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I realized that I talk about routines quite a bit in my posts. And there is good reason for it, routines can be so helpful for the emotional and mental well being of our kids. I also realized that I’ve never talked about how to establish successful routines for your ADHD child. Today I’m going to go more in depth about how to set up routines for your family that will actually work!
For some parents, establishing routines comes naturally. Some of us are just hardwired to feel more comfortable when things happen at the same time and in the same order each day. They set up their own routines and carry that over to parenting as well. That consistency is very beneficial for our children.
But, for those of us who are more “fly by the seat of our pants”, routines don’t just establish themselves so easily. Especially if, like me, you are an ADHD parent of ADHD children. After struggling for a long time and doing a lot of research for my own family, I realized how important it is to establish successful routines. It has made such a difference in our family and I hope I can help it make a difference in yours too.
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How to Establish Successful Routines for your ADHD Child
Why are routines important?
Having ADHD and raising ADHD children has definitely given me a brain science based approach to my parenting. And what I have learned in my research is that children’s brains thrive on predictability. When schedules and days are all over the place, children experience anxiety because they don’t know what to expect. This can be especially hard on our ADHD kiddos.
When children have set routines they have a sense of security and stability that allows them to thrive. They feel safe and secure and know what is expected of them. And, they are better able to cope with transitions. If your child is like mine, those transition times can be a tantrum waiting to happen. Having consistency in your routines can help your child anticipate the transitions and cope with them.
When kids know what to expect from their day it helps reduce anxiety. It also reduces overstimulation because switching from one activity to another doesn’t feel as abrupt or disruptive. Knowing what to expect also reduces the likelihood of resistance from our kids. For instance, when bed time happens at the same time and in the same way every night, our kids are much less likely to fight it.
Routine is also very helpful to us as parents. Not only does it make our children feel more secure while reducing tantrums and problems with compliance, it also makes our lives easier from an organizational stand point. Anything that can help make our parenting journey easier is a huge win in my book!
How to decide what your routines should look like
Obviously every family is made up of unique individuals and schedules. The routines that work for my kids may not be a good fit for yours. So, the first step is deciding where you need routine and what it should look like. Remember that schedules and routines are not the same thing. A schedule is the big picture; the whole day. And the routine is the individual steps that happen repetitively during the schedule. So, while schedules can change day to day, routines can still remain consistent.
To figure out where your family would benefit from routine think about the parts of your day where you run into the most problems. Is it getting the kids ready for school in the morning? Getting them to bed at night? Whatever point in your day where there are struggles is probably a good place for a routine.
Next, pay attention to what does work well during these times. Does a warm bath or shower help calm your child before bedtime? Does a quick breakfast during the week give more time in the morning and reduce stress? Then make sure that those things are part of your daily routines. Pay attention to what your family does naturally and then build on that.
Even when it comes to screen time
I am a big believer in working screen time into the routine too. In a perfect world, our kids would rather read books and play outside than watch tv or play on a tablet. That is so not the world we live in though! Accepting that our kids will have screens and working it into the routine can help reduce the negative effects.
We have screen time at the same time and for the same length of time just about every day. The benefit to this is that the kids hardly ask for screens outside of screen time any more. They know when screens are available and that there is no point in asking for them at other times.
Again, this leads to fewer fights and tantrums. And who doesn’t want that?! Of course there will be special treats like family movie time on a rainy Saturday or tv at a friend’s house. But, for the most part we stick to it and it works great for us!
How to make it a routine
Once you figure out what you want your routine to be it is time to implement it. It takes a bit for things to become habit or routine so be patient. If you need to, introduce one or two parts of the routine at one time. As they become successful, then add more.
The bed time routine is an important one in my family. This was especially true during the toddler years. A solid bedtime routine can include bath time, teeth brushed, jammies on, book reading in bed, then tuck in. Sure the kids would rather be playing than brushing their teeth but, when the same thing happens in the same order day after day, they know what is expected of them and go with it.
After a week or so of going through the same activities in the same order, you’ll realize that you have established a successful routine. Some things may take longer than others to establish but be consistent and you’ll get there!
Allow for Flexibility
Routines by nature can seem like they are set in stone but they shouldn’t be. Definitely figure out what works for your family and stick with it but also allow for some wiggle room. As your children grow and change their routines will need to change with them. If something is no longer working for your family, it is time to make adjustments.
We also need to leave room for things like special family events and doctor appointments that could disrupt our routines. It’s ok when that happens just let your children know when it is coming. If baths and books are part of your nightly routine it could sound something like: “We are going to stay late at your cousin’s house tonight so we are going to shower this morning and will only have time to read one story for bed instead of three like we normally do.”
When kids feel like they are in the loop and know what is going to happen there is far less room for anxiety. Letting them know ahead of time will help them to start processing what is coming and reduce the overstimulation of surprise.
Most of the time my kids have a set bed time. But on those summer weekend nights when we are all outside having fun and no one wants to come in, we push bed time back. We still go through the bed time routine but it may be a little abbreviated. Having that flexibility allows us to have the benefits of routine while also making amazing family memories.
How to make smooth transitions
Activity transitions can be difficult for any kids but especially for our ADHD children. They are either ready to move on before it’s time or don’t want to stop doing something they enjoy and have a hard time handling their emotions. This can be challenging when trying to establish a good routine.
One thing that can really help ADHD children with this is telling your them what will be happening next and then giving them time warnings. Start with something like, “After we are done playing at the park we are going to eat lunch.” Then 5-10 minutes before it is time to leave the park let them know how much time they have left.
I also give them a two minute warning and let them know that it’s time to do that one last thing they want to do. When they know that the transition is coming, kids will be able to handle it much better. If I were doing one of my favorite things and then was told I had to stop right now and do something else, I would be mad! That’s what it feels like for our kids too.
When establishing new routines it is important to include the kids by telling them what is happening and why. You can tell them that the family will be doing (bedtime, lunch time, mornings, etc) a little bit differently and you hope it will make things easier on everyone.
Then let them know the plan and remind them throughout to help ease those transitions. “Ok, remember, we are going to brush our teeth and then we will go read our bed time books before Dad and I tuck you in.” After the routines are established you won’t need to mention the transitions as much.
It is still a good idea to use time warnings when transitioning from free time to a routine though. That way they will know what they will be expected to do and when.
How to Establish Successful Routines for your ADHD Child
Learning how to establish successful routines for your ADHD child can offer so many benefits for your family. It can give your children a sense of security and calm in a world that often seems uncertain to them. Consistent routines also teach your children what to expect and what is expected of them.
One of the greatest benefits that our family has experienced with routines is the reduction of tantrums. I have tried just about everything to help eliminate tantrums from our lives (I would probably eat ice cream on lettuce if I thought it could help) and I am so happy with the results that we’ve had from establishing routines.
If your family struggles with tantrums too my post 5 Ways to Handle ADHD Tantrums could be a big help! Along with routines there are some other great strategies for you to try.
I’d love to know what routines are working for you right now and which ones you plan to start. Let me know in the comments below! And remember parents, we can do this. We are loving our kids and striving to do our best by them. We are already rocking the most important part of parenthood!