Ready to make your mornings less stressful with your ADHD Child? So was I.
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Once upon a time, I was a great mom. That was, except the hours from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. Those hours were reserved for most of my yelling, nagging, pulling-my-hair out moments of motherhood.
My “If you don’t put your dang shoes on this second, I’m going to lose it/ground you/take away screens for the rest of your life so help me!” moments.
After some careful reflection and a few choice words from my mother, I turned my hair-brained mornings into something much easier. Calm and comfortable mornings less stressful with your ADHD child do exist. How may you ask? A few small but effective changes.
If you are like me, you aren’t just parenting an ADHD child.
You are coping with ADHD yourself while parenting two or more children with ADHD.
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The idea that mornings less stressful with your ADHD child even exists sounds alien to you. Actually, it probably seems like Unicorn farts. Complete make-believe.
I’ve made a few major changes since this time, and we’ve had ample success.
I want to tell you it’s ok that you get super frustrated and worn out trying to parent in the morning. I know you feel guilty for wishing your child’s ADHD medication would kick in already. If you are like me after your kids are off to school and you are onto other things for the day you feel like a terrible mom.
I can relate completely.
“You know, no one likes to start their day being yelled at Lace?”
“Huh?” I questioned my mother, as we discussed my children’s need for better listening skills in the morning.
“I get that you get mad because they struggle to listen, but it doesn’t make them move any faster or listen any better. It makes their day start with yelling. Who can go to school and concentrate with a morning that starts like that? Who would want to?”
My guilty feeling grew tenfold.
Not many parents like to admit when their mother is correct about their parenting faux pas, but she was. What could I really do differently though? I don’t yell the first time I ask them to get their shoes on. I shout the 7th time, then I get angry with them the 10th time.
Mornings have always been the same.
My oldest doesn’t wake up. Not to an alarm. Not to me shaking or me yelling etc. Nothing.
Then, getting them to stay on track without me shadowing their every move? Nope. It required my constant nagging and reminding. Then losing my patience and yelling at them to finish the SAME five things we do every morning. Consequently, we would run late. Because I still always had to get myself ready. And I couldn’t trust them to do what they were supposed to do.
So what did I do? I changed my approach.
Ready for mornings less stressful with your ADHD child? Here are the steps we took:
Step 1. I stopped yelling. I found and used my calm-mom voice.
Even when my then 8-year-old would roll over, and ignore my nice and calm “Honey, it’s time to wake up…” I would stay calm. Refusing to yell. It may take him longer than most of his peers to want to get out of bed but let’s be honest. I’m 28 years old, and it takes me longer than most of my peers to get out of bed. I now rub his spine (I read somewhere that it stimulates the CNS quicker and helps you wake up, I can’t find the source but it seems to work), and calmly say “It’s time to get up son…C’mon.” I coax him, like a puppy to a bath. Sometimes he argues, sometimes he gets mad, I remain calm.
Why? Because I’m the adult.
If one of us is expected to keep our cool, it’s me. I will often give a 5-minute warning and promptly come back after the 5-minutes are up. Eventually, he gets up, and you know what? He’s much happier than he was when I would yell for him to wake up. Much. Happier.
Step 2. Be Like Elsa….Let. It. Go.
By the time he finally gets out of bed, we see the clock and we’re already behind schedule. Trust me, no amount of yelling will fix this. So stay calm no matter what. Give directions, in a quiet voice. Give reminders in a peaceful tone. There is no sense in stressing about the inevitable now. Deep breathing helps maintain your self-discipline here, and like I stated before. Who is the adult?
Step 3. When he has a melt-down, ignore it, reaffirm the request and continue.
So he’s angry because he doesn’t want sausage on his plate this morning. He only wants waffles. You take three deep breaths before you respond, unruffled;
“Ok. I will take the sausage off your plate.” And you do.
But of course, this isn’t enough. He’s now crying because the sausage left a mark on his plate. The non-ADHD/SPD/ASD parents voices chime in your head “maybe if you just disciplined more…” but you know it’s not true. You take another deep breath, and you say something like the following:
“That’s fine. I understand you don’t want to eat your breakfast. You have five minutes to calm down and give me an alternative for what you want to eat. We have eggs, cereal or I can put your waffles on another plate. What is your choice?”
But he’s screaming and crying. After another minute you reiterate: “What is your choice? Eggs, cereal or a new plate?” still imperturbable.
Finally, you get down on his level, making eye contact and repeat “What is your choice? Eggs, cereal or a new plate?”
At last, he yells “A New PLATE!” and you respond “Ok.”
You promptly take his plate, and grab him a new clean one and move the waffle. You set it in front of him.
Step 4. Allow natural consequences to do their job.
He’s still upset so you give a gentle reminder “You have five minutes now to start eating that waffle, otherwise, you will miss breakfast and we are moving on to the next thing.” If he doesn’t begin eating within five minutes, make the announcement that breakfast is over. Removing all plates from the table, you also give instructions for the next step in the morning routine. (This could trigger a new meltdown, stay strong. Do not bargain, repeat step 3 with new choices and time restraints.)
Step 5. Ask executive planning questions.
Still maintaining your calm mom voice, you say
“Ok, breakfast is over now, What is next?”
They will need to think about it, they always do. ADHD means executive function dysfunction. It’s the reason ADHD people can’t remember what they ate for dinner the night before even if they’ve eaten the same thing the last three nights. If they cannot recall, use hand gestures like charades… you motion a toothbrushing dance, and your child immediately says “Oh! Brush our teeth.”
You respond… “yes, Ok go brush your teeth.”
You will ask this question for every new step of the sequence. It helps even more if you create a morning chart. You can download a free fillable morning chart template here. Fill in the sequence he/she should do in the morning. Consider using illustrations or pictures/stickers if they are not that advanced into reading. Let them join you in making it help solidify the memory as well.
Step 6. Stay consistent.
This is not an overnight or we-will-fix-our-morning-routine-in-one-day fix. This takes time and consistency. Your child will test you, for a month or more expecting you to blow up and yell. One recent studied showed how profound less negative parenting can have on an ADHD child. Stay calm, even on days where there are six meltdowns back to back. Remember, who is the adult? You are. You have to self-discipline enough to teach self-discipline.
Step 7. Reflect.
So the morning was rough, and now you are on your way to school late, again. Immediately I ask my kids two questions.
The first: Hey guys, we are late still today, what do you think we can do different tomorrow not to be late?
They usually respond with, “Don’t get upset over sausage,” or “wake up earlier.” Say “Yeah, that’s a good idea, I will remind you later that we need to do that tomorrow.”
This is a simple and effective way that allows them to set a small goal.
The second question I ask is “What kind of day do you want to have today?”
With a morning of less yelling, their moods aren’t clouded by their morning experience at home. With their usual response of “A good day!” they set a standard for themselves. To go to school and try hard to make it a good day. Just as it took determination and self-discipline on your part to make your mornings with your kids better. The same will be required of them. They decide to strive for that when I ask them what kind of day they want to have.
It’s been a year since that conversation with my mom.
This morning, my oldest son got up without much coaxing. He was so thrilled that we got up on time, he took the initiative to make him and his brother breakfast.
He didn’t argue when I gave him his clothes to get dressed. When I asked him what he needed to do next, he and his brother both immediately responded: “brush our teeth.”
My oldest has the extra responsibility of going out to start my car as well. Today he did it without me asking.
He also decided to scrape my car for me, just because.
He will be rewarded for this later, but after a year he is a far cry from the yelling screaming ADHD and anxiety overloaded morning child I used to have. He was very proud of himself this morning, which is something he can only do on his own. Me staying disciplined just sets an example he can either follow or not follow.