Category Archives: ADHD and Attention skills

5 Tips to get your kids back into the swing of school

There are many factors that can help children settle back into the school year – all involve consistency and predicatability of implementation.

It’s the consistent application of these areas that helps to reduce anxiety and aims reduce the incidence of challenging behaviours

1. Re-establish a regular before-school and after school routines from week 1

They might vary each day depending on commitments and might need to be varied for different children in a family. Routines are the foundation you can build other strategies and helpful behaviours on. Families that have inconsistent or unreliable routines tend to encounter more problem behaviours and more challenges on a daily basis.

The most helpful way to avoid inconsistent routines that vary from day to day, is to write down the morning and afternoon routines – most inconsistent routines are verbal and based on the parent verbally requesting the child to engage in the next activity.

The start of a new school year is a great opportunity to develop consistent morning and afternoon routines and enjoy a smoother running household overall.

2. Look into engaging or re-engaging your child in an activity or sport outside of school

For many kids, participating in activities such as scouts, guides, martial arts or sports gives them something to look forward to each week, an opportunity to develop social skills/ develop friendships and gives them an opportunity to develop their self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s quite common for kids to decide they don’t like an activity part way through a year or after only a couple of attempts, but don’t necessarily disregard last years attempt as something they won’t like for ever. Maybe sit down and have discuss a couple of ideas for this year and then go and organise to just go along and watch before committing to an activity. Choosing something that matches your child’s strengths and interests is often importantChanges Psychology extra curricular activities

Keep Calm and Improve Your Routine

A routine can help improve the chaos of family life, and improving the family’s routine, and getting the rest of the gang onboard, can improve the behaviour and independence of your kids.

When designing or re-designing a family’s routine, here are some points to consider:


Most parents have the routine stored in their heads and only verbalise it to kids,or ‘nag’ as the kids perceive it. We find that families that write down, let everyone know the routine, make copies and stick it on fridges and bedroom walls,and follow to the same pattern EVERY DAY have much more success. If a routine is written down it’s much easier to identify steps in the routine that can be modified to reduce behaviours. CONSISTENCY OF IMPLEMENTATION is the key!

Changes Psychology Improve Routine Day planner  Changes Psychology Morning improve routine Changes Psychology Improve Routine picture planner

You can find examples of picture and other types of visual routines all over the internet to steal, modify and blu-tac.




More effective routines will have tasks that are less interesting or boring for kids first , then an enjoyable/fun activity or time with parents following it. When designing a routine, or sequence of tasks, always think Boring task, Boring task, Fun or rewarding task, instead of the more commonly used and less successful fun, boring, boring, boring.  Here’s an example for a Morning routine:

  • Breakfast (boring)
  • Clean teeth/Brush hair (boring)
  • School uniform and shoes on (boring)
  • Get to watch tv/play with Lego until it’s time to leave the house ( fun).

Reminding them, the quicker they finish the task the more time they get onto the reward task. Most kids need to experience this on several occasions before it motivates them consistently. So don’t give up and keep at it! Even on days when it all falls to pieces.




Identify the cause of behaviour and acknowledge it to the child  (eg you seem tired, you’ve had a bad day today) and
do the boring task with the child so they copy you ,keeping your words to a minimum, rather than telling them what to do if they are already upset.

Changes Psychology Improve Routine brush teeth together

If you find that these ideas simply don’t work with your children, and/or feel a bit overwhelmed while behaviours worsen, it might be time to contact a psychologist who specialises in parenting skills to help you problem solve and understand other possible reasons causing your child’s behaviour that you you use to inform your routine.

Read more: ADHD kids and Routines

Why Routines Work

Routines help to teach kids sequences of behaviours, promote independence over time, and save time in the mornings and evenings.

However, many parents don’t realise how powerful routines can be in reducing the frequency and intensity of problem behaviours at particular times of the day, if they are adjusted correctly.

‘Traditional’ parenting approaches focus on implementing strategies that aim to STOP behaviours -negative reinforcement, but until kids come with computer chips installed that we can program through an ipad app, which we’d agree would be cool and entertaining, it’s not possible to 100% control a child’s, or any other human beings, behaviour.

Organisations like Fair Work Australia have come into being to protect employees against inappropriate ‘negative reinforcement’ in the form of bullying, discrimination and verbal abuse. Instead of focusing on punishing or threatening, great employers focus management efforts and training on encouraging positive reinforcement and a ‘supportive/learning’ culture in the workplace in order to retain staff and get greater productivity out of them. So if other sectors of society see the benefits of positive over negative reinforcement in getting the best out of human beings, then why would many home routines continue to focus more on negative reinforcement than positive reinforcement?

Research shows that parents are more likely to resort back to the strategies their parents used during times of stress and conflict. In most cases it’s good parents running out of options that work. And the reality is that setting up a ‘whole new system’ of positive reinforcement to encourage more appropriate behaviours through some routine planning takes a lot more time, effort and perseverance than threatening punishments or removing privileges.
Changes Psychology Why Routines Work and Improve BehaviourOur psychologists work extensively with families to help them develop ‘whole new systems’ to reduce problem behaviours over time through some routine planning and adaptions, rather than a “try a different strategy or quick fix approach” to deal with different inappropriate behaviours that arise.

So despite the boring and “I know what a routine is!” responses many parents have when ‘routines’ are mentioned, they really are like the foundation you build your house on as they provide the underlying stability for everything else to be built on in a household with children.

Therefore we encourage a TEACH AND REWARD approach to managing problem behaviours rather than a STOP BEHAVIOURS approach which is backed by a lot more research and our observations from working with hundreds of families. The word “discipline” is actually derived from the latin word “disciplinare”, which literally means “to teach”….not punish.

And YES, it generally takes a lot of repetition, consistency and persistence over several weeks, NOT SEVERAL DAYS, to test and reap the behavioural benefits of routines, but it will save you so much time and emotional energy in the long term.

Read more:  5 tips to help the school routine

ADHD Kids and Routines- Prioritising and estimating time

As our children mature, society expects them to be able to manage their daily activities, deadlines, schedule appointments, and prioritise some activities over others.

Changes Psychology clock estimating timeChildren with ADHD, and many other children, find this particularly challenging but you can help by:

  • Identifying what tasks need to be completed and when they need to be completed. Encourage your child to write them down. Referring to planners, and calendars can be useful.
  • Encouraging your child to break down assignments into parts, e.g. research, introduction, body, conclusion and estimate how long each part may take to complete.
  • Using a calendar or timeline, invite your child to work backwards from the due date of the assignment to plan their use of time based on their estimates. For example, an assignment is due on the 20th so your child may estimate they need one day to do a final edit (19th), one day to write the conclusion (18th), two days to write the body (16th and 17th), one day to write the introduction (15th), and three days to do the research (12th, 13th, 14th). Based on this your child would need to start the assignment on the 12th. Your child may need to start earlier though due to other commitments so assist them in taking these into account.

 Changes Psychology Semester Planner

  • Assisting your child to write to-do lists with the most pressing tasks at the top. Your child can cross off tasks as they are completed.
  • Helping your child reduce delaying tactics such as having to find their pencil, or needing a drink by assisting them with being organised – something children with ADHD can also find challenging.
  • Using timers (visual and auditory) to help your child stay on task during brief time periods, e.g. homework for ten minutes then a break.
  • Making a game out of predicting how long activities will take. Then time your child actually doing the activity and check how accurate your child’s estimates are. Children with ADHD have difficulty estimating the passing of time but practising in a fun way can motivate them to persist with this skill.


Being able to understand and use time and sequence terms, relate them to clocks and calendars, and prioritise tasks will enable all kids and especially kids with ADHD to follow instructions and routines more easily, help them to understand how organising time helps, and ultimately promote their ability  to start organising their own time using the tools you’ve given them.

And just for the record- getting a child with ADHD to learn to organise themselves, and build their own routine is one of the greatest achievements of our age, and deserves medals and trumpets, for parents and kids!

Read more: ADHD kids and routines


Dawson, P. and Guare R. (2009). Smart but Scattered The Guildford Press: New York.
Goldberg, D. & Rief, S. Helping ADHD Children Master Time Retrieved 15/9/15.
Miller, S.A., Booth Church E., & Poole, C. Ages & Stages: How Children Develop a Sense of Time Retrieved 15/9/15.
*Time Management for ADHD Kids Retrieved 15/9/15.


Better Routines using Clocks, Timers, Calendars and Planners

Better routines begin with children learning how  time can be organised and then using tools to implement them.

Preschool and early school classrooms make great use of clocks and calendars: changing the hands, showing days of the week, month, season, even monitoring the weather. Most schools also use visual and auditory timers like bells to mark time during the day. As children mature and are expected to take on more responsibilities for their own time management, planners and to-do lists become extremely beneficial.

You can help children become more independent with their routines through the use of clocks, timers, calendars and planners to help teach them the concept of time and sequencing in everyday life. You can try:

  • Having clocks where they can be clearly seen and referred to during the day. Analog clocks are better than digital clocks as they show that time moves (with the movement of the hands).
  • Making a visual timeline for the day at home and school, marking each event with a picture of the hands on the clock at that time and the time written numerically.
  • Encouraging the use of a watch if you child is willing to wear one. Again analog is preferred as your child can see time moving. Changes Psychology child with watch
  • Practising telling the time with your child in different ways, e.g. “six thirty”, “half past six”
  • Using count-down visual and/or auditory timers for specific tasks eg sand timers or the ‘time timer’ app. You can make this fun by playing “beat the bell” where your child has to complete their task before the timer ends.Using calendars to organise family life and after school activities. Calendars can make great use of visual learning (seeing a record of events), auditory learning (talking about the events that have happened or are coming up), and kinesthetic learning (writing down events or crossing them off when done).
  • Using daily or weekly to-do lists or planners. At the end of each day, encourage your child to cross off activities from that day, then discuss activities involved in the next day.


Changes Psychology Visual time plannerRemember time is an abstract concept – we can’t actually touch or see it. Using calendars, planners, and lists makes time more tangible by highlighting events and activities which your child can personally relate to.


Promote your child’s sense of responsibility by encouraging them to refer to the calendar or planner rather than relying on you to tell them what is happening each day.  




Read more: Helping your ADHD child understand time and organise- Prioritising activities and estimating time needs

How to Help your Child Understand Sequence and Order

Changes Psychology Black time words

Children gain a sense of time through understanding sequences and order. Understanding terms like first, tomorrow, or before is as important to routines as kids understanding the hands on the clock. 


You can help your child with these concepts by:

  • Using time related words and terms such as before, after, morning, afternoon, evening, today, tomorrow, yesterday, soon, later. Explain what these terms mean.
  • Pointing out time related words in books and stories.
  • Talking about sequences of events, e.g. Brush your teeth after you have eaten, Dad will pick you up after school
  • Using visual routine charts to refer to each daily activity. Visual cues can complement the words you are using, e.g. First get out of bed then change into your day clothes,  eat breakfast….  Changes Psychology Visual time planner
  • Playing games where you give your child a sequence of instructions to follow, or get them to give you some. This will encourage your child to listen out for and think about important words that tell us what order to do things in.
  • Referring to names of the days of the week or each month. Involve your child with playful mini quizes: “If today is Wednesday, what is tomorrow?”, “what month comes after May but before July?”
  • Encouraging your child to role play or act out activities in their day. This provides the experience of actually doing the tasks which can help reinforce memory and understanding of what order activities occur.
  • Talking about events in the past, present or future, e.g. plans for the coming school holidays, what you did last holidays.


Changes Psychology Time wordsUsing time-related words, and linking them to sequences your child knows, will promote your child’s understanding of time concepts and encourage your child to use them in setting up routines and following instructions in the future. Understanding time-related language and sequences is also essential to understanding clocks and calendars. Sequence and order and time are all intertwined.

Even when you think your child really “gets it”, continue using these strategies to reinforce more advanced time management skills.


Read more: Help your child with ADHD understand time-  Clocks,calendars, timers and planners

How to Help Children Understand Time

Children’s understanding of time generally improves with development and personal experiences of time in everyday life. Time is an abstract concept – something you cannot see or touch – so the best ways to help our children understand time is to relate it to “concrete” events or activities.

These are things the child can relate to through personal experience like lunchtime is when you can eat  your lunch and they touch, see, smell, taste it, and hear the bell , or my birthday comes before Christmas, or I can play with my friend after my homework is finished. Children generally understand these basics by preschool or early primary school , but  all children, and many kids with ADHD, can get these mixed up at times.


So what are the basics of understanding time?

Children, even in infancy, have a sense of time through sequences of events. While a young child may not be able to verbalise the idea of time, children quickly pick up on the order in which repeated events happen in their everyday lives. They also understand predictable events such as night follows day and day follows night.  As children develop, they further refine their understanding of time through:

  • understanding what time feels like- what is a second, a minute, an hour in terms of activities in their everyday lives. Sit together and watch a minute or 5 minutes go by.
  • understanding  what clocks tell us and how to read clocks   – analogue then digital Changes Psychology good analogue clock
  • understanding  what terms like  “day”, “week”, “month”, “year” etc. mean in terms of personal events like swimming lessons happen once every week or I have one birthday every year
  • knowing the names and sequences of the days of the week, and months of the year. 
  • Knowing what calendars are, what they tell us,  and how they are used
  • understanding time concept terms like “before”,  “after”, “until”, “next”“then”
  • being able to count to 5, 10, 15, 30, 60 (common time frames)


These basics can be useful building blocks in developing your child’s own routines , and if you are already way passed the point where you think they understand all that, it’s worth a detour back to make sure they really do understand the words, skills and concepts related to time that  we throw about in their world


Read more: Help your child with ADHD understand and organise time- sequence and order


ADHD Kids and Routines

Any parent of a child with ADHD knows how important being organised and setting up consistent routines is to the smooth running of the household. 

However, it can be just as important to teach ADHD kids how to start creating their own routines and learn how to break a goal into a sequence of tasks. This is the dream of many parents, ADHD child or not, but before they can learn how to follow routines or organise themselves, they really need a clear understanding of things like Time, Calendars and Sequence

Many children, including those with ADHD, have difficulties understanding these very important foundations.

Changes Psychology Kindy kids telling timeThey often have a different understanding of terms such as before and after, yesterday, and tomorrow as well as understanding clocks and calendars in a different way than we imagine. ADHD kids and routines based on time or calendars really won’t mix well until you’re all on the same page.

If your child seems to be struggling with these things, following instructions or understanding a narrative, it can be helpful to take a few steps back and help them to understand these basics first before working on their self-organisation skills.

Please read the linking articles about The Importance of Understanding Sequence, Time and Calendars to get more out of routines, planners and schedules.


How Parents Reading Helps Kids Learn

The good news is that many parents I know are already doing many of these things! And for those that aren’t, it doesn’t take too much time or effort each week to get started.

PISA, or Program for International Student Assessment, do assessments worldwide on 15 year olds every few years, to see what skills and knowledge they have developed throughout their school years. In the assessment done a few years ago, based on reading skills, a survey was also done with the parents of these kids, and the results from the tests compared to the parent’s survey findings.

The survey asked things like family background, family wealth, school choice, reading habits, spending on school activities, but mostly focusing on the type of engagement parents had with their kid’s reading, education and school. Overwhelmingly, the common points of real difference were basic things we can all do, regardless of wealth, background or home-situation:

  1. Reading to your children before, and as they begin Primary school, is one of the most important things. Yes, we all know this, but it’s proven time and time again that parents reading help with further learning through understanding of language and language’s relationship to all other forms of learning
  2. The importance of them understanding that reading is important to you came through in the PISA surveys clearly too. So it’s not just that you read to them, but that it’s an important part of your life can “demonstrate positive attitudes towards reading”
  3. Be involved in your child’s education in real ways like knowing and having discussions with the teacher, being a part of a reading or other program at school so your child knows school is valued and that “education is a shared responsibility”
  4. Talking with older children and adolescents about social or political issues that are important to you and to them, and engaging with them throughout their childhood and teenage years with discussion that show you are still learning and have interest in the world around you.

Changes Psychology family all reading in bed bw

You can make a REAL difference by building a 10 or 20 minute slot of reading into your daily routine. And it’s not just about reading TO THEM,  but having them SEE YOU READ can really encourage their interest in reading and it’s benefits as a relaxing but engaging activity!

So you could try alternating between:

  • READING TO THEM – often best to do when you want to motivate them to get into bed and help them get to sleep) and
  • ENCOURAGING THEM TO READ ON THEIR OWN WHILST YOU READ – If you are relaxing nearby or laying on the floor next to them reading they will be much more likely, over time, to see it as normal and a valued behaviour that they will want to copy!

Be sure to praise them for “reading so well and quietly” by themselves every minute or so depending on the child. And ask them questions about what they’ve been reading to encourage any expression/interpretation of what they’ve read… the more imaginative and far-fetched the better! If you notice them starting to get bored and loose interest after short periods trying either of these approaches to “re-engage” them.

Changes Psychology kids readingAs it’s unlikely to have any adverse long-term consequences, it can’t do any harm to give it a try and find out if it might benefit your little people in some way! Just imagine, Peppa Pig being enjoyed in a near silent household … sounds like paradise doesn’t it 🙂

Based on research discussed in this OECD report (2012)- Let’s Read Them a Story! The Parent Factor in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing.