5 Causes of Morning Meltdowns (that you haven’t heard) and How to Avoid Them


If you find yourself wondering why they don’t have a breakfast wine – you need to read this.

As much as some parents love back-to-school more than Christmas there are also a ton of parents who actually hate the start of the school year.

Sure, it’s nice to have the kids back into a routine but so many parents tell me that back-to-school can mean morning meltdowns, homework and bedtime battles and the dreaded and endless phone calls and notes home.

The Worst of Times OR the Best of Times?

While summer can see a worsening in behaviour for some kids, for others – it’s their best time. Moms tell me all the time – their child is just fine off their medication in the summer, that they even did great at camp, that they got enough sleep and weren’t overwhelmed with school and weren’t as defiant, but as soon as they are back in school – their behaviour gets worse.

One of the main differences between school and summer are the activities. When kids are at day camp – they aren’t sitting in desks. They are doing hands-on learning and activities. Kids with ADHD and ASD are often the kinesthetic learners.

They need ‘to do’ not to watch or listen. Even if they aren’t in camp during the summer, they are getting all sorts of movement and they aren’t expected to sit and do mental work for long periods of time.

The Environment Can be a Nightmare for ADHD & ASD Kids

Let’s face it – as much as we love how hard-working and dedicated the teachers are – there is nothing natural about the current school system which hasn’t changed since the industrial revolution.

The purpose to having kids sitting in desks for hours doing rote work was because in the 1800’s millionaire industrialists complained to the politicians that their factory workers were ‘untrained’ and couldn’t sit or stand long enough and do repetitive tasks for hours on end.

Celebrate that your child is unique and doesn’t fit in that box – but there is the reality. Your child needs to learn and be successful in school both academically and socially.

You might not be getting a report card but the back-to-school merry-go-round can make you feel like a total failure as a mom.

So besides homeschooling – what can you do to make the school year more pleasant for you and your child?

So before I blow out a list of suggestions that you’ve probably read a million times before – let’s talk why?!

Why-oh-why do kids who are ADHD and on the autism spectrum have the potential to get so much worse with back-to-school?

1. Sleep – I’ve written about this before, but lack-of-sleep is the number one reason your child is waking up in a poor mood. Some children need twelve hours sleep – even some 11 and 12-years-old.

A 10-year-old client of mine required twelve hours of sleep or her behaviour and sensory issues were a nightmare. It wasn’t until she was almost 11-years-old when we addressed gut healing and did brain training that her brain was more resilient to the stresses of the day.

In the summer kids can sleep in and nap during the day. Don’t underestimate the power of earlier bedtimes and even naps after school. Twenty-minutes after school (if your child is willing) can be the difference between homework hell or homework heaven.

2. Less Movement & Transition – Okay. So, your kid is probably not running a marathon or doing laps around the swimming pool all summer, but they are moving more. They are also moving more freely. If they feel like getting up and walking around, they can and if they want to take a break they can.

It’s not like being in class where they are required to do so much self-regulation and sit and maintain a mental focus when they might actually prefer to get up and move midway through class.

Simply being in the same environment or room all day can be mundane particularly for children with ADHD and this can contribute to restlessness and undesirable behaviour.

Manage this challenge by building movement into their day in the morning. Even twenty minutes before leaving for school can help to improve focus in class.

If you’re concerned that your child is not getting enough movement voice your concerns at the PTA that you would like to see more body breaks during class time. This can also be implemented into the IEP.

Some schools actually have whole-school morning exercise in the hallway for thirty minutes. Not surprisingly these schools have better test scores and a decreased rate of ADHD diagnoses and symptoms.

Ensure your child is getting plenty of movement after school (around 60 minutes a day). This is best done before homework to get your child better focused.

3. Jet Lag – Back-to-school can leave kids with a jet lag if they were staying up late. For two months, they were wired to wake-up at 9 or even 10am and are now expected to wake up and be happy at 6 or 7am – and that’s going to take some adjusting.

Gradually weaning into their new bedtime NOW as soon as possible can help. Making your child go to bed 15 minutes earlier so they are less tired when school starts.

4. School Can Be a Brain-Drainer– School requires a lot from your child even on the best of days. When kids have ADHD or LD they use a ton of mental energy in order to focus, self-regulate and concentrate.

They face frustration on an hourly basis whether it’s with something they don’t understand, being re-directed countless times by a teacher because they aren’t focusing well or dealing with other kids who are being unkind because they don’t understand your child’s quirks.

This is no small task when their brain has been on vacation for 2 months. Extra rest can help your child better cope with all of the stressors of the back-to-school routine. If your child would normally go to bed at 7:30pm have them go to bed earlier by thirty minutes for the first few weeks to help ease their mental and emotional overwhelm.

If your child struggles with academics, ensure your child does at least one activity a day that they really enjoy and that they’re good at. These feelings of success will help buffer their feelings of failure that they might be experiencing at school.

5. Over-scheduling – Because kids with ADHD, LD and autism spectrum are often more vulnerable to sensory overload, school may be the only schedule they need. I can’t tell you how many parents with great intentions have their ASD kids in hockey, karate, dance or gymnastics or all of the above – out of peer pressure! Don’t drink that poison!

There is soooo much research that free-play is one of the reasons why kids are having more learning difficulties and struggle with problem solving and lack resilience. You are not being a bad mom by not having your child involved in sports or after-school-activities. You may be actually helping them to develop a better brain.

After a full day of scheduling at school, a lot of these kids just need a whole lot of free-play and down time. Down time away from screens – that is. This will improve your child’s mood and give you more time to take care of you and be a better mom for it!

Make mornings easier by getting my free Morning Magic Checklist. A road map in the morning makes all the difference.

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