Nix Morning Chaos with This Two-Part Routine

If your mornings constantly feel chaotic, then it may be time to establish a bit of routine. Learn how DIY breakfasts, night-before preparation, and even screen time can work wonders for your child with ADHD.

Boy with ADHD eating cereal — a quick breakfast to smooth the morning routine.
Boy with ADHD eating cereal — a quick breakfast to smooth the morning routine.

Ah, mornings. Remember the days of slow-roasted coffee over an outstretched Sports page? Or a stationary bike ride with your favorite podcast?

As any parent of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) knows, the leisurely morning is gone forever. From now on, we are perpetually trying to beat the clock, sometimes while beating our heads against the wall, getting our kids to wake up (or in the case of early risers, making sure they are safe), fed, dressed, washed, and ready to go.

Parents of kids who don’t have ADHD are amazed to hear about the measures ADHD families take to get through a morning. We come up with all kinds of ways to make our morning routine for kids as seamless as possible, but in most cases, our struggle remains. Here’s what eased my mornings while raising two daughters, one with ADHD.

Adjust Expectations

First, acknowledge that your family’s needs are different from those of a family that doesn’t have ADHD in the household. We need to devise systems that work for us, not adopt those that work for friends who aren’t raising a child with ADHD.

In my case, as much as I hated doing it, I served quick breakfasts that were easy to put together during my morning fog. (I have ADHD, too.) I also gave up my dream of sending my girls to school in perfect pigtails and adorable outfits. Getting a brush through their hair and getting them on the bus were enough.

[Free Download: Routines for Morning and Night]

Think about the way you wake up your child. Many children with ADHD get up in a grumpy mood, because their brains are still “on mute.” They need to be eased into their day.

Open the shades a little, to allow a touch of sunlight in the bedroom. Special “sun” lamps, which slowly brighten the room, do the same thing. Instead of shouting, “Time to get up,” pull down his bed covers and give him a backrub to move him toward wakefulness. Humming or soft singing can also awaken a deep sleeper.

Tips to Calm the Chaos

  • Get everything ready to go the previous evening: clothes, lunch, backpack. A calm morning begins the night before.
  • Stick to a routine. Make sure your child is in bed the same time every night and gets up the same time each day. A morning routine lets her go through the motions without a lot of thought. Wait until weekends to change the routine, so that she can get acclimated when you’re not rushing.
  • Use pictures or photos to spell out each step – dressing, washing up, brushing hair, and so on. Post them in the bedroom or the bathroom – or both.
  • Narrate the routine. Make an audiotape that guides your young child. Enliven your words with soothing music, or by singing parts of the tasks and including humor.
  • Dodge clashes. If you’re fighting with your daughter over her choice of clothes, ask yourself whether it’s worth battling over socks that don’t match.
  • Try do-it-yourself breakfasts. If your child is an early riser and can be trusted in the kitchen, set up a small tray with breakfast items in the fridge the night before. Purchase individual milk cartons and cereal boxes, along with fruit or cheese chunks.

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  • Pace your children’s routines. If you have more than one child, chances are, you are spending time keeping them from fighting with each other. Stagger their routines, so that one child is up earlier and out of the way of the other. Their paths needn’t cross in the bathroom or at the breakfast table.
  • Turn on the TV!? Consider allowing hyperactive children to watch the tube while eating. This worked wonders for my kids, who could not sit still long enough to get breakfast in them.
  • Can’t get your child up, no matter what? Discuss with his doctor the option of waking him up an hour earlier, giving him his morning ADHD meds, and allowing him to go back to bed. When the meds kick in, it could make mornings easier for both of you.
  • Lay on the praise. Compliment him for every step forward. If necessary, reward your child for each stress-free morning.
  • Keep your weekend and vacation routines the same. Letting kids sleep in too long makes it harder for them to get back on track on Monday morning.

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