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Returning to School After Winter Break with ADHD

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

Winter break is a great time of the year, holiday celebrations, family hangouts and time off from school. A break always means a change in routine, late nights and less structure. Returning to routine is challenging for everyone but especially for children with attention disorders.

It is very hard to build structure, routine and habits but they are the fundamentals to success for children with ADHD. That morning routine that you have not been using during winter break needs to be refreshed, reminded and restored in order to ensure a less stressful morning (stress free mornings are not part of my vocabulary but reducing stress is the goal!). Here are some ideas and reminders that may help you ease back into school after the break.

Organize for first day back to school

Being prepared is the name of the game! Remember how you helped your kids prepare their backpack and clothes for the first day of school - it’s time to repeat that preparation. The night before returning from winter break (or better yet, the morning or afternoon before), get their backpack emptied and refilled with needed school supplies. Prepare an outfit and make sure to include all necessary winter paraphernalia (gloves, hats, etc.).

After-holiday conversation

Many times when kids return from winter break they will be asked by adults, teachers and other kids several questions such as “What did you do during the break?”, “What did you get for Christmas?”, “How was your break?”. You may easily know how to answer these questions but your ADHD child might struggle with recalling all the things they did and choosing one, or find themselves impulsively answering this question with a 50 minute ramble about a random gift they did not like from Betsy even though they received an Xbox that makes them proud. Sometimes your ADHD kids will struggle with social moments, and you can help them by preparing them for these conversations. I don’t necessarily mean rehearsing the questions but rather suggest a short conversation about questions that might come up so they can be better prepared.

Refresh morning routine

Take this opportunity to refresh your family morning routine. I strongly recommend breaking down the morning process step-by-step. Each family member might have a separate list because one might be old enough to make their bed in the morning and another may only need to brush their teeth. You also may benefit from writing down your own morning routine and breaking it into small steps if you are a parent who also has attention challenges.

There are many ways to make sure this routine is visual and it’s important to choose an age-appropriate option. Older kids and adults can use a dry erase board - I strongly recommend using one that has a magnetic marker so you don’t waste time looking for your marker. If kids are younger they can benefit from a magnetic board such as the Melissa and Doug Responsibility chart or Daily Morning and Bedtime Routine Chart from Honey Dew Gifts.


A full night of sleep before the first day of school is critical and helpful for success at school. Going back to a stricter routine the night before school starts might be too challenging for ADHD kids. Try bringing back the routine, and going to bed at a reasonable hour, two or three nights before. Sleep regulation is a big concern for many individuals with ADHD (more about sleep and ADHD in the following blog) but knowing that sleep is a special challenge means it should get some special attention and consideration when thinking about going back-to-school.

Be a model of positivity

Returning from winter break to routine is hard, it is so much more fun to stay in your pajamas all day, watch TV and hang out with family. Complaining and showing your frustration about return to work/school/craziness in front of the kids can create the illusion that there are only negative reasons to going back to school. Instead, find opportunities to share positives (and perhaps some negatives) about going back to work and school with your kids - how excited you are about seeing your colleagues at work or remind them how much fun after-school activities are. Find positivity and share it out loud!

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