Rise and Sigh: Morning (and Evening) Routines to Reinforce Calm

Getting to school on time requires top-notch executive functions, time management, and focus. Which explains your child’s tardy slips. Learn how detailed routines, bedtime snacks, and a solid alarm clock can help.

Boy with ADHD at table eating cereal with cup of orange juice next to him in the morning

The alarm rings. Your child hops happily out of bed. After brushing her teeth, she heads for the closet and picks out something appropriate for the season. Before her first mouthful of cornflakes, she checks her backpack to make sure that she’s got all of her homework. Then she heads to the school bus with five minutes to spare.

OK. So it’s you who’s dreaming.

More likely, your morning begins with you trying to rouse your child, who wants nothing more than to be left alone. Fifteen minutes later, when you stop by her room to call her to breakfast, you find her absorbed in a game, half-dressed. And once she’s seated at the table, she balks at what you’re offering for breakfast.

Launching the day can be stressful for any parent, particularly for those of us whose children have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) — and therefore need time to get going or are easily sidetracked. Try these ideas for starting the day on a better note.

Long-Term Planning

  • Establish and review the morning routine. Together with your child, create a chart that details the sequence in which each morning activity should take place. Help her get into the habit of referring to the chart every day. (For pre-readers, use pictures to denote activities, such as a toothpaste advertisement clipped from a magazine to represent teeth-brushing time.) Or have your child make a tape recording in which he reminds himself what to do and when to do it. No more being nagged by Mom or Dad!

[Free Download: Sample Schedules for Reliable Family Routines]

The Night Before

  • Plan for an early bedtime. Catching enough Zzzs is essential for kids with ADHD. Start your evening routine early enough for your child to get the 10 hours of sack time he needs to wake up physically and mentally refreshed.Have your child take his bath or shower before bedtime, when time isn’t so precious and it’s less likely that someone else will need the bathroom. He’ll sleep better and there will be one less rushed item — and less conflict — in the morning.
  • Provide a protein-rich bedtime snack. Tryptophan, the protein that occurs in milk, turkey, and chicken, is a natural sleep inducer. But just about any protein-rich snack about 30 minutes before bedtime is an efficient get-to-sleep aid. Try oatmeal, whole-wheat cereal, an egg, some meat or fish, cheese, or pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  • Make decisions at night. Choose clothes for school the night before. Also set breakfast and lunch menus to avoid discussions about them in the morning.
  • Pack the sack. Finally, place your child’s papers and books inside his backpack — and leave it near, or even blocking, the front door, where it can’t be left behind.

[Nix Morning Chaos with This Two-Part Routine]

Waking Up

  • Invest in a good alarm clock. You’ll probably need one that will wake the dead. (See Moms Rate the Best Alarm Clocks for a sampling of models.) Or make the most of the alarm you’ve got by setting it on a metal pie pan with dimes in it and placing it just out of arm’s reach.
  • Gently awaken with a touch. Many kids with ADHD are extremely sensitive to touch. Try gently wiping a cool, damp washcloth over your sleepy kid’s brow and cheeks while whispering a morning greeting. This routine should be agreed to ahead of time to avoid overstimulating him.
  • Let light into the room. If it’s naturally dark outside at night, leave the bedroom curtains parted to allow natural light to prod your child into wakefulness in the morning. Or install a dimmer switch and turn up the light gradually on dark mornings.
  • Consider pre-wakeup meds. If your child takes ADHD medication, ask his doctor about giving him a minimal dose of short-acting (not timed-release) meds 30 minutes before the alarm is set to ring and then letting him rest until wakeup time. This small amount of medication should supplement, not replace, the prescribed morning dosage.

Getting from Bed to Door

  • Enjoy breakfast. Eating breakfast together is great, except when it isn’t. If your child makes war at the table, or just has trouble sitting down and eating, let him enjoy his meal in his room as he dresses. Or give him breakfast to go in the form of a piece of fruit, a chunk of cheese, and a breakfast bar. Do what works and forget the “shoulds.”
  • Reward your child for a good morning. Let your child add a sticker to his chart or a token to his jar for getting out the door with a minimum of fuss.

[Behold the Magic of a Consistent Routine]

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