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  • Writer's pictureMax Merritt

Creating Routine for Your ADHD Child

Because it can be very stressful trying to create a routine that will help you and your child manage the symptoms associated with ADHD. I hope you will find the following suggestions helpful in reducing much of the stress.

1. Structure, structure, structure!

Creating a daily routine that is broken down into small, manageable chunks of time can help your child stay on task and feel less overwhelmed. Typically, children with ADHD have difficulty in completing assignments and organizing things they need for school. The structure from daily routines will help with time management of long-term projects that are often started or completed the last possible minute.

2. Be willing to adapt the new structure to fit your child.

Even if you have two children with ADHD, each child is different. Structure adopted for one child might not work with the other. So, the structure you implement will need to reflect personality, needs, interests, etc. Your new structure may take some trial and error to perfect, but keep at it, and strive to be patient with your child. Also, it is a good idea to include them in the development of a new structure. Your goal is to help each child feel more independent and successful.

3. Start small.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! The notion of restructuring your child’s routine can seem like a very difficult task at first. So, take it slow and make incremental changes as you go. The first step may be making subtle changes to your child’s bedtime or morning routine. Simply getting ready for bed 30 minutes early, or being allowed to unwind after school for 30 minutes might be a simple place to start. Only once your child has adjusted to this change, you can take the next step in restructuring the routine.

4. Have a plan and write it down.

Whatever your plan for change is it’s good to write it down. Make an outline and revisit it often, making changes and revisions as you find what works best for your child. Be as detailed as you can be, and be willing to include your child in the development process. Let them know this new routine is not a punishment but a recipe for their success. Once you and your child have worked out your plan, create a checklist that can go with your child throughout the day. Checking things off the list will help your child feel a sense of accomplishment.

5. Review and reinforce your child’s school schedule.

For many ADHD kids and teens school can be an area of daily struggle. So, it is key to bring the new structure from home into the school. The good news is most schools have a preset schedule already. Your child is probably given this at the beginning of every semester or it may be on display in their classroom detailing where they need to be from hour to hour. At the beginning of the school year or semester go over this schedule with them several times. Look at a school map and help them imagine walking to each classroom. Look at their class schedule and discuss what that class will be about and what may be required of them. This is a great way to address any anxiety ahead of time and help increase your child’s confidence.

6. Time is of the essence.

In a similar way to steps 4 and 5, breaking down your child’s day into units of time can be beneficial. No matter the structure and schedule it can help your child think about how long it might take to complete various tasks. From getting ready for school, to the length of each class, to unwinding after school or after school activities, household chores, and getting ready for bed, having a general idea of how long a task may take will aid focus, reduce distraction, and increase full completion. One caveat: This is to be used as a guide only and not something set firmly in stone. Rigid adherence to a timetable could actually cause anxiety and distraction.

7. Fun and exercise should also be routine.

Some schools may not factor in enough time for recess and physical education these days. As a result, an ADHD child may not have the opportunity to expend as much energy as he might have in generations past. However, it has been shown that regular exercise can help increase attention and reduce impulsivity. So, understanding the need for fun and exercise, it is recommended this be worked into your child’s daily routine.

8. If you don’t bend, your child will break.

As mentioned in an earlier step, the routine and schedule you work up with your child can never account for every random thing that happens in life. So, it’s good to keep this in mind when your child gets home late from school thanks to the bus having a flat tire. Be flexible and understanding. If your child gets home late or an unexpected appointment interrupts the routine, be willing to allow for some unwind time before returning to the routine.

9. Make the routine clear and concise.

It might take a few drafts, but once you have a routine that works write it down and keep it where everyone can see it. Make it simple and easy to read so that your child can quickly determine what needs to be done, where they need to be and when. Make copies and place it in those spaces where you know your child will be. Yes, the fridge is the most likely place, but if your fridge has become an art wall like in a lot of families, your routine may get lost in the clutter. Posting the routine on the wall in your child’s bedroom or bathroom may be the most logical places. If there is a dedicated study space in the house then somewhere in your child’s sightline would be ideal. And, of course, a photo on their phone or in their locker at school can also be useful.

10. Make the routine routine.

I once heard a musician say that practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. The routine must become routine. It has to be followed regularly and consistently. Yes, there will be missteps and mistakes, but any measurable movement toward a goal will be a victory. Grace should be given in the early days, but gently reminding your child of the routine is important until it becomes a new pattern of behavior. Be patient, be fair, at times you may need to be firm, but always be consistent.

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