The ADHD Challenge: Strategies for Resolving Problems in the Morning

The alarm rings. Your child hops quickly and happily out of bed. After brushing her teeth, she heads for the closet and picks out something to wear. Before her first mouthful of Cheerios, she checks her backpack to make sure that she’s got all of her homework is completed and present. Then she heads to the school bus with time to spare.

Ok. This would be fantastic if it weren’t a dream. 

More likely, your morning begins with you trying to rouse your child out of bed, but she wants nothing more than to be left alone. Fifteen minutes later, when you stop by her room to call her to breakfast, you find her playing with the dog or absorbed in reading a magazine, and half-dressed. Once she’s in the kitchen for breakfast, she can’t decide what to eat. 

Morning time can be stressful for any parent, particularly for those of us whose ADHD children need time to get going or who are easily sidetracked. Try these ideas for starting the day on a better note.

Establish and review the morning routine.Together with your child, create a chart that details the sequence in which each morning activity should take place. Help her get into the habit of referring to the chart every day (For pre-readers, use pictures to denote activities,). You can also have your child make a tape recording in which he reminds himself what to do and when to do it. This helps to eliminate need to be nagged by Mom or Dad!

Plan for an early bedtime. Getting enough sleep is essential for children with ADHD. Start your evening routine early enough for your child to get the 10 hours of  bedtime he needs in order to wake up physically and mentally refreshed.

Showering. Have your child take his bath or shower before bedtime, when time isn’t so precious and it’s less likely that someone else will need the bathroom. He’ll sleep better and there will be one less rushed item — and less conflict — in the morning.

Provide a protein-rich bedtime snack. Tryptophan, the protein that occurs in milk, turkey, and chicken, is a natural sleep inducer. But just about any protein-rich snack about 30 minutes before bedtime is an efficient get-to-sleep aid. Try oatmeal, whole-wheat cereal, an egg, some meat or fish, cheese, or pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Make decisions at night. Choose clothes for school the night before. Also set breakfast and lunch menus to avoid deciding what to eat in the morning.

Pack the backpack. Finally, have your child place his papers and books inside his backpack — and leave it near, or even blocking, the front door, where it can’t be left behind.

Invest in a good alarm clock. It would probably be helpful to have one that will wake the dead. However, you can make the most of the alarm you’ve got by setting it on a metal pie pan with dimes in it and placing it just out of arm’s reach.

Gently awaken with a touch. Many children with ADHD are extremely sensitive to touch. Try gently wiping a cool, damp washcloth over your sleepy kid’s brow and cheeks while whispering a morning greeting. This routine should be agreed to ahead of time to avoid overstimulating your child.

Let light into the room. If it’s naturally dark outside at night, leave the bedroom curtains parted to allow natural light to prompt your child into wakefulness in the morning. Or install a dimmer switch and turn up the light gradually on dark mornings.

Enjoy breakfast. Eating breakfast together is great, except when it isn’t. If your child makes war at the table give him breakfast to go in the form of a piece of fruit, a chunk of cheese, and a breakfast bar. Do what works and forget the “shoulds.”

Reward your child for a good morning. Let your child add a sticker to his chart or a token to his jar for getting out the door with a minimum of fuss.

Yours in Health,

New Horizons Wellness Services
13333 SW 68th Pkwy,
Tigard, OR 97223


New Horizons Wellness Services provides a true multidisciplinary approach to mental & physical health treatments for children, adults and families.