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Minimize School Morning Mayhem for ADHD Children

Experts share tips for getting your ADHD child ready for school each morning -- with a minimum of stress.
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WebMD Feature

Getting any child up and out the door in time for school can be a trying experience, but if a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this process can make you want to pull your hair out.

Think about all that can go wrong: The backpack may not be where it was supposed to be or the dog may have literally eaten the homework. Suddenly, a child remembers he or she is supposed to bring something special to school or flat out refuses to wear a raincoat when it's monsooning. The list is endless.

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For ADHD kids, these scenarios can actually reinforce low self-esteem and negative self-talk like "I'm unorganized" or "I'm always late" or "I always forget."

Marked by impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention, ADHD affects about 5% of children aged 6 to 17, according to the CDC.

"The school morning routine is one of the most difficult areas for ADHD children," says Betsy Corrin, PhD, a child psychologist at Packard Children's Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine. "The morning is time-pressured and involves a lot of steps. And such stressful situations don't bring out the best in many ADHD kids or their parents who often have ADHD as well," says Corrin, who runs a training group for ADHD families.

It doesn't have to be this way. Creating a step-by-step personalized action plan can help mornings go seamlessly 99% of the time, she says. And while these tips were designed for ADHD children, they can work for non-ADHD kids as well.

Step 1: Outline the Steps

"This is very individualized," Corrin says. "Lay out the steps and anchor them by time." For example, on a school morning, your child should get out of bed by 7 a.m., be dressed by 7:25 a.m., have breakfast at 7:30 a.m., pack their book bag by 7:45 and be out the door by 8 a.m. That's five steps."

Step 2: Define How Many Reminders There Will Be for Each Step

"For example, say, 'I will come in twice and that's it, and you must be out of bed by 7 a.m.,'" she says. Index cards can also help. "Hand a child an index card with each step written on it and ask them to give the card back when he or she has completed that step or task."

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