The Truth About Routines and ADHD

October 18, 2021

Children with ADHD can struggle to plan for the future, even if the future is a few minutes away.

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Children with ADHD are amazing at living in the moment, which makes them a lot of fun! It also means that they can struggle to plan for the future, even if the future is a few minutes away. The result? Forgotten lunchboxes, messy bedrooms, last-minute panic over a late assignment, and chaotic mornings! Routines and ADHD may not seem like the go together… but hear me out!

Children with ADHD can struggle with time blindness, staying on task, and avoiding distractions. To help them be more successful, our goal as parents is to externalize these concepts, making them clear and predictable, creating structure in your child’s world.  

One of the easiest (and hardest) ways to do this is to set up routines. While routines can be incredibly overwhelming at the beginning, they ultimately help children with ADHD be more successful because they know what to expect. In our printable shop, we have easy-t0-use, customizable routines that you can print and start using today. 

To help YOU start off on the right foot, here are some of our favorite tools for building routines: 

1. Consider what your child is (and isn’t) capable of right now – and then grow from there.

Think about how independent you want your child to be. For most of us, we want our kids to be able to get themselves ready for the day, do their homework, and complete their bedtime routine without one hundred million reminders! The honest truth? Depending on where your child is today, it will probably take a lot of gradual steps to get them there.

In real life: 

If your child is able to do one out of five parts of the morning routine independently, your next goal should be for them to do TWO things (not all five…yet!). My 7-year-old can do her entire morning routine on her own (when she is motivated!), while my son needs help with brushing his teeth and filling up his water bottle without flooding the kitchen. With a little patience and a lot of support, they WILL get there!

2. Get your child involved.

Yes, this definitely means that the process will take longer! But it’s mission-critical that you get your child’s input and “buy-in” if routines are going to be successful. By involving your child, you are also helping them build their problem-solving skills.

In real life: 

You can ask questions like, “How can we make it easier to remember your karate gear?” or “What do you think is important to do before bed?” While it may seem easier to just solve the problem yourself (by creating a checklist or setting a schedule), you can invite your child to help you by really listening to what they have to say.

Tools for setting routines

3. Start with one area at a time, and let the other things go (for now!)

Trust us, it’s impossible to overhaul everything at once. Really break down your child’s day. Where are your greatest challenges right now? Is your child forgetting their lunch regularly, causing you to leave work and bring them lunch? Is the soccer jersey getting lost under the bed every week, causing a frantic meltdown before each game? Are chaotic mornings making you feel like you have run a marathon by 8am? Choose one area, create a routine, and stick to it. Once that routine becomes… well… routine, you are ready to tackle another part of the day.

In real life: 

Many parents talk about morning routines being stressful, and my (Katie’s) house is no exception! To help simplify things, we created a simple visual schedule that has five essential items: eat breakfast, get dressed, socks and shoes, brush teeth, and put on sunscreen (we live in Arizona so this one may be geography-specific). For my 4-year-old, we have pictures that go along with each item. Instead of repeating myself over and over, I just hand my kids the list and they can check in to see what they need to do next. 

4. Focus on what you want to see more of. 

When you are building routines, keep in mind that this is a new skill! How do we teach new skills? We set the expectation and then we praise/reward our kids!

In real life: 

You don’t have to go over the top on rewards, as this will look different for each child. For my kids and the morning routine, their “reward” is that once they finish the list, they get to play in the backyard before school. Regardless, look for those moments when your child is successful, and tell them about it!

If you are interested in more detailed information about routines, we have got you covered! In our online course, Creating Calm, we have an entire module dedicated to making routines work for your family. The best part is, we have created visuals that you can easily modify… get our actionable, science-backed course today to start growing your child’s independence!

Have a beautiful week,

Lori, Katie, and Mallory

Disclaimer: The contents of this site are opinions of The Childhood Collective PLLC partners unless otherwise noted. The information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any type of medical condition and is not intended as personalized medical/psychological advice. Any decision you make regarding you and your family’s health and medical treatments should be made with a qualified healthcare provider.

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  1. […] Identify 1-2 routines that will likely need some help (e.g., morning, bedtime, and homework are three that often come up).  […]

  2. […] we said before, children with ADHD thrive with routines. As much as possible, try to keep your routines during the holidays as consistent as possible. For […]

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