Why Mornings Are the Worst Ever for ADHD Families

Mornings are hell. We hear this on a daily basis from parents of children with ADHD who struggle to get out of bed on time, eat something healthy, get dressed efficiently, and pack up the day’s necessities before the school bus arrives. Here, ADDitude parents share their biggest morning hurdles — and we offer them a virtual hug.

Waking Up My ADHD Family - Mornings are the worst
A child with adhd struggles to wake up and get out of bed and ready for the day

Waking up Children with ADHD

“Mornings are definitely the worst part of the day. It’s difficult to get my 8 year old out of bed. We open his window to let in some cool fresh air, and I spritz lavender room spray before heading into the shower. Some things work for a while but then the novelty wears off and we have to try something new.”

“My son suffers from attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), a mood disorder, and ODD. In the mornings it’s so hard to wake him up. I call his name and shake him. I’ve tried setting alarms for him, but he will just sleep right through them. I have even tried spritzing his face with water; nothing seems to work.”

“My daughter struggles to wake up. I have made a daily schedule for her to follow, but she just falls asleep. It doesn’t matter what her schedule says if she is sleeping. I need to sit next to her to keep her awake and give her step-by-step directions for her morning routine until she is really awake.”

“It’s a workout waking up my 6-year-old twins who have ADHD. I have to stretch them so they aren’t too jiggly in school. My son will eventually get up if I play with him using a large exercise ball, but my daughter refuses to get up at all, so I have to lift her down from the bunk bed. I do stretches and yoga on her but she stills tries to run back to the top bunk and hide under her blanket if I turn away for a second.”

“My daughter has ADHD as well as autism with sensory issues. She’s always tired in the morning, and often her clothes bother her. Dressing can take anywhere from ten minutes to 45 minutes to not getting dressed at all, lying crying on her bed throwing her clothes at the door. I get up at 5:30 am so that I can wake up the girls at 6:15 and get us out the door by 7:30. I used to want to let them sleep as long as I could, but I couldn’t take the chaotic panic of rushing everyone to get ready. They don’t necessarily pop up, but at least we start the process. Even though they have to get up earlier, at least they can lie down on the couch and eat and watch something for a little bit before they really have to move.”

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have Inattentive ADHD?]

ADHD Medication Strategies in the Morning

“In the mornings I try to lightly wake my 7 year old with ADHD & ODD — just enough for her to take her pill and then go back to sleep for a bit. If her medicine has already kicked in when she wakes up, the morning goes smoothly, but this doesn’t work every time, and there have been many rough mornings. I have been late to work, missed important meetings and deadlines, been put on anxiety meds, and lost friends because of the difficult days. She has walked out of the house and taken off down the street; trashed our garage; destroyed her clothes; ripped out bows and ponytails; flung her breakfast across the kitchen — all because we asked her to get dressed or put on her shoes. By the time we clean up some of the wreckage and wrestle her into her clothes and then to the car, the medication kicks in and she gets to school and is a perfect angel for her teacher.”

“My son is very small for his age, so breakfast is important. It’s a tricky balance: If I give him his medicine too early he has no appetite and won’t eat. If I get distracted by his disruptions and don’t get his medicine into him on time, then I know that’s setting him up for a rough morning at school until it kicks in.”

“Our son is completely unable to follow his morning routine until his medication kicks in. He is in hyper-drive; making loud noises and purposefully annoying his brother. Thankfully, he is never late for school because he can’t stand the thought of being late. No hygiene will be done, but he makes it to school.”

“When the medication hasn’t kicked in yet, just getting dressed takes my daughter forever. There is no TV, reading, or anything remotely fun for her to do until she gets dressed but she still runs around, rolls around in bed, and laughs and giggles when we ask her to get dressed. We have tried gently reminding, pleading, rewarding, punishing, having things taken away – nothing makes any kind of impact. Explaining to her that we need to get going and out the door because we have to be on time for work too makes zero impact as well. It is a waking nightmare every morning.”

[Free Sample Schedule for Children with ADHD]

“Our son is distracted by everything without his medication, which I don’t give him until breakfast because he has no appetite otherwise. It’s a constant battle to refocus him on the few tasks he needs to complete. It seems, sadly, that the only motivator is raised voices and taking away privileges. I always feel awful after dropping him off as it makes me so sad to have every morning go like this.”

The Struggle to Stay on Task… and in Control of ADHD Symptoms

“My son’s a restless sleeper, but when it’s time to get up for school, he’s in such a deep sleep that I struggle to get him to wake up. The more I moan, the more aggressive he becomes. When he’s eventually sitting down with breakfast in front of him, it can take up to half an hour before he even starts eating it. I have to leave an hour and a half for stuff that could theoretically be done in 20 minutes. I hate being the constant nag; it makes him angry with me and is not a good start to the day.”

“My 10-year-old daughter and I are both ADHD combined type. We always say we are going to get up earlier, but we never do and always end up with only 30 minutes to get ready for work and school. Once I am up, I can pretty much stay on task to get myself ready, but while I am getting ready I have to check on her continuously. Some days, it takes 20 minutes for her to put on her shoes. Some mornings are worse than others — because she wants a certain hairdo or she can’t find the comfortable pants she wants to wear. One morning, we were late because I lost it and made us both cry, so we then had to apologize and hug so that we didn’t go through the day feeling sad.”

“My 9-year-old son can’t seem to remember what he has to do every morning, even though it is the same every day! But worst of all, I will think he is getting dressed, putting on his shoes, etc., but then I find out he is not done! I say, ‘What have you been doing all this time?’ Oh, he picked up a ball and started bouncing it; looked at something in his drawer. Who knows? How hard is it to get dressed, and why can’t he understand the concept of ‘Don’t do anything else but get ready — it’s almost time to leave!’? I feel like I have to check up on him constantly to make sure he is doing what he is supposed to be doing.”

“We struggle daily to get ready for school in a timely manner. Every time I check on him, he’s still not eating and not dressed. He’s putting on his shoes and taking them off over and over again because the Velcro strap isn’t perfect; his socks are on his hands instead of his feet; he’s using his toothbrush as a drum stick on the bathroom sink; he’s staring off, toothpaste tube in his hand. Oh my! But, through the struggles we grow and learn! One day we’ll get it right… I hope.”

Tell us: What is your biggest struggle in the morning?

[Nix Morning Chaos with This Two-Part Routine]

12 Comments & Reviews

  1. I feel both better and worse reading this article. I can relate to most of the scenarios above so I feel better that I am not alone. I feel worse in that there doesn’t seem to be a solution for the morning battle. I feel like the nagging, raised voices, taking away privileges will damage my relationship with my son over time and that is what concerns me. He’s only in grade 2 – we have ten more years of this!
    Given that ADHD brains don’t operate in a linear fashion, would it help to mix up the routine and make it different each morning? I’m getting desperate here!

    1. I feel the same exact way. I need to get her to school, I need to get to work and I need to get ready for work and all my energy is focused on getting her to get dressed. On the weekends, vacations or days she doesn’t need to go to school, we don’t have this struggle and she is a joy to be around. But when her father and I both work, mornings and evenings are all the time we get to spend with our kids during the week and sadly it is also the most stressful time to be with her. It breaks my heart and it is so frustrating that we have to go through this on a regular basis. I know that it is her ADHD that is causing this and she isn’t trying to be difficult, but the fact remains we have to be somewhere at a certain time. I have not tried to vary the routine, most of what I have read seems to promote staying on a routine and schedule but that certainly doesn’t seem to make our mornings any easier, just repetitive!

    2. I used to have the same problems with my 8 year old son. His mother started waking him up at 5am (giving him 2.5 hours to get dressed and brush his teeth) because it was so difficult. She tried letting him watch T.V for a bit, playing music, etc. and nothing worked. I also have ADHD and I could not understand why she thought giving him MORE time was going to help since i know for me personally more time just means more distractions. With ADHD we are not motivated unless it is urgent. I wake up ten minutes before i need to leave for work so that i jump out of bed in a panic and get ready as quickly as possible – leaving no time for distraction. The problem is that my 8 year old does not panic over being late for school – he does not care. So, we ended up buying these talking count-down timers that Russel Barckley suggested. Now, i wake him up, his clothes having been picked out the night before, we set the timer for two minutes and time ourselves to get dressed. (we still both do not start until we hear it say “one minute left”). If he beats the timer he gets a sticker on his chart, but if he does not beat the timer he gets a practice worksheet to complete after school (we chose this as the consequence because he needed the extra math practice at the time. but i assume anything will do). We figured out that if he missed the timer and knew he had the worksheet, he gave up and did nothing for the next twenty minutes so we had to add that for every 3 minutes he goes over (the timer will begin counting up once it has hit zero on the countdown!) he gets another worksheet.
      Then we brush our teeth together, so i can be sure he is actually doing it, and we get three minutes to take our medications and vitamins, and put on our shoes and coats.
      This has worked brilliantly. We have been doing it for a little over a year and I think it has been about 2 months sine he last had to get a worksheet. Unfortunately, his mother feels guilty timing him -she views it as a punishment rather than a tool- and gives him too much leeway. He is very smart and he has learned that she is not serious about it, so he does not respect the timer with her. I spoke to him about this an he said that while the timer can be frustrating, he actually prefers getting ready that way. Nobody nags him (and if he is nagged, its by “the timer lady”, not us!) and he doesnt feel like he keeps messing up. so he ends up going to school in much better spirits, and i get to go to work without aggravation. I should note that though we bth have pretty bad anxiety as well, the benefits of this process have not exacerbated it. I dont know that it will work for everyone, and the timers are about 50$ each, but for us it has really saved our mornings! To be fair, if I happen to not beat the timer, he gets to assign me a 3rd grade math worksheet (which he finds very enjoyable) and I must attempt to complete it in the new difficult way they teach math these days! We end up having fun with it.
      this is a link to what seems to be a much less expensive version of the timer we use:

  2. Mornings used to be so rough for my son as well. He is now in 2nd grade and we have discovered that he is need of a tonsil and adenoid removal surgery. What we once thought was just ADHD related behaviors, we now think is more sleep exhaustion related. He has also been on a non-stimulant (Intuniv/Guanfacine) for a year now because he could not handle the side effects of Adderall (aka “Mad”derall). What makes him feel his very best in the morning is a shower! It is an effort for sure to get him in there, but he wakes up slowly and it is very relaxing for him. He then will put his clothes on and come downstairs for breakfast and be happily ready for his day. This is DRASTICALLY different from previous years. If you haven’t tried this – give it a shot! Also, let an ENT check out the tonsils, the doctor said it is way more common than you think and can cause behavioral problems in itself.

  3. Am I 10 years old? Because these are my mornings, with me as the ADHD kid and my boyfriend as the exasperated parent. Still, this helps me feel a little less crazy.

  4. Gosh, this is my life in the morning! I’ve only just discovered this site and am so happy to finally read and hear about other people who are in the same boat as me. I feel like the constant nag. The morning really is the worst part of the day with my son. I feel it is damaging our relationship as I end up endlessly shouting at him, taking things away from him, none of which he remotely cares about! Reward charts sometimes work and sometimes don’t. It just sets everybody off on the wrong foot for the day. We also have a battle most days about taking his medication. 😕

  5. My biggest challenge is getting pout the door on time. As I tend to surf the net, try to do 1more thing, or try to decide what to wear,eat for. lunch. And honestly just getting out of bed is hard for me… o I tend to snooze the alarm and think I have more time than I actually do. Which leads me to feeling rushed, late for work, and a feeling of dread as I’m late yet another day😔

  6. This was one of our biggest challenges of the day. My son is 11 and he has ADHD. He also struggles with low appetite with his medication. But in order for him to comply and take care of his morning routine he needs the medication in him. So what I’ve come up with is I make him a protein and high fat milkshake. He usually wakes up ravenously hungry. So I wake him up about an hour and a half before we need to leave. While he’s still in bed I give him his meds and the milkshake. Then I leave him alone with his iPad. His meds take almost exactly one hour to kick in. So in an hour he’s ready to cooperate and the we get out the door mostly on time without fighting.

  7. It was nice to know I am not alone in the struggle but I was disappointed that the article had no viable solutions. Thank you to caedenwilliam for the great ideas! We have timers and Alexa but have not been consistent with them. I also like the idea of the stickers. He is pretty competitive so doing these things with him might work well.

  8. @ caedenwilliam – April 28, 2019 at 9:27 am

    Thank you so much for the suggestion! This article was both helpful and very frustrating. I’m so very grateful to know we’re not the only parents who CANNOT get a handle on morning and bedtime routines. I also wanted to thank you for explaining what works for your family. We are so desperate for some sort of reprieve from the constant struggle! Our twins are now in 6th grade and they’ve barley improved past a 2nd grade level of capabilities. And it feels so hopeless because we know they know what to do, it just feels like they’re choosing not to. There is NO sense of urgency or desire to complete basic tasks to get themselves ready for the day or night. And we just cannot yell anymore, it is disheartening for both of us (we never were yelling parents/ people until school started) and the yelling is really affecting the older brother. So yes, we will try the verbal timer! I’m also going to try and be completely ready when they get up so I can walk behind them to either race against them or ensure they’re getting to the basics: dressed, eat, teeth, packing up computers & bookbags, shoes and coat on. Ugggg, I can’t believe it seems as if we basically have to “heard cats” until they’re moved out of the house! We are just 1/2 way through their school years and they’re no better than when they were in kindergarten! I guess we were fools to believe we could have kids that would be functional by the time they hit 12 years old. *sigh*

  9. I have just discovered this resource and OMG, this is definitely my routine every day and man it’s exhausting. My 5 year old started kindergarten this year and that’s when I really saw that his ADHD was bad and that he had something else to go with it, but I had no idea what. Yesterday I learned that ODD is the second, but I’m still lost on how to make our days go better, smiles. Nice to see I’m not alone though, but I’m still ready to pull my hair out.

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