“Morning Is My Son’s Nemesis”
It’s easy to forget that my son needs a morning routine — like most kids with ADHD — after he’s had a period of good behavior.
“How can we avoid this?” It finally occurred to me to ask my nine-year-old son this question after wrangling him out of bed, into his clothes, and down the stairs in time to force-feed him protein and a spirit-crushing litany of things to remember to do and not forget before rushing him out the door. I know better; I’ve spent the last few years working on techniques to avoid mornings like this, but it’s hard to be consistent when you’re worn out.
My son was diagnosed with ADHD and a mood disorder when he was five and, despite a healthy bedtime routine, morning continues to be his nemesis. He had 26 tardies last year. His teacher told us to ignore the reprimanding letter from the principal because she preferred a tardy to a bad morning for my son. She suggested not rushing him on difficult mornings because his late entrances were less disruptive than his bad moods or having to send him to the nurse’s office for a nap. I’m sure not every teacher is so accommodating. Future employers won’t be either. He’s at a private school this year, with smaller classes and a later start time. It’s helping, but it’s still a struggle. School wears my son out, even on the good days, and morning means he has to do it all over again.
I’ve been through behavioral programs and counseling with my son, and I’ve found strategies that work. But I have a bad habit of backing off when things are working. Mornings started well for us this school year, and I told a close friend that my son had turned the corner and that an easier year was in sight. A few days later, the morning madness started again.
This is a pattern for us. I get lulled into a false sense of success and mistakenly believe the hard work we put into transforming his behavior is over. It’s never over. He may grow out of it, but family genetics tell me this is something he will always struggle with. I want to teach him to manage it.
My son has a hair trigger, and when I’m tuned in, I can anticipate it and ramp up the regime to head off a relapse. The problem is that I’m not always as tuned in as I should be. Sometimes I ride the road of denial, the one paved by a stretch of what feels like normal. The good days make you question the bad ones. Maybe I was overreacting; maybe his teachers and counselors were, too. He’s a boy, boys are a handful, and he’s doing much better — until he isn’t. By the time I remember, I’m out of the habit of using the tools that steered him toward success in the first place.
At this stage, my efforts in helping him manage his ADHD are equal to his. The training and the tools are there for me, too. At a basic level, we’re in this together. My ability to lead will improve his ability to follow until he’s independent.
I’m trying to teach my son to self-monitor and use the tools on his own, but I understand how hard it is. I’m in my 40s, and even without the challenge of ADHD, I’m still learning to do the same.
It’s time to tune back in. Tonight, before we turn on the soothing music, stretch, read a chapter in his book, and turn on his LED-lighted aromatherapy mister, we will set his radio alarm to include 15 minutes more snooze time, lay out his clothes, and settle on how much tech time a smooth morning will earn him in the afternoon. We will write a reward ticket and sign it with the understanding that it will be null if the morning doesn’t go well.
In the morning, I will give him a choice of breakfast options and set the full spectrum therapy lamp on the counter while he eats as we review the plan for the day. Maybe we can start our day without glaring at each other. When the routine kicks in, we’ll ease up on the reward tickets to see if he can sustain it without them. I will be ready to go with something new if he slides, because I know this isn’t over. This is my part, and the effort will be worth it in the end. We’ll get there one morning at a time.