As I began to reflect on the day of a life of a child with ADHD, it became readily apparent that capturing snapshots from the period between getting up and going to school would provide more than enough information about how challenging a typical routine can become when a child experiences symptoms of ADHD-distractibility, impulsivity and high levels of activity.
One would like to think that as a professional with years of experience helping parents to proactively manage these challenges, I would be well-prepared to structure my 7-year old son who manifests each and every symptom of ADHD. However, as fate would have it, I have come to accept that my actions have the potential to elicit a host of equal and opposite reactions UNLESS I anticipate and monitor my son to help him execute the expected steps of the morning routine. This mental challenge can be exhausting and at times, like many other parents, I lose patience and add even more stress to what may already be a chaotic morning. Despite momentary frustration, I know from experience that with consistent practice, this routine will become more automatic and we will move on to bigger and better challenges. Equipped with this knowledge, I forge forward with a process in place to help my distractible little guy practice the routine with increasing independence over time.
First and foremost, we prepare as much as possible the night before. This helps to create a mental checklist of items needed in the routine and allows for advanced organization when not in the thick of the morning pressure. For us, this involves having the backpack, socks and shoes by the door, leaving the school uniform in the bathroom, and at times, preparing parts of the daily snack. This leaves the often extended getting out of bed process, bathroom time, breakfast, dressing, teeth and hair brushing, and the struggle with socks and shoes for the morning. Although I can’t believe I am admitting this, we have discovered that it is quite comfortable and saves a step to sleep in the PE uniform the night before PE.
What one can never account for are the hundreds of distractors that lurk around the house to keep us from successfully managing this seemingly simple routine in a timely manner. Take for example the day that my child jumped out of bed, ate breakfast and then headed to the bathroom for the remainder of his morning tasks. I was overjoyed that he was independently following the routine and was silently praising myself for the success of the parental structure I had imposed. Little did I know that he was staging a full-fledged military attack in the bathroom instead of following the last three steps in the perfect plan. Although by many standards, the scenario that awaited me would be hilarious, I was not amused. My son emerged from the bathroom completely unclothed with a banner of toilet paper meticulously wrapped like a sash across his chest claiming he was ready to defend our home from “bad guys”. Although I was able to reflect and chuckle later, my stress at that point was evident to my child who was clearly disappointed about my lack of enthusiasm for his obvious creativity. Instead of enjoying the moment, I was calculating the time we lost with these off-task antics.
Once redirected to get dressed and after standing over him to make sure he actually brushed his teeth, the next big barrier occurred when he put on his socks only to experience the apparently heightened discomfort the seam of the sock inflicted on his sensitive little toes. Again, not being at my best, this was the moment I chose to develop his resiliency by telling him he wouldn’t notice it once he put on shoes. This extended a 2-minute task into a 10-minute torturous ordeal. After the fact, I admitted to myself that I should not have chosen that time and place, given that we were running behind, to require him to tie his own shoes. Live and learn!!!
For many of you, these scenarios will appear silly while others of you know far too well how challenging this process can be each and every day. For the latter group, I offer encouragement to keep plugging along with as much patience as proactivity as you can possibly muster. Specifically, prepare what you can in the evening and plan two to three times as much time as it would take you to get through the morning routine by yourself. In addition, make the steps of the routine clear and when initially developing these skills, provide a high level of monitoring, pour on the praise as steps are accomplished and realize you may have to assist with some steps (pick your battles) if the process does not go as planned. And in closing, have faith that your child will continue to develop these skills with practice though it will likely take longer than his same aged peers. And, to help you chuckle when things are not going as planned, consider repeating the Star Wars mantra, “May the Force Be With You”.