A Better Beginning: The Stress-Free Morning Routine for ADHD Families

If your child has ADHD, we’re guessing your mornings (especially school days) are stressful and chaotic. Here are six tips for creating a manageable, (relatively) stress-free morning with routine, intention, and a clear-cut path.

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Ask any family what time of day is the most stressful and chaotic, and most of them will say the morning, especially on a school day. For parents whose children have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door on time and with everything they need feels like mission impossible — the pressure is high and the obstacles many.

Morning routine checklists, posted somewhere visible, with a clear plan for what has to happen and when, can help, but they often aren’t enough to calm the perfect storm that most households face at 7 a.m. To stack the odds in your favor for having smoother mornings, use one or more (or all) of these strategies:

1. Set an intention at bedtime.

Peaceful mornings actually begin the night before — the key is having your child set an intention for how he wants the morning to go. For instance, I’m going to wake up feeling rested or I’m going to have a super smooth morning! Writing down or stating intentions sets a child up for a better day, and it can lead to the formation of positive habits.

2. Map out your week-at-a-glance.

Planning for typical days is hard enough, but throw in a dentist appointment here, a hockey tournament there, and a school project requiring supplies from home, and suddenly all bets are off. Creating a weekly overview of changes to the routine and reviewing it every night helps kids plan ahead and feel more secure by reducing unpredictability.

3. Shape the path.

Shaping the path, a concept I’m borrowing from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, involves tweaking the environment to create the results you want. We can shape our child’s path by using visual prompts that remind them what to do or ensure that potential distractions are out of sight. My son sometimes shapes his path by setting out his clothes, favorite hat, a notebook and pen, and a sticky note with a written reminder, before he goes to bed.

[Download: Free Sample Schedules for Reliable Family Routines]

4. Make a weekly breakfast menu.

Take guesswork out of breakfast by co-designing a menu for the week — you’ll reduce morning stress and ensure that your child gets the brain food she needs to start the day off right. You might do meal prep with your child on Sunday: Make a batch of pancake batter; slice fruit and stick it in the fridge; cook sausage, so it can be quickly heated up in the microwave. Bonus points for making it easy for your child to prepare her breakfast herself.

5. Do three minutes of morning visualization.

My son and I used to begin our day the way author Hal Elrod suggests in his book The Miracle Morning: with exercise, meditation, affirmations, reading, writing, and visualization. Though we no longer do the whole routine, we have stuck with daily visualization, which for us means lying in bed together, listening to a song, and envisioning how we want our day to go. Three minutes may not seem like much, but that little pause helps us feel more calm, inspired, and focused.

6. Make time for your own self-care.

Our sensitive kids are 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 and puts us in the best frame of mind to deal with challenging situations that may arise.

Don’t Expect Your Child to Be Different Than He Is

For many parents, the root cause of our frustration is our expectations not being met — that vast divide between what we think should be happening and what actually is. The key is to flip the script. Expect a child to run late or get distracted, and we won’t be thrown off when it happens. Instead of getting frustrated, we can get creative and problem-solve in areas where our child may be getting stuck.

[Free Webinar: Mindfulness Goes to School: How Meditation Helps Students with ADHD Thrive]

Updated on October 3, 2019

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