Why Children With ADHD Need Structure and Routines

Girl trying to read a book at the breakfast table
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If you're parenting a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you've likely heard how important it is to expose such children to routines and a structured environment. But what does that mean exactly, and how does structure help? With this overview, get a better understanding of why routines are the key to caring for children with trouble focusing.

Understanding Structure

Structure is a term one hears a great deal as it relates to parenting children with ADHD. So, what does structure look like? Simply put, a structured environment is one that is organized and predictable. When you have day-to-day routines and a daily schedule in place for your child, you are creating structure. When you have consistent house rules, expectations, and consequences that are clearly understood by your child and positively reinforced by you, you create an environment that is predictable. In a structured environment, your child knows what to expect and there is a great sense of security that comes from this. Structure benefits any child, with or without ADHD.

Why Structure's Important for Kids With ADHD

Many children are capable of structuring their chores, schedules, and activities and of developing good habits on their own. For a child with ADHD, however, this is a much more difficult undertaking because of how the disorder functions. Children with ADHD struggle with the ability to regulate themselves. This means they find it challenging to stop impulsive behaviors and keep their focus when there are so many distractions pulling them in different directions.

The symptoms of ADHD lead to problems with self-control. As a result, children with ADHD need more external controls (i.e. structure) in order to help them manage symptoms. When you build in these external controls at home, you are helping your child to experience more successes and also teaching them good habits and skills along the way. With structure, children learn to set aside the same block of time to complete their homework or to establish a bedtime and morning routine. Simple moves such as taking a shower and picking out clothing for school the night before can make getting to school on time the following morning much easier.

A Helpful Analogy

One way to help explain structure is to use an analogy. Structure is a lot like scaffolding. In other words, the routines, the reminders, and limits you set and the consistency you provide is a lot like the scaffolding used on tall buildings. This scaffolding provides support as the building is going up, or “growing.” Similarly, when you create structure at home, you are providing the support needed to help your child be successful and develop greater competence. As a result, your child's self-confidence grows. Eventually, this will help your child develop skills to organize and structure his life as he moves into adulthood.

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