Science says we all use our brains in three different ways. Although the names applied to these different ways may vary, they each have a specific role to play. Let’s use the terms robot, Yoda and monkey brain.
The monkey brain is of course the “out of control” brain that often gets kids in trouble. It is the brain that doesn’t think before acting and is often full of movement and impulsivity. It can take over in an instant yet be so subtle that the brain’s owner is unaware until it is too late.
The Yoda brain on the other hand is the calm, open brain used for learning and doing the right thing. It is wise and knows what to do and can create a plan to do it. Unfortunately, it is the last to develop and involves a number of executive function skills.
The robot brain is the brain that uses habits and routines and does things on “automatic pilot” with little or no thought involved. This is the brain we are going to talk about using in the morning.
The robot brain does not create habits on its own, especially if ADHD is involved. It takes training and practicing and often some tweaking before a set of actions can become a habit. Once there is a habit, the brain can relax and just follow through the motions without having to use up its decision-making energy.
A brain with ADHD can benefit from using the robot brain. For the ADHD brain every day is usually a new day and the morning routine often changes daily as well. If there is no habit, then each task that needs to be done has to be thought of and then acted on. That is pretty difficult for an ADHD brain and even for neurotypical brains before they have had their coffee.
Here are just 5 benefits of using the Robot brain and creating habits and routines:
- Routines and habits are automatic so no real “thinking” required.
- Saves brain energy for important decisions
- Creates structure where there was none
- Fewer reminders required to get kids out the door – means less stress all around
- Develops independence and self-care habits
Your brain has a limited amount of energy and it needs time to create more if it has used up its current amount. If you haven’t heard of “decision fatigue” then you probably haven’t experienced it. It occurs when you can no longer think or make a decision because you have used up the chemicals in your brain needed to make decisions. So, for example, a big decision at work might become impossible to figure out if you have spent the morning deciding what to do first, and what to wear, and what to eat, and which bag to bring to work, and what to do for lunch, etc. You get the idea. Too many decisions on trivial stuff, still uses those brain chemicals. If all of that was a habit or routine that you did on “automatic pilot” then you would still have plenty of “decision juice” for the important stuff. Same thing happens for your children although their brains’ have a smaller capacity of chemicals = less decision-making juice.
A routine can bring much needed structure to your child’s day. How many times have you had to tell them to get their shoes, or brush their teeth? With a habit – that includes all the important stuff, they will develop the capacity to get out the door and take care of themselves in the process. That would mean much less stress for you and the family.
Creating the habit sequence is the toughest part. You will need to start slowly and with no more than three steps. It takes about 144 times of doing something for it to become a habit, so don’t give up if it doesn’t seem to be working. Slowly add what you think your child can handle but at the beginning walk them through the process each day. Yes, I said each day! Together you can create a chart, or checklist, or photo sequence of what they should look like and have before going out the door…whatever works (and keep trying until you find what works for them). You may have to add incentives and/or change things up a bit until they run smoothly. The extra effort will be worth it and you will be developing your child’s ability to independently get up and get dressed and be ready for school. Then you can look at setting up an evening routine and then of course the dreaded homework routine.
Kids with ADHD crave structure…. they just do not know how to create it for themselves. They need your help. The task of getting ready for school has at least 10 steps and if those steps could be in any order then there would be 3,628,800 possible combinations! Is it any surprise they don’t know what to do?
So, help your child and yourself by creating a morning routine and let me know what positive effects it brings. Enjoy the ride!