold overnight, but implementing the structure and encouraging these behaviours will pay off. Reinforcing good behaviour with praise is essential, so compliment and reward your child when they do something right. And be patient with yourself. You will falter, but stick with it. One day, the dreaded witching hour may turn into sweet, cozy family time that you greet with a smile.