How to Create a Healthy Routine for Children with ADHD

Establishing house rules can help relieve stress for the whole family.

Loading the player...

Weekday mornings and evenings are hectic for any family. If your child has ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, these frantic times may have even more challenges. 

Children with ADHD generally have deficits in executive function: the ability to think and plan ahead, organize, control impulses, and complete tasks. For example, they may dilly-dally when they should be getting dressed, or maybe they can’t find their homework because they didn’t put it away the night before. “This is where parents can really come into play and help them,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical officer at HealthiNation and pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. 

Establishing house rules, structure, and consistent routines can not only help alleviate these stressful moments, but they’re also very important to help shape the behavior of children with ADHD. 

How to Build a Healthy Weekday Routine

Because your child may have trouble with executive functioning, you may take over as the executive while your child gradually acquires these skills over time. 

1. Organize your home. “Limit how much stuff is in the room, because clutter can cause a lot of distraction and anxiety and feeling like you don’t have things in control,” says Dr. Parikh. 

2. Have a home for your child’s things. If your child has specific places for his or her schoolwork, toys, and clothes, he or she is less likely to lose them. “Have a place in their bedroom where their backpack will be and their homework assignments will be,” says Dr. Parikh.

3. Help your child stay on task with checklists. “Every Sunday, come up with a plan for the week and go through what is due this week,” says Dr. Parikh. “The more they have an understanding of their schedule and the structure that’s in place, the better.” 

Also important: It is good to avoid too much idle time, but a child with ADHD may become more distracted and “wound up” if there are too many after-school activities. “Trying to find the balance is important,” says Dr. Preeti. 

4. Encourage your child to do activities that they enjoy and can do on their own. The goal is to teach your child to do things independently.

5. Praise and reward your child's efforts—not just results. Offer kind words, hugs, or small prizes for good behavior or reaching small goals. “So if they got their homework done on time and they’re getting to bed on time, you can praise them and say, ‘Great job keeping to the schedule!’” says Dr. Parikh. 

“Initially, when you start creating the structure and daily routine, especially if you’ve never had it before, you may get resistance, backlash, and frustration, but stick with it,” says Dr. Parikh. “In the long run, once everyone gets used to it and you get into this routine, you’ll see it makes everyone happier and feel much better.”