This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for details.
As we get into a new school year, you might be looking to start a new morning routine for your kids. After all, summertime is usually (happily!) marked by more relaxed attitudes and reduced structure. However, any seasoned parent knows that just won’t fly when kids have work to do. This is especially true if your child has ADHD, where creating a morning routine is both more challenging AND more critical to a good day. In fact, many parents of children with ADHD rate mornings as the single most stressful part of their day. So what’s a parent to do?
Never fear! Even though every child is unique, there are some time-tested tricks to create stress-free morning routines for any kid with ADHD.
Start the Morning Routine for your Kids the Night Before
For a more detailed breakdown of how to go about this, check back for my bedtime routine article. For brevity’s sake, the cliffnotes are:
- Make morning decisions at night
- Get rid of screens one hour before bed
- Keep bedtime the same every night
- Create your night routine “secret sauce”
First (and possibly Second) Wake Ups
Early morning is often the worst time of day for ADHD symptom flare-ups, according to many parents. Arguments, distraction, losing things, and lack of awareness of time seem to be the most frequently cited problems. If this sounds like your house, consider getting a head-start on symptom management if your child takes medicine. (Disclaimer: check with your child’s physician before making any adjustments to their medication regimen, please and thank you.)
Many parents swear by waking their child an hour before their normal wake-up time and giving their daily dose of stimulant medicine then. Afterwards, a child can go back to sleep for another hour while the meds start to kick in.
Regardless of whether you use the early bird technique (or whether your kid takes any medication at all), consider being gentle for official wake-up calls. Overstimulation first thing in the morning can be jarring and start the day on the wrong foot. This could be caused by extra loud alarm clocks, abrupt changes in light, or rough shaking. Instead, consider a back rub, sing a morning song, or use an alarm clock that has a “gentle” setting (usually, a ringtone gradually increasing in volume).
Mind the Clock
If you want to start school (or breakfast, or exercise, or anything) on time in the morning, you’ll need to establish a time-management morning routine for your kid with ADHD. A brain struggling with ADHD is so much more susceptible to distractions and hyperfocus that you’d think your kid got stuck in a time warp. Instead of nagging or getting frustrated, plan ahead. Expect that keeping to a schedule will be hard for your child, and accommodate accordingly.
Set audible reminders on a phone or device to chime. Maybe even let them pick the tone! Give them one chime for a ‘five minute warning’ as a transition cue, then another when they need to move along to the next activity.
In addition, consider setting up posters in frequented spaces (bedrooms, kitchen, school work spaces) with a copy of the schedule. For children who don’t read yet, include images that correlate with activities, like pictures of clothes, a plate and silverware, or a toothbrush. Older kids might write their own reminder posters, as writing the schedule in their own hand will itself create neural pathways that aid in memory. This printable bundle has both image-based posters and blank ones, so you can use it regardless of your children’s ages!
Breakfast Morning Routines for Kids with ADHD
Some children struggle with a low appetite as a side-effect of their ADHD medication. If this is your child, focus on serving filling and nutritious food every morning. Skip cereals, freezer waffles, and other carb-heavy foods in favor of high-protein foods like eggs, lean meats, and nut butters. If your kid refuses typical breakfast dishes like eggs and toast, be willing to think outside the box. Who says turkey burgers or pad thai can only be served at dinner? Be willing to give them a little freedom at breakfast to ensure an adequate nutritional start.
Even if you let them pick their foods and get them to sit at the breakfast nook, they still might only pick at their plate. If so, try to offset that small portion by offering healthy mini-snacks throughout the day.
No household can run efficiently if mom is tasked with all the cooking, cleaning, teaching, and home maintenance. This is especially true in a homeschool environment, where kids will necessarily make more messes just by existing thanks to extra meals, extra playtime, and probably extra wardrobe changes. Make sure you’re including your kids in age-appropriate tasks to help!
Kids with ADHD thrive in predictable environments since they often lack the executive functioning skills to create it themselves. Help them by assigning regular chores, adding them to the written routine, and not switching their assignments too often.
Exercise is a critical part of a morning routine for kids with ADHD. While exercise at any time of day is obviously good, burning off excess energy just before a work period can be especially beneficial. (Why do you think so many schools use beginning-of-the-day recess blocks?) This is doubly important because morning tends to be when kids’ brains are sharpest and most able to learn.
If the weather is nice, think of typical recess games they might play on a playground with other children. Hopscotch, ball games, playground equipment, and even simply running are all good options. You might consider steering your child away from any activities like rough-housing or intense games of chase, as some studies suggest they might increase hyperactivity.
If you wake up to bad weather, consider turning the TV on and having the kids choose a YouTube workout video. You could also get indoor equipment like a mini trampoline (which has plenty of other good uses), doorway pull-up bars, or turning a wall into a rockwall. Finally, you might have chore time double as exercise; crank tunes and dance while doing dishes, run loads of laundry up and down stairs, or carry heavy bags of dog food in from the garage.
Lastly, make sure you’re carving out space in your morning for basic hygiene tasks. Even if you know you won’t be seeing anyone besides family over the course of the day, getting into healthy routines is important. Just like sleep habits, hygiene habits should be the same on weekdays, weekends, and special occasions in between. If you don’t have time on the schedule specifically for brushing teeth, showering, grooming, or changing clothes, you might find it didn’t happen at all! This personalized printable has a few hygiene checklists to choose from, if it would help!
There is hope for a stress-free morning routine for kids with ADHD. Give clear expectations, offer plenty of encouragement, and tweak when necessary. And don’t forget to actually put reminders of the schedule up on your wall! We’ve got our printable schedule/routine bundle if you need help setting yourself up for success. 🙂
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.