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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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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."

Step 3: Create a Point or Reward System

ADHD children may need a little extra support because they get easily distracted and don't jump out of bed right away. "There needs to be a set amount of prompts or reminders for each step in order for your child to get a reward," Corrin tells WebMD.

If they miss the mark, simply say, "'you didn't get your point for getting out of bed, but you can still get your point for washing up,'" she says. "Give your child a point for each step they correctly meet. Tie the points to something the child is interested in." For example, some points can be redeemed for TV time, while others can be used for computer time.

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