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“How We Achieved Better Mornings by Welcoming Creativity into the Routine”

Routines are said to provide the all-important structure that children with ADHD need to thrive. But many of our kids are brimming with spontaneous imagination and creativity. Does too much structure stifle all that?

Life as the parent of a child with ADHD — I was surprised to learn — can get very repetitive. Why? To keep our easily distracted kids on track and moving through the task at hand, we have to repeat every step, every single day, in exactly the same way.

Getting through the morning routine in time to catch the school bus can really make you sound like a broken record — especially if you have a slow poke in your house who gets easily distracted by things more fun than teeth brushing and bed making.

I know that working memory deficits in the ADHD brain make it challenging for kids with ADHD to hold things in their memory and act on them later at the appropriate time, but I still get impatient at times.

Here’s what a typical school morning looks like at our ADHD house:

Alarm goes off once, twice, three times. Half-asleep kid drags himself to the bathroom and stares at the mirror for several minutes.

“Get in the shower. And, make sure you scrub your hair really well WITH SHAMPOO,” I say, sternly refusing to move until I see my lethargic son get under the water. Feeling satisfied with his progress, I return to MY morning routine, but eventually realize the shower is still running… 20 minutes later.

[Take This ADHD Symptom Test for Children]

“Time’s up,” I announce, trying hard not to sound shrill. “Please get out of the shower now and leave some hot water for the rest of the house!”

I return to Mom-related tasks in the kitchen. Several more minutes pass and I sense it’s time for another progress check.

“Are your teeth brushed? Please don’t forget to brush your teeth. And your hair needs brushing, too. Can’t go to school with THAT mess on top of your head. When you’re done, please get dressed.”

Several more minutes pass. Still no sign of a dressed child, let alone one who’s ready for school. Panic sets in and I proceed to said child’s bedroom — painfully aware that the school bus arrives in 15 minutes and breakfast remains  unconsumed.

[Download These Routines For Morning and Night]

Behind the bedroom door, I find him still in his underwear, stretched out on a wet towel doing something that resembles a newly-invented yoga pose. Trying to ignore the sound of my rapidly beating heart in my ears, I say as calmly as possible, “Please get dressed! You are going to miss the bus!”

With just 8 minutes to spare, my fully dressed child finally emerges – with a LEGO — to show me his latest design.

I know the answers, but I ask anyway: “Did you pick up your dirty clothes from the bathroom floor? Did you hang up your wet towel and make your bed? How about the lights, did you turn them off?”

Still staring at the LEGO, he responds, “Did you know it has wings, so it can fly?”

“No, I’m sorry I didn’t notice the wings. Can we look at it after school?” I ask as I hand him a breakfast bar and urgently prod him to keep moving. “Come on, you’re going to miss the bus. Please focus on getting your lunch and backpack together quickly before the bus… Oh no! There goes the bus!”

If this sounds like mornings in your house, I feel your frustration. You may be repeating the same words to get your child with ADHD through the same morning challenges. Today my kid got distracted with LEGOs — maybe yours got caught up stacking the toilet paper supply into a skyscraper. Do you ever blame yourself or wonder why your child just can’t embrace routine like everyone else?

I’m here to say you’re not alone.

Routines: At What Cost?

But here’s the thing: You’ve likely heard from the experts — the pediatrician, the therapist, his teachers, your mother-in-law — that having routines is important. Routines are said to provide the all-important structure that children with ADHD need to thrive. These kiddos need to know what to expect, the steps they should take, and the order they should take them.

I get it. Routines provide structure, but I can’t help worrying that all that structure doesn’t leave any room for spontaneity. Many kids with ADHD live rich lives in their heads. They are so full of their own imagination and creativity; doesn’t structure interfere with all that?

I’m not entirely sure, but I am aware of some research suggesting routines may limit the brain’s ability to build skills and knowledge. Don’t believe me? Google the impact of routines on creativity and you’ll see what I mean. Besides, that line of thinking makes a lot of sense to me. So, I suggest a slightly different approach to the morning, one that brings out their unique talents and abilities and makes you feel better, too.

Yesterday it was a detailed drawing in the steamy bathroom mirror. Today, a LEGO creation. Tomorrow maybe I’ll be entertained by an original song or a short dance number. Who knows, maybe even both? Developing a routine that allows more time for that creativity to flow may be exactly what’s needed for a great start to their day.

Consider this: Your child is not like everyone else. Celebrate his or her special set of character traits — they will be the fuel he needs to one day soar high and achieve great things. Protect and encourage these traits and do whatever you can to help your child hone these skills.

Is there a rule that rules out infusing the morning routine with some joy? No way!

So, I say dance and brush those teeth.

Be the lead singer of a band in the shower.

Practice yoga on a wet towel.

Whatever it takes.

In the meantime, keep calm and carry on by accepting that this is what life looks like when you live with a child with ADHD. #ItNeverGetsBoring *shrug*

[Use This Sample Schedule For Kids With ADHD]