No-Nag Morning Routines for Kids with ADHD

When your child has ADHD, each morning can be a battle. I invented a system to help everyone stick to the routine — without nagging.

A child with ADHD who has an effective morning routine

Getting my two children with ADHD up, dressed, and out the door every morning is a major accomplishment, as I’m sure it is in your house. Or should I say, an ordeal? I used to leave the house exhausted, feeling like I just completed a marathon. I felt like someone should be standing in my driveway, handing me a trophy.

These days, my mornings are less exhausting and more peaceful, thanks to a system I developed. After one particularly rough morning, a couple of months ago, I drove to school realizing I had used more energy in 90 minutes than I would expend during the rest of the day.

I asked myself: Why am I the only one who cares about getting out of the house on time, with lunches packed and teeth brushed? How can I get my kids to care? I realized that I needed to make the “invisible” visible for my kids. That’s what inspired me to develop my “morning magnet” system. I no longer nag them to do every single task. I just worry about getting myself ready.

How I Got Started

I hung a magnetic dry-erase board on my fridge. Using colorful tape, I divided it into two columns (“Not Done”/“Done”) and two rows (one for each child). I bought a set of magnets for each child, and I drew a small picture and keyword on each magnet in permanent marker, to represent all the morning tasks. Our list includes: get dressed, put on socks, put on shoes, make bed, put lunch in backpack, place backpack at the back door, place jacket with your backpack, gather everything you will want in the car, eat breakfast, take meds, clean dishes, brush teeth. The last three tasks are starred, which means they are done after breakfast.

When my kids come downstairs, I don’t let them eat breakfast until they’ve “played their magnets.” This means they look at each magnet, one by one, and do each task on it. As they complete a task, they move that magnet to the opposite side of the board. When all non-starred magnets have been moved, I serve them breakfast. After breakfast, they do the rest of their tasks — represented by the magnets with stars on them. All I need to do is check where the magnets are on the board.

Backpacks Up! Shoes On!

To get out the door on time, I use the Time Timer app. This allows the children to “see” time disappearing. (Remember, my goal is to make the “invisible” visible for my kids.) I set one timer as the deadline for eating breakfast and another timer as the “out the door” deadline.

My morning nagging immediately decreased by 80 to 90 percent. Both of my kids instantly understood the process. Some mornings, they need more prodding to play their magnets than others. But, overall, our mornings are far less tiring.

Why Magnets Work

My kids used to argue with me every morning, but they never argue with the magnets. The magnets are a neutral third party. They make daily tasks visible and non-negotiable. The magnets are also engaging. They can be manipulated. Touching and moving the magnets is rewarding for my kids.

The magnets give my children a healthy sense of “control.” The magnets reduce morning friction a lot, but there are days when one of my kids will stall over something simple, like brushing teeth. When this happens, it needs to become the child’s problem, not mine. There should be a consequence for being late or stalling, other than just listening to me nag.

In our house, we have an allowance system. If someone is having trouble completing a “magnet task,” it will cost him. I first give him a warning. If I have to prod again, I walk over to their allowance wallet and charge them anywhere from $0.25-$2.00, depending on the age of the child and the severity of the issue.

Taking their hard-earned allowance money away makes the problem urgent to them. The magnet system gives positive and proactive feedback — the visual and tactile process of “checking tasks off” by moving magnets. I also make it a point to regularly recognize the specific ways in which my children make our mornings easier. The consequences provide a natural balance.

My Very Own Magnet Board

Before investing in a lot of materials, I tested the system with a file folder and small sticky notes. I opened the file folder and posted it on the fridge. Then I wrote or drew each task on individual sticky notes. When a task was done, each child moved it to the other side of the folder. This little test helped me determine how to best organize the rows and columns on my magnet board.

The magnet board approach has had such a dramatic impact on our mornings that we added “after-school” and “bedtime” magnets, too. I also created a magnet board for myself; I have ADHD and a very inconsistent schedule, so the magnet board has smoothed out my mornings and bedtime. It is more rewarding than receiving a trophy.


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