Parents throughout the Honestly ADHD community are asking: How can I get my child to manage their ADHD and morning routine without being late or yelling every single day?
One mom wrote to me:
“I feel like starting the day with yelling and making them feel like they’re already failing at something is a terrible way to start the day, but what else do I do?”
As sure as the sky is blue, ADHD will make morning routines hard. If you’re struggling with your ADHD child and their morning routine, you are experiencing exactly what I would expect — morning struggles are absolutely normal for kids with ADHD.
Our mornings set the stage for our entire day. It seems that morning chaos invites chaos throughout the day; fighting with each other in the morning sets the stage for more fights later; and heading off to school feeling angry about how the morning went invites less focus and productivity as the day goes on.
But if you’re a parent like me, your own fuse is short in the morning. Noises see, louder. Fights seem more intense. My child seems *impossibly* slower than normal.
My short fuse coupled with my children’s morning routine struggle is a recipe for disaster.
I get it – when mornings are hard day-after-day-after-day, simply forcing yourself to get out of bed and start the fight can be your own hardest task of the day.
The ADHD Brain Hates Morning Routines
There is one very important thing you must understand about the ADHD brain in order to solve this problem. That is — the ADHD brain is wired to pay attention to novelty and things it finds interesting.
Mornings – especially Monday mornings – are not interesting. They are dreadful.
Morning routines are not novel. They are mundane.
And your child’s ADHD brain likely hates them both.
Many people will interpret that premise – the one that says that the ADHD brain is wired for novelty and interest – as meaning that if kids just try harder… if they would just use their willpower… they will be able to accomplish the boring task.
Let me be clear. This isn’t a matter of willpower.
It’s a matter of neurotransmitters.
It’s a matter of neural connections and brain development.
It’s a matter of attention, interpretation of reward, motivation, emotional regulation, impulsivity, organization, prioritization, working memory, and processing speed.
Let’s talk about how to manage ADHD and master the morning routine.
1. Get Yourself Into the Right Frame of Mind By accepting Your Child’s Current Abilities.
One of my favorite John C. Maxwell quotes goes, “Disappointment is the difference between expectations and reality.”
Accepting your child’s current reality is critical to having good mornings in your household. In this situation, the reality sounds something like this:
“Right now, my child really struggles to follow multiple directions in the mundane morning routine. Other kids her biological age know how to do this, but she is currently struggling.”
Your child hasn’t chosen this struggle. She likely doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for her and she likely doesn’t understand how ADHD plays a role. And yet, the struggle is a part of our reality – hers and yours. For now.
Does this mean this will be your reality forever? No.
Does this acceptance mean you don’t teach her skills to develop these skills? Absolutely not.
It does mean, however, that we don’t expect something from her when it is not possible.
Be sure you’re considering your child’s executive age when you are deciding what to expect and how much supervision to employ. If you’re unsure what executive age is, or why it’s important, read this blog post here.
Most of us don’t think about the dread of the morning until the morning is upon us. We’re rolling out of bed, our feet hit the floor, and we remember… ugh, here we go again…
2. Plan Ahead and Give Yourself A Head Start.
Too often we don’t think about our morning routine until our alarm clocks have been snoozed a few times and our feet are beginning to hit the floor.
At that point, you’re too late. You’re about to walk into battle without a battle plan. Making up a plan on the fly likely won’t be successful.
Instead, I want you to think about the morning routine well ahead of time – the day or night before. Ask yourself:
- What might this morning look and feel like?
- What can I really expect of her right now given her history?
If morning is a hard time of day for you, I encourage you to get a head start by spending a little time with self-care in the morning before your child wakes.
If your child is distractible, it’s likely going to be difficult if you are also distractible.
That may mean you need to shower and get ready before your child wakes in order to have the capacity to help him/her stay on task while they need that extra help.
If your child is irritable, it’s going to be difficult if you are also irritable.
That may mean you need to get up and have that coffee brewed and one cup down before your wake your kiddo. It may mean you get outside and take the dog for a walk or maybe just step outside and take a few deep breaths.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so be sure your *coffee* cup is overflowing. LOL.
3. Alleviate the Struggle by Keeping the Routine Minimal, Consistent and Visual.
I often talk to moms who lament about how hard the morning routine is, but when we break down what exactly is happening in the morning, it is clear that they are trying to do / allow too much in the morning.
Begin to consider what tasks or activities you can eliminate from your morning routine. Pack lunches, take showers, and layout clothes the night before.
Reduce the amount of idle time so that kids don’t have the time to get distracted watching TV, playing video games, or making messes in their bedrooms.
Create a system that can be done every day with little variation and that incorporates the way they already do things to the extent possible. Step one, step two and step three. Kids with ADHD do better when the steps to a project become habitual instead of having to think of it anew every single morning.
Once you decide which tasks must be done, create visual systems for your child to follow. This can include the usual checklists, but it can also include an app like the Happy Kids Timer which allows kids to see each task, the time allowed for each task and rewards them when it is done. It can also include the use of post-it notes to encourage kids to focus on one task at a time and no more.
4. “Gamify” your morning as much as possible.
If a child’s ADHD makes them turned off by mundane and boring, the antidote – naturally – is to make that boring task fun!
This can be done by introducing games or rewards to the morning checklist, but it also has to be in your attitude — an engaging and positive attitude makes everything more fun!
Creating positive reward systems is also a wonderful way to keep morale and motivation high. If you aren’t sure why your positive reward systems aren’t working – or maybe are even backfiring on you and making things harder – be sure you check out my free tutorial on creating positive reward systems that work.
Be sure to include your child in the brainstorming of what might make the morning more fun for them. The more they are involved in deciding what to do, the more likely it is to stick… at least for a while. Don’t be afraid to tell your child,
“Hey – you’re right that the morning routine is both super boring and can feel dreadful. It is not always fun to get up and get ready for school. Let’s do our best to make this time more fun. How can we do that? Any ideas?”
Sometimes I get parents who push back about making things fun for their kids. They believe the day-to-day isn’t fun, so, they ask, why create that much “fun” in order to get them to comply?
Some wonder if we are just setting them up for failure.
My response is this: as someone with ADHD, your child is going to need to find ways to conquer boring tasks for their entire lives. They are going to have projects they don’t want to do at work, a home they don’t want to clean, and bills they don’t want to sit down and pay.
They must learn the skill of motivating themselves in order to be successful in life. And one of those strategies – even as adults – is to make mundane tasks more enjoyable. For example, listening to music while they pay bills, allowing themselves a treat while they work on the project, or turning on their favorite show while the clean the bathroom. These are all just examples, but you get my point.
There are many mornings where the hardest thing I do all day is to get myself out of bed and started on my day. The same holds true for our kids – especially the ones who are struggling to manage their ADHD.
These four steps will enable you to create morning routines that stick and encourage happy, healthy families from the start of every day.