“It is extremely difficult! Sometimes you cannot control your actions. You are really hyper part of the time. It is hard to focus. You drift off and you just don’t want to do the work sometimes because it is hard. It feels weird.” Those are the words of a child explaining what it is like to live with ADHD.
As the stepparent of a child with ADHD and as a classroom teacher - I witness daily the struggles of children with ADHD both inside and outside of the classroom. Along the way I have learned patience, compassion, and a sense of humor. I have also learned a few tricks to help keep life sane - or a least mostly sane.
The tricks? They all have to do with organization and structure. I know my stepdaughter does best and is most successful with structure and routines. Transitions are hard. The beginning of every school year brings with it new challenges: a new teacher with new routines, new expectations, a new mix of classmates. Initially, change is hard for my stepdaughter. One morning last month was exceptionally chaotic and stressful. Getting up and out of bed, getting dressed, finding shoes, brushing teeth, brushing hair, eating breakfast, finding shoes again, getting lunch and a backpack all before the bus shows up – is a busy morning for any 11 year old, but throw in ADHD, siblings, two large dogs, a cat, and two parents that also need to get to work, and you can have what we call a “three martini” morning.
Well, I don’t like “three martini” mornings, and I am sure most other parents don’t either. So that evening, after dinner we sat down and had a meeting. My stepdaughter, her dad and I sat in the backyard. Just the tree of us - limiting the distractions. I handed my stepdaughter a small white board and dry erase pens (writing on a white board is more agreeable to her) and told her that she was going to come up with a plan so that we did not have any more mornings like that crazy, over-the-top stressful morning. The thing to remember is that it is not just stressful to us, the parents, but it is equally stressful for the child with ADHD. So I titled the board "Morning Routine" and ended it with 7:15 a.m. That is the time she needs to be ready for the bus. It was up to her to think her way through the morning and come up with a timetable that would work for her. Working backwards she worked out the amount of time she needed to accomplish each morning task. She decided that she needed two wake up calls. We apparently are her personal snooze buttons :). I then told her to put a star next to any item on the list that she wanted reminders from us to help her stay focused and moving forward in the morning. After a few minutes of thought, she had a star next to every item. That is OK. When she asks for help, we give it. Her putting a star next to the items changed it from us nagging her, to her asking us for help. A subtle but a true difference. Then just for fun she ended her morning routine with eating pie.
No, she does not eat pie every day, but having it on the list makes her smile and that is a good thing. And no, we do not drink martinis in the morning - that is just our way of making light of the chaos in our house on some of our mornings.
Amazingly, that little white board made all the difference in the world. Really! Giving my stepdaughter control in setting her morning routine, having it posted for her to see every day. She choose the location to place the board, sitting on the bathroom counter. And just the thought of pie – seems to be a really cool trick to us having smoother mornings in our home.
Routines and structure help my stepdaughter live with ADHD and be more successful.