If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, you know how difficult simple areas of the day can often be. Getting out of the house for school on time? Chaotic. Having your child sit down after school to finish their homework? A battle. Getting through the bedtime routine? Exhausting.
You are not alone. One of the key components of ADHD is that symptoms occur in more than one setting – such as both home AND school – so it makes sense that multiple parts of the day become difficult.
Children with ADHD have both inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness that affects their ability to pay attention, remember items or steps in a sequence, stay organized during tasks, sit still, wait their turn, and carry out verbal instructions. This is not their fault – there are both genetic and neurological factors at play.
One of the best ways to help children with ADHD across the board is to establish and follow consistent and predictable routines at home. Routines can be defined as a series of steps that happen in a particular order, in the same way, and at the same general time from day to day. Routines provide predictability, which helps your child know what to expect, what is expected of them, and how that experience is going to look. All of these things help the day run smoother!
Though many parents already follow routines at home, there are four key components of routines that work particularly well for children with ADHD. They are:
1. Movement – Children with ADHD need to move. Their bodies often require a higher threshold for sensory input (particularly proprioceptive and vestibular input, fancy terms for body awareness and body movement), and so movement that is sensory-based helps provide their body with that “just-right” amount that is needed to stay regulated. Rhythmic, linear movements, such as jumping jacks, and “heavy work” activities, such as push-ups, are the best kinds of movement.
2. A decluttered space – This decreases the likelihood of distraction, as many children with ADHD are distracted by things that they see in their vicinity. Choosing a set place that is tidy to complete specific routines, such as completing homework, can help your child stay on task.
3. Using timers – Visual timers, such as the Time Timer, allows your child to SEE time. This helps the concept of time become concrete. Timers can be used to transition to a routine (such as 10 minutes until bedtime) or to allot time that a routine will take place (such as 25 minutes to complete homework).
4. Using checklists – Checklists are another way your child is able to better internalize their steps or responsibilities of a routine. Children with ADHD often have difficulty following directions that have multiple steps or tend to get lost or distracted in between steps, so writing them down and checking them off as they go can be very helpful. If your child can’t read yet, you can use pictures instead of words. Checklists also help YOU, the parent, from having to repeat yourself a million and one times.
Keeping these four components in mind, let’s go over some sample routine ideas for three key parts of your child’s day.
Sample Morning Routine
- Wake up – Set a timer for the amount of time until you need to be leaving the house.
- Wash up in the bathroom (Use toilet, brush teeth, wash face, etc) – Post a checklist in the bathroom to help your child remember what they need to do.
- Get dressed – Choose the outfit the night before and lay out the clothing to keep mornings running smoothly.
- Eat breakfast
- Brush teeth
- Gather belongings – Keep belongings in the same spot nearby the door so your child knows where they are. Post a list with words or pictures of the items your child needs to leave the house (shoes, jacket, backpack, lunch box, etc)
Sample After-School Routine
- Enter home
- Unpack belongings – Have a clear, set place where your child places their shoes, backpack, and jacket. Use hooks, labels, and checklists to help them remember.
- Eat snack
- Outdoor play or 15 minutes of indoor movement – Jumping jacks, freeze dance, Go Noodle youtube video, etc
- Complete homework – Have a predetermined tidy space, set a visual timer for how long they are expected to work
- Preferred play activity – This helps them have something to work towards when completing homework
Sample Bedtime Routine
- Set a timer for how many minutes until bedtime
- 10 minutes of movement – Consider whether your child does better with high activity movement before bed or something calmer like following along to a yoga video
- Change into pajamas
- Brush teeth
- Read books
- Lights out
There you have it! As you can see, simple routines are best. It does not have to be complicated, but keeping these parts of your child’s day consistent and predictable can truly be a game-changer. The Time Timer is a great tool to use within these three routines and more. Click HERE for my affiliate link.
Jessica Rapp Irwin, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist, childhood routine expert, and lover of all things child development. She founded Rooted in Routine, an online parent coaching platform, to help parents learn simple, easy to implement routines for optimal child development starting at age one. She is passionate about educating parents on NORMAL, HEALTHY development, which is often simpler than we think. Jessica’s approach is largely rooted in going back to the basics to help you establish solid, age-appropriate routines for your child for things like eating, play, and sleep. She believes this is the most important foundation you can provide for your child – and she wants to help you do just that! Learn more about Jessica at https://www.rootedinroutine.com/about and follow her on Instagram at @rootedinroutine.