Setting Routines Leads to Success
One of the first things I learned about having a child with ADHD was that they need structure. My son was highly destructive when he was a toddler and getting him to stop playing in order to eat dinner or brush his teeth or take a bath was like pulling teeth with a spoon. Switching from one task to another was very hard and would cause a total meltdown. I had never thought of setting routines for children with ADHD. I was just trying to survive one moment to the next.
After reading The Difficult Child, by Stanley Turecki, M.D., I came up with a system that actually worked. And by following the same guidelines, I am still able to get my son functioning in a somewhat routine manner now at 9 years old. The foundation of this system, though, is that you focus on positive reinforcement.
Yes, spankings and groundings worked for most of us adults when we were little. However, having a child with ADHD has taught me that sometimes what worked in the past may not be so effective with every child. When I spanked my child, he laughed at me. When I spanked him harder, he put a hole in my wall. This was not going to be an effective form of punishment. As Stanley Turecki put it:
“Negative attention reinforces negative behavior-which in turn increases negative attention.”
The book suggests using the Star System. This system teaches the child to follow an established routine. It does take consistent effort for the parents as well. As parents, we need to make the rules and routine clear to the child so that they completely understand what is expected of them.
The star system works like this:
- Decide on a routine you want to follow.
- Establish the order for the routine, let the child help you do this. (Never stray from the sequence)
- Allow the child to help you make a chart of the activities within the routine.
- Set the expectation that each time the child completes the full routine, they get a star or sticker.
- Decide how many stars or stickers need to be earned for a reward.
- Be sure the expectations are clear and make it fun.
- No punishment for not following the routine aside from not earning the star or sticker.
Keep in mind that a routine is a sequence of events that happens in the same order, every day. Decide what you want the routine to be. It could be something like: pick up your toys, eat dinner, take your dishes to the sink, brush your teeth, take a bath, put your pajamas on, play quietly for an hour, go to bed. Whatever you decide on, help your child pick which order the steps are performed in and then stick to it. Switching up the sequence messes up the routine and you’re trying to teach them to follow a routine.
Work with the child to develop a chart for the routine. It should list each step separately and have something like a checkbox for each day of the week. It should be attractive to look at and draw their attention in. Allowing them to help you make it gives them a small sense of ownership in making sure it is followed and filled out each day. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment. Having a chart up where they have access to it will help prevent them from forgetting a step. This is very important, you want them to succeed.
Talk to your child and decide how many stars or stickers they need to earn for the week in order to earn a reward. Rewards can be anything you want: a small toy from the grocery store, a book, a coloring book, a movie. For my son, it was a new fish for the aquarium. He really enjoyed going to the pet store and picking out a new fish each week. Most importantly, don’t expect perfection. Reward for 5 out of 7 or something like that. Everybody has a bad day or off day sometimes, give them an actual chance to earn a reward.
Lastly, understand that this is not another reason to punish your child. If they mess up the routine, they don’t earn the sticker for the day. The only consequence should be that they don’t earn the sticker and they shouldn’t get reprimanded. I would say something to the effect of, “No star today Honey, try again tomorrow.” This really is enough. If you’ve found a reward system that they are actually interested in, they will try hard to earn it. Don’t be overly hard on them when they mess up, they already do that to themselves. Just encourage them to try again.
Instead of punishing our kids for doing bad, we want to put more focus on rewarding them for doing good. This will naturally make them want to do it more. By changing my mindset when he was a toddler, I now have a child that aims to please and very rarely gets into trouble. The caveat here is that I started when he was 3 years old. I started young. And there was quite a bit of resistance at first. But I’m persistent and it paid off. This system still works very well with my son. This is not to say it will work perfectly for everybody, but it is a proven system that has worked well for many.
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