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Children With ADHD and Routines: Building Healthy Structures

Managing time effectively can be a significant challenge for individuals with ADHD. Whether for children, students, or adults, ADHD symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and difficulties with organisation can make it incredibly hard to stay focused and meet deadlines.
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Children With ADHD and Routines: Building Healthy Structures


Living with ADHD can present unique challenges for children, impacting their daily routines and overall wellbeing.

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the brain’s executive functions, such as attention, impulse control, and organisation. It is estimated that around 708,000 children in the UK alone have been diagnosed with ADHD (ADHD UK).

Children with ADHD often struggle with establishing and maintaining routines, which can lead to difficulties in managing time, completing tasks, and maintaining a sense of order in their lives. However, incorporating structured routines can significantly benefit children with ADHD, providing them with:

  • Stability
  • Predictability
  • A sense of control

In this blog post, we will explore the importance of routines for children with ADHD and discuss practical strategies for creating effective routines throughout the day.

By implementing routines tailored to their specific needs, we can empower children with ADHD to navigate their daily lives more smoothly, enhance their focus and productivity, and promote their overall wellbeing.


The Importance of Routines for Children With ADHD

All individuals dealing with the symptoms of ADHD can benefit from the structure and order that comes with clearly-defined routines. For children, a routine around a specific time, task, or space – morning and bedtime, or homework, for instance – can prove invaluable in completing the activity calmly and effectively.

A structured routine helps children with ADHD stay on track, understand what they’re expected to do, and remember the steps needed to achieve it. In the absence of a clear routine, children with ADHD may become overwhelmed – or simply forget to do certain things.

It’s relatively common for young people with ADHD to become overstimulated, especially when presented with something new. This can quickly spiral into challenging behaviour. But a routine can act almost as a self-regulatory mechanism; children will more easily identify unhelpful behaviours in themselves and ‘recalibrate’ their focus accordingly.

For parents, carers and educators, creating healthy routines for children with ADHD – and working together to stick to them – is also hugely important. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent conflict and confrontation around unappealing tasks, such as sitting down to do homework, brushing teeth, or going to bed.

You’ll find you won’t feel the need to battle. Thanks to a regular routine, the child understands: ‘OK, now it’s 7pm. I have 30 minutes of homework, and then I can watch TV for 30 minutes.’

The Role of Routines in Managing ADHD Symptoms

From a scientific perspective, routines provide a structured framework that helps children with ADHD navigate their daily lives more effectively. Establishing consistent routines helps regulate the brain’s circadian rhythm, supporting better sleep patterns, and promoting overall wellbeing.

Routines also enhance time management skills, as they provide a predictable sequence of tasks and activities. This predictability helps children with ADHD stay focused, reduce impulsivity, and improve organisation and planning abilities.

Furthermore, routines create a sense of stability and reduce stress by providing a clear roadmap for daily activities. By incorporating routines into the lives of children with ADHD, we can empower them to better manage their symptoms and thrive in their daily routines.

Productive Routine Creation: 6 Examples

Introducing routines into the lives of children with ADHD can be a game-changer, offering them the structure and support they need to thrive. Let’s explore six creative and effective routines that can make a significant impact:

A Morning Routine for Smoother Starts to the Day

Small steps set a positive tone for the day, promoting focus and reducing morning stress. Imagine a bustling, hectic morning where a child with ADHD struggles to find their shoes, finish breakfast, and get out the door on time.

Contrast this image with a well-crafted, structured routine that incorporates simple tasks like laying out clothes the night before, taking the time for a nutritious breakfast, and engaging in a brief mindfulness exercise. This is just one example of how a clear and healthy routine can help set children up for the day.

Incorporating Structure and Regular Breaks

Often, children with ADHD find it challenging to stay on track and can become overwhelmed during long periods of unstructured time. By designing a routine that breaks tasks into manageable chunks and includes scheduled breaks for movement or sensory activities, children can maintain focus and prevent mental fatigue. Using a visual timer or a task checklist can help them stay organised and motivated throughout the day.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Imagine a child with ADHD bursting with energy, and struggling to channel it productively.

Incorporating regular exercise or physical activities into their routine can be a game-changer. Whether it’s a morning bike ride, an after-school dance class, or a family hike on the weekends, physical activity helps release excess energy, improves focus, and boosts mood. Encourage children to try different activities until they find one that sparks their interest and keeps them engaged.


A Homework and Study Routine for Academic Success

It’s not uncommon for the prospect of homework to leave a child feeling overwhelmed by homework and study sessions. This can often spiral into a negative cycle of unwelcome behaviour.

Creating a routine that designates a specific time and space for focused work can be incredibly beneficial. Encourage children to break tasks into smaller, manageable portions, use visual aids like colourful sticky notes or a whiteboard to track progress, and incorporate short breaks for movement or relaxation. Consistency and a quiet, clutter-free study area can help them stay on track and complete tasks more efficiently.

Promoting Mindfulness and Relaxation through Routine Rituals

Implementing mindfulness or relaxation practices into children’s routines can provide a much-needed sense of calm. Encourage them to start the day with a few minutes of deep breathing or guided meditation, create a cosy corner for quiet time, and incorporate rituals like journaling or drawing to help them express their thoughts and emotions. These routines can enhance emotional regulation, reduce stress, and improve overall wellbeing.

Creating an Effective Evening Routine for Better Sleep

Picture a child with ADHD who consistently has difficulty winding down and falling asleep at night. Establishing a consistent evening routine can work wonders.

Encourage them to create a calm environment by dimming lights, engaging in a relaxing activity like reading or listening to soothing music, and implementing a regular bedtime. Minimise screen time before bed and ensure a comfortable sleep environment to promote a restful night’s sleep.

6 Visual Tools and Checklists to Support Routines

Visual aids and checklists can be powerful tools in supporting routines for children with ADHD. These visual cues provide structure, enhance understanding, and help children stay organised and focused.

  1. Daily Routine Chart: Create a colourful chart that outlines the key tasks and activities for each part of the day. Include visuals and simple instructions to guide children through their routine.
  2. Visual Timers: Use visual timers to help children understand the concept of time and stay on track with their tasks. These timers provide a visual representation of the remaining time for each activity, nurturing time awareness and task completion.
  3. Task Checklists: Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps and create checklists. Children can visually check off completed tasks, which provides a sense of accomplishment and helps them stay focused on the remaining tasks.
  4. Chore Charts: Design chore charts that assign specific tasks to children. Use visuals and a reward system to motivate and reinforce positive behaviours. This helps children take responsibility for their chores and contributes to a sense of accomplishment.
  5. Homework Planner: Provide a dedicated homework planner or calendar where children can record their assignments, due dates, and study times. This helps them prioritise tasks, plan their study sessions, and stay organised with their academic responsibilities.
  6. Morning and Bedtime Visual Routines: Create visual routines that outline the steps to follow in the morning and before bedtime. Include visuals for tasks like brushing teeth, getting dressed, and packing school bags. These visual routines promote independence and smooth transitions.

When using visual tools and checklists, involve children in the process by allowing them to personalise and decorate the visuals. Keep the visuals in easily accessible locations, such as a bulletin board or their bedroom door, so they can refer to them throughout the day.

Remember, consistency is key. Encourage children to follow their routines consistently, providing positive reinforcement and celebrating their successes along the way. With the support of visual tools and checklists, children with ADHD can develop valuable organisational skills, enhance their time management, and experience greater success in their daily routines.


Adjusting Routines to Accommodate Medication and Therapy

When supporting children with ADHD, it’s important to consider how medication and therapy fit into their daily routines. To accommodate these interventions, establish a consistent schedule for taking medication and incorporate it into their morning routine.

Coordinate therapy sessions with other activities, allowing time for rest or self-care, and communicate with school to ensure proper medication administration. Stay flexible and adapt routines based on your child’s needs, and maintain open communication with healthcare providers and therapists for ongoing support.

Strategies for Handling Unexpected Changes

Flexibility is key when it comes to managing routines for children with ADHD. Unexpected changes can disrupt their sense of structure and stability. To navigate these situations, it’s important to have strategies in place.

  • Communicate openly with your child about the changes and provide reassurance. Help them understand the reason for the change and any adjustments needed.
  • Maintain a sense of routine as much as possible by identifying anchor activities or tasks that can serve as a foundation during times of change.
  • Utilise visual aids, such as visual schedules or checklists, to provide a visual guide for navigating the new situation.
  • Finally, offer support and understanding, and be patient as your child adjusts to the unexpected change.

Supportive Resources and Professional Guidance

Establishing and maintaining routines can greatly benefit children with ADHD by providing structure, predictability, and a sense of control. Remember that each child is unique, so it may take some trial and error to find the routines that work best for them.

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to support you in this journey. Online platforms like ADDitude, ADHD UK, the NHS and The ADHD Centre offer helpful articles, checklists, and printable resources.

Additionally, seeking professional guidance from healthcare providers, therapists, or ADHD specialists can provide valuable insights and personalised strategies. Remember that with patience, consistency, and the right support, you can help your child thrive with the power of routines. Contact us now to book your child’s assessment.

FAQs: Children, ADHD and Routines

Why are routines important for children with ADHD?

Routines provide structure, predictability, and a sense of control, which can help children with ADHD manage their symptoms, improve focus, and reduce stress.

How can routines help in managing ADHD symptoms?

Routines establish consistent patterns, enhance time management, promote organisation, and support self-regulation, which are all crucial for managing ADHD symptoms effectively.

What elements should be included in a morning routine for a child with ADHD?

A morning routine for a child with ADHD may include:

  • Waking up at the same time
  • Getting dressed
  • Eating a nutritious breakfast
  • Taking medication
  • Organising school materials
  • Reviewing the day’s schedule.

How can breaks and structure be incorporated into the day for children with ADHD?

Incorporate regular breaks, set clear expectations for tasks, use visual timers, and provide visual schedules or checklists to create structure and allow for necessary breaks throughout the day.

What strategies can be used to establish an effective evening routine for better sleep?

Establish a consistent bedtime, create a calming routine, limit screen time before bed, ensure a comfortable sleep environment, and encourage relaxation activities such as reading or listening to soft music.

How can parents help children with ADHD develop a homework and study routine?

Parents can establish a designated study area, break tasks into manageable chunks, provide clear instructions, offer regular reminders, use timers to manage time, and provide support and encouragement throughout the homework and study process.

What visual tools and checklists can support routine implementation?

Visual tools such as calendars, checklists, visual schedules, and task boards can help children with ADHD stay organised, follow routines, and track their progress.

How should routines be adjusted to accommodate medication and therapy schedules?

Incorporate medication administration times into the routine, schedule therapy sessions during appropriate times, and ensure that necessary preparations and transitions are included in the routine.

Why is physical activity important in the daily routines of children with ADHD?

Physical activity helps reduce hyperactivity, improve focus, and enhance overall wellbeing in children with ADHD. Engaging in regular exercise or activities that involve movement can be beneficial.

Can mindfulness and relaxation practices be integrated into routine rituals?

Yes, mindfulness and relaxation practices such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga can be incorporated into routine rituals to help children with ADHD calm their minds, reduce anxiety, and improve focus.

How should unexpected changes in routine be handled for children with ADHD?

Prepare children in advance for possible changes, provide visual or verbal reminders, offer reassurance and support, maintain flexibility, and help them adjust to new routines or adapt their existing routines as needed.

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