Children — especially children with ADHD — thrive on routine. But what happens when you’re forgetful and overwhelmed and overworked and under-rested? If you’re like me, that’s when routine becomes a dreaded word that leaves you feeling like a failure.
Confession: I’m pretty sure I’m just as attention deficient and distraction prone as my kiddo. I’ve not been diagnosed (because I procrastinate like there are endless tomorrows) but I see so many of my child’s behaviors and emerging coping strategies in my own actions.
That means I can come up with the best to-do list or actionable strategy, but I never seem to execute it. I can give you a hundred wonderful ideas for establishing routine and sticking with it, but I can’t manage to put any of them to work for our family.
So how does someone like me (like you?) create a routine that works … and then do it consistently enough that it becomes a habit (because I’m really great at habits)? Here are a few tips I’ve put into place that have stuck:
Tip #1: Ask for help. Just because we’re the adults doesn’t mean we can do it all on our own. I am lucky to have a co-parent who can carry out requests (so long as I remember to make them), but I know many parents don’t have that luxury. In those cases, your sibling, child care worker, or best friend is your #1 ally. Let them know where you’re struggling and ask for their input or helping hand.
For instance, if you can’t get home from work in time to do homework, get a healthy meal on the table, and the kids in bed at a reasonable hour, perhaps your sister, friend, or mom can help you a couple days a week. Or maybe you can get together with a friend on a weekend and cook a week’s worth of meals at one time. You never know what aid is out there if you never ask for it!
Important: Only ask for help from folks that won’t use your vulnerability as the chance to go on a power trip or pass judgment on you. Trust and kindness is key. Withdraw your request if you find it makes you feel badly about yourself or your needs. The person who made you feel that way isn’t the right person for this job!
Tip #2: Put your child to work. Children as young as pre-school age are perfectly capable of helping you establish your routine — it doesn’t have to all be on you. Make the child responsible for age-appropriate tasks and then encourage/reward/discipline until the tasks are habits.
For us, that started with just getting dressed (with hair and teeth brushed) by a specific time each morning. Currently, my son has to accomplish those tasks as well as making his bed and putting away his bed clothes (as opposed to leaving them wherever he got dressed). He has another set of tasks for after school and evenings.
Strategy: Because he’s as forgetful as I am, we laminated a task sheet for each portion of my kid’s day. He loves checking off the items with a dry erase marker as he accomplishes them. For each task completed, he gets 1 minute of screen time (games, tv, or computer). At the end of the day, he could have accumulated 30 minutes of screen time (“could have” because he burns through them as quickly as he earns them), which we keep track of on another laminated sheet.
Tip #3: Use all your tools. As should be obvious from the strategy above, I rely heavily on tools. We set timers to get through meals and chores in a reasonable time, we make and laminate lists for the kids to always know what’s expected of them (our preschooler’s list is made of pictures, but it’s a list all the same). I set reminders for appointments, discipline, and new ideas to implement using my email program.
The point is to use what’s available to you. Phone calenders and reminders, email calendars and reminders, old school calendars, sticky notes, task lists, behavior charts. Whatever works. And if it doesn’t work, stop beating yourself up for not using it. I used to try to force behavior/reward charts on my kids until I finally gave up and let the guilt go. They simply don’t work for us.
Tip #4: Don’t compare your routine to mine or anyone else’s. No matter how much you prize your individuality, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparing yourself to those around you. Don’t! Examine your family’s unique set of needs and create a routine that meets those needs. Keep your expectations low, especially in the beginning, and prepare for the going to be rocky until you hit your stride.
Maybe your child is never going to hop out of bed and do chores. Great. Plan for that. Maybe your child can barely get through homework after he gets home from school. Cool. Prepare for that. Your routine must fit into the strictures and limitations of your family’s individual quirks. You know those quirks best, so create the tasks and goals that stand the best chance of becoming long-term habits.
The bottom line: The best laid plans are all well and good — unless you’re the person who doesn’t follow them. Don’t waste your precious time creating some elaborate system that you’ll never use. Instead, take advantage of what’s available to you — even when it means inviting friends to put you in check or giving your child more responsibility than you thought you wanted.
Your goal should be to develop healthy family and home habits that keep your family — and your kiddo — in great working order … even if the way you do it doesn’t seem very routine at all.