Published on ADDitudeMag.com

Routine Matters: 11 Rules for ADHD-Friendly Schedules

A reliable daily routine -- at school and at home -- is essential to your child's success. 11 tips for establishing a schedule that works for your family.


Why Structure Is Key

Many children with ADHD also exhibit executive function deficits. That means they have a hard time organizing materials to complete homework or a project, figuring out how much time a task will take, setting deadlines and time management. Creating a daily routine, at school and at home, provides external organization, gives your children the chance to focus on one task at a time, stay focused, and succeed.

Adapt Routines to Your Child

Your routine should reflect your child’s personality, your family values, and your child’s needs. If your child needs down time when coming home from school instead of immediately beginning homework, work this into your schedule. If your child enjoys long baths or reading in bed before falling asleep, put this into your routine. Take your child’s needs and personality into account when creating the routine.

Establish a Home Schedule

If you haven’t used a schedule or routine at home, it may be easier to start adding one item at a time rather than to schedule the entire day. Start taking 15 minutes before bedtime to pick up toys and put them away. Once this has become a habit, add another item.

Structure the Mornings

Getting up and ready for school is often a struggle for children with ADHD. Write down a morning schedule, beginning with waking up. Outline every step, such as eating breakfast, taking medication, brushing teeth, washing her face, getting dressed, checking her backpack for items needed for the day. Put all the steps into a checklist your child can follow each morning.

Reinforce School Routines

Your child follows a certain routine in school. From the time he arrives at school until he leaves at the end of the day, he is expected to know where to go and what to do. In the early grades, teachers often have the day’s schedule hanging in the classroom. But older children still need to understand the routine. Ask your child’s teacher for a copy of the daily schedule. Reviewing the schedule at home will help reinforce it.

Break Down the Day

Write down all of the tasks your child completes in a day. Include getting ready for school, after school and homework time, chores, free time, dinner, and preparing for bed. Break down each time frame into steps. There may be activities and other conflicts that make your schedule complicated—dance lessons on Wednesdays and soccer practice on Thursday—but try to make every day as consistent as possible.

Remember Fun and Exercise

As much as a routine is important, kids deserve to have free time and fun. Schedules should include time for your children to explore their interests, play outside, and spend time with friends. Studies show that exercise and physical activity increase attention and reduce impulsivity. Your daily schedule should include time for outside activities or, on days when the weather is bad, active play indoors.

Build in Flexibility

Life doesn’t always follow the schedule you set. If homework time usually begins at 4:30 and, at 4:20, you are stuck in traffic – 20 minutes away from your house – your routine for the rest of the day is going to be off. Be prepared to make adjustments when needed and use this as an opportunity to teach your child that everyone needs to be flexible from time to time.

Routines at a Glance

Once you create a routine for your child, keep a copy of it in a central location — like the kitchen or living room.  For younger children, use pictures as well as text. You, your partner, caregivers, and your child can reference it to make sure every day is consistent and everyone is following the schedule. If you laminate the routine, your child can use a dry-erase marker to cross out tasks he completed.

Making Structure Routine

A written schedule is great, but don’t stop there. Use other tools to make sure your family follows the routine every day.
> A kitchen timer helps your child stay on schedule
>
Calendars on smartphones allow you to set reminders
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Behavior charts can be used to reward your child for following the schedule
Keep the routine as simple as possible; elaborate routines often get tossed after a few weeks.

Review, Revise, Tweak

Your routine should be consistent, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t ever going to change. Your child’s needs may change, an after-school activity might be added or have ended, your work schedule may change, or you may have miscalculated how long a task takes, such as getting ready for bed. If you realize the schedule isn’t working, review the routine once a month, or sooner, and make adjustments to fit the facts.

Further Information

ADDitude magazine has lots of information to help you create routines for your child. Some articles and slideshows to help:
4 Tips For Creating Routines That Work
Smoothing School Transitions for ADHD Children
The ADHD Homework System That Works
Helping ADHD Children Master Time
What Ever Happened to Rise and Shine?

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