When our children are babies, we recognize the importance of structure and routine. We follow nap schedules and bedtime rituals to help our little ones adapt to our timetable. Our consistency creates boundaries and provides a sense of security. This is part of a foundational model of understanding human behavior, as created by American psychologist Abraham Maslow: Life and Contributions to Psychology. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, physiological conditions and safety are paramount in order to survive and thrive.

This focus on structure and routine is integral to an ADHD child’s life. 

A National Library of Medicine study titled Child routines and parental adjustment as correlates of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children diagnosed with ADHD, noted, “Family stability and consistency appear to be particularly important in effectively managing behavioral concerns. One important factor in producing consistency and stability is the use of routines.” This study examined the internalizing and externalizing behaviors of ADHD children, including anxiety, depression, aggression, impulsivity, and argumentation. 

Families that followed a consistent routine, laying out explicit directives, found their children to be less oppositional and created a more harmonious home life. 

How do you structure an ADHD routine?

It must be said there is no one-size-fits-all schedule for any family. Each child is an individual with his own motivations and triggers. However, as the parent, you can identify your specific areas of concern. You must do the legwork before implementing a routine. Ask yourself:

·       What are the hardest parts of our day? Is it the morning routine, mealtime, bath, or bed? An ADHD parent knows full well the afterschool meltdowns, and expecting her to tackle her homework or clean her bedroom when she walks in the door will be an argument. 

·       What inspires and motivates my child? Positive behavioral supports are key, and only you know what makes your child comply. Perhaps it’s a play date, a sweet treat, or screen time. 

·       How does my family operate? Are we early risers? Do we shuttle back and forth to extracurriculars? Do we travel, or do we stay home? These factors will help outline a schedule that works for you. 

·       What defines success? Is your main goal to harmonize the household routine, or do you need to get a handle on discipline? Or both?

Once you’ve thought out your answers to these questions, you can begin to create your routine. 

Creating a daily routine for a child with ADHD

We do the same thing every day. Most of us do it without thinking about it. An ADHD child, however, finds the mundane daily routines tedious and distasteful. It’s our job to make it engaging. 

Your child’s participation in household duties fosters a sense of community and self-importance. This contribution creates balance, lessening the burden on you, and it should be celebrated. 

Identify age-appropriate activities for your child to tackle, including setting the table before a meal and clearing the table after, caring for animals, taking out the trash, gathering laundry, etc. 

Set up a daily and weekly routine, identifying each task and its due date.

Make it visual.

This is so important. Visual aids, such as a calendar or schedule, can help your ADHD child stay organized and understand what tasks he needs to complete. Use colors or symbols to help him differentiate between tasks and make the schedules more engaging. Post it on the refrigerator or another central location. If he gets distracted, direct him back to his visual aid: “What were you doing? Check the fridge. Looks like you were about to clear the table because we’ve all finished eating.” Redirect. Reiterate. It will stick.

Make it interactive.

A checklist is a no-brainer. It’s easy to see what has been done and what needs to be done. Allowing an ADHD child to check off the box when he’s completed a task will advance his sense of accomplishment and create a more productive and organized individual later in life. 

When a box is checked, heap on the praise! Praise has been known to create dopamine in the brain, a chemical that ADHD individuals lack. Promoting the creation of this important chemical can help the child control his impulsivity and seek positive behavioral rewards in future tasks. It’s a win-win for the entire family.

This is a run-down of household duties, but there are personal responsibilities we all must tackle, including hygiene or preparing for school or events. 

An excellent example of an hour-by-hour daily schedule for children with ADHD has been created by ADDitude Magazine, and it can be modified to meet your individual needs. The creators of this free printable ADHD schedule include tips for motivating your child to do things that are normally a struggle, like tickling him at a wake-up time to encourage a positive and energetic start to the day or providing choices during meal times. 

Remember that every child is different, and it may take some trial and error to find a routine that works best for your ADHD child. Be patient and consistent, and work with your child to create a routine that works for him. Also, pick your battles. It’s conflicting to say be consistent but also be flexible, but life is turbulent, and we must be open to making changes as needed. Your routine will change dependent on the time of year (school or holidays) and personal situations. It’s okay to adjust as needed but keep the fundamentals the same: a visual, interactive routine that benefits the balance of the family’s needs.