As a person suffering with ADHD during my formative years, I have had to create systems to help myself function in the world. Routine and structure are essential to my functioning. I get irritable when I am out of my routine. So is my son.
People with ADD/ADHD crave stimulation, so it might seem strange to hear that we also crave structure. Without routines I would not get the important things done, because I would be unable to prioritize my tasks for the day.
Without a routine my anxiety would run amok and I would be even more of a nutcase than I am now.
The most effective way for me to parent is to create routines that keep us productive.
Do Children Need A Routine?
The answer is yes. They need it whether they have ADHD or not. Routines create a sense of predictability and stability for children. (And parents.) As a new mom struggling with my own symptoms, the routine I developed is what saved my life.
Initially I nursed on demand. Slowly I began to spread out his feedings to every 3-4 hours. I did this intentionally so that I only had to get up once during the night. Sleeping was a huge issue – my son screamed more than he slept due to his sensory defensiveness.
I quickly learned that if I provided skin-to-skin contact I could set the sleep schedule. You better believe I put my squirming ball of noise on my chest religiously, every four hours after a feeding until he passed out.
As soon as we settled into a sleeping and feeding pattern life became so much more tolerable. My son cried less, I cried less. The proof was in the pudding.
As kids grow into active little communicators, (or angry dictators as the case may be), routine and structure continues to be important.
My son loves to argue. He loves to negotiate. Having a conversation with him is like shopping for knockoff handbags in Chinatown. Every little rule I try to put in place becomes a huge battle. I like to choose my battles, but when it comes to our routines I am very rigid.
Conflict in the home is what makes many parents shy away from enforcing specific routines and structure. I urge you to remain calm in these challenging moments. Someone once told me that I should model the behavior I want to see. Try staying clam and logical; you might be surprised how well it works.
Here are my tips for establishing routines at home:
Break Your Day Into Chunks Of Time
For the sake of my schedule I break my day into before work/school, after school, and evening. So three major chunks of time. Each part of my day is pretty structured so that I can actually get things done.
For example, in my house we have about 1-½ hours before school. During this block of time my son is aware that he has to accomplish certain things in a certain order. He must get dressed, brush his teeth and use the bathroom first. When he comes into the living area he can have a snack and some milk.
He knows breakfast will be served at school. If he is up on time he can watch one episode of The Magic School Bus while I get ready. Yes he can watch television – but only if he sticks to the routine.
At this point I have basically removed his ability to argue with me because if he doesn’t stick to the routine he doesn’t get the reward of the television show. Sometimes he gets mad at me, but I stick to my guns because I know that he will be able to regulate his behavior more effectively if I provide predictability in his day.
Make New Routines A Family Decision
My son no longer has a problem waking up in the morning. He used to be very grumpy when I walked in to wake him up. So I got him an alarm clock. He turns off the alarm clock when he is ready. He feels more in control this way and is far less irritable.
I set the alarm so I am still creating a consistent waking time.
I also allow my son to make small decisions such as picking out his clothes. He knows he has to pick out his clothing before bed at night, but since he picks everything out this routine does not bother him. He likes to feel in control.
Keep It Simple
I highly recommend starting with something simple and easy to understand such as taking off your shoes and putting them away as soon as you come in the door. Nothing else happens, no snack or anything, until the shoes are in the closet.
If you create routines using small steps you are less likely to get pushback in the form of screaming and tantrums. Other examples of small routines include setting the table at the same time each evening, or taking a bath at the same time each day.
Create An Incentive
Creating new routines and sticking to it is hard work! Most kids will respond to a reward. Obviously, your child has to stick to your new routines and do what is expected in order for the whole family to reap the benefits. If he or she does so for a week consistently don’t hesitate to reward them for their new positive habits.
Maybe fifteen minutes of video game time, or a small new toy.
It takes time for a behavior to become a habit. Even bad habits do not happen overnight. Take your time and feel out the types of routines that might be missing in your own home.
Maybe you need a better morning routine? Or maybe you need a better bedtime routine? Sit down and think about what behaviors or habits could make your life less stressful.
I promise, the struggle is worth the end result.
Do you have routines in your house?