How to Create a Successful Morning Routine for Your Child with ADHD

by Joyce Wilson

Having a morning routine is something adults have long embraced, with early rituals even inspiring a website, It presents a different routine every day to help motivate people to be more productive the rest of their days. Morning routines are embraced by everyone from bestselling authors and CEOs, to professional athletes and teachers. They help people become more efficient by getting important tasks out of the way, while creating a peaceful state of mind that serves as preparation for what lies ahead. Just like adults thrive with effective morning routines, they're important for children, too, especially those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Having a consistent morning routine helps children learn structure and stay focused on learning throughout the day. It also helps parents create an optimal schedule that maximizes their child's academic potential. Here's what to keep in mind when constructing a morning routine for your child with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder or really any developmental or behavioral disorder.

Fuel Their Day

The Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture recommends children eat breakfast because the meal boosts academic performance and improves behavior. Breakfast also helps with tasks requiring attention, problem-solving and memory — just about anything related to the school day. It’s important for parents to eat meals with their children for many reasons.

First, it serves as an example that you're invested in a good start to the day, too. Make breakfasts nutritionally valuable by crafting meals rich in vitamins and balanced with healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables. Pair them with a glass of water to get kids hydrated and to work toward meeting their daily requirement.

Second, and most important is that it gives kids a great start to their day to have some quality time with their parents before school.

Third, you can take advantage of the time to get their minds primed for the day, too, either by doing some fun activities or by being extra supportive of how great a kid they are (support self-esteem) that gets them mentally prepared for school. Customizable word search puzzles and age-appropriate educational games like memory cards help get minds thinking without diving into tests or multiplication tables. If your child also struggles with a sensory processing disorder, getting some hard work / exercise in the morning is a good idea, too. It can help burn off some of the extra energy if they are a sensory craver or have ADHD that can cause problems in school for kids. Plus it’s an excellent mood-booster.

Visualize Success

A board that includes a child's checklist of tasks or visual schedule to accomplish in the morning helps visual learners understand what needs to be completed and helps establish consistency each morning. Use stickers or a wipe off marker to mark off duties that have been finished, and include periodic meaningful rewards for sticking to a schedule. Always keep in mind that the most meaningful rewards are those that involve YOU, the parent.  Getting an ice cream together on Saturday or other parent-child activities that include having “alone time” with one parent make the best rewards.

Include items related to hygiene (brushing teeth, getting dressed), chores (cleaning up a room) and responsibilities (feeding a pet). Children will know what's expected of them so they'll be able to get things done and clearly focus on schoolwork.

Collaborate with Your Kids

When creating a morning routine, it's essential to involve your children in the process of creating expectations to persuade them to stay on track. In his book "The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness," author and business guru Stephen Covey tells the story of a family who had immense trouble in getting their kids to finish morning tasks without significant prodding. When their parents had a discussion about what needed to be accomplished every morning and asked their kids if they felt capable of completing the tasks on their own, they all agreed. Family productivity skyrocketed because the kids felt empowered to take care of themselves. This can be especially beneficial in kids with ADHD because it gives them a sense of personal responsibility and power. By showing your children you trust them to handle their routine on their own, they’ll start their day on a positive, confident note that will likely carry on into the school day.

Make your physical morning schedule that you hang up together with your kids. Check in with them often to ask how they feel about their routine, what help they need, and how it could be improved. Continue to evolve your morning routine so it's a balanced one that sets both you as a parent and your child as a student up for success.

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Learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder & ADHD.

Joyce Wilson is a retired teacher with decades of experience. Today, she is a proud grandmom and mentor to teachers in her local public school system. She and a fellow retired teacher created to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.