Summer is a time for fun, sun, cookouts, lake days, and a break from the day-to-day grind of the school year. But for a child with ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the lack of structure and unpredictability can be anxiety-provoking. Days usually run more smoothly for the child and parent with some structure and positive reinforcement, and structure during the summer can sometimes be harder to come by.
My seven year-old son has been diagnosed with ADHD, and here are some tips that we are implementing to have a fun and successful summer.
Make a Plan
Utilize a Bucket List
Have an overall idea of what you want to accomplish during the summer. At my house we do a summer bucket list. This is a good way to chart a (fun) course for the summer. I always include my kids in this activity, it gives them some control and we all enjoy coming up with ideas. For some inspiration, here are 50 Summer Bucket List Ideas.
Create a Routine
Provide structure with a daily routine. Without routine and schedule, kids with ADHD can get off focus and overwhelmed easily. A daily routine can help keep kids on track. It doesn’t need to be rigid, but it is good to have consistent wake-up times, meal times, snack times, and bedtimes. Staying on track with sleep and eating schedules can help prevent meltdowns due to your child being too tired or hungry, and can make even lazy days feel a bit more structured.
Visualize Your Schedule
At my house we have found it helpful to write up a daily schedule, weekly schedule, and monthly schedule. Having a visual to reference point makes it easier for kids to stay organized and help make transitions less stressful. Post the schedule in a central location of the house so everyone can review it (at my house it is on the fridge). It is a good idea to review a daily schedule with your child the night before or that morning for clear expectations. I have also found using a countdown between activities helps ease transitions with my child.
Create Rules & Expectations
Go over rules and expectations with your child, making boundaries clear and consistent. Standing firm regarding house rules and being consistent with consequences can provide much needed structure. The follow-through is key and something that I am hoping to improve on this summer.
The goal is to have a summer routine that is predictable, but flexible.
Keep those high energy kids active! Multiple activities per day will limit the amount of unstructured time. Day camps, sleep-away camps (for older kids), and summer classes are some good outside-the-home options to keep kids busy. For ideas in our area, see the 2020 Ultimate Guide to Summer Camps and Activities. Summer can be a great time for new activities, but for kids with ADHD it can be helpful to talk them through any new experiences to help reduce anxiety.
For my son, each summer we typically do at least one organized physical activity. Last year it was baseball. This gives him good exercise and the bonus to a team sport is that it also helps foster social skills.
Summertime is also ideal for getting active outside! Walking, running, biking, rollerblading, swimming, canoeing, there are so many options. For additional options, see 10 Must-Haves for Outdoor Fun at Home.
It is also important to keep kids mentally active. Focus on activities that promote creativity, problem-solving and social skills to retain and also build skills. Some ideas include reading, music, arts and crafts, puzzles, board games, card games, and science experiments. My family enjoys weekly trips to the library to keep our book selection fresh and we also allot time for reading throughout the day.
Allow for downtime, time where your child can have unstructured imaginative play or just time to rest. For my son, drawing is calming and I sometimes play classical music to help him relax and get his creative juices flowing.
Sometimes we just need to watch a show or have some tablet time so both of us can get a bit of a break. Technology time is something that can be worked into the daily schedule to provide some consistency. At my house we have a limited period of time and it is usually toward the end of the day. There are many educational shows and apps out there to keep your kid learning but sometimes they will just want to watch the same episodes of Paw Patrol over and over again, and that’s okay.
I have found that my son responds well to positive reinforcement. He is very responsive to praise and sometimes just seems to crave more time and attention than other kids. I try to “catch him being good” and give more notice to what he does well for smoother sailing.
Kids with ADHD often have a hard time with delayed gratification, so it can be helpful to have small incentives for short-term progress. Sometimes a kind word of encouragement or just a little extra attention can keep things moving in a positive direction.
My husband and I have developed skills to help encourage our son through positive reinforcement using The Nurtured Heart Approach. It has helped make our day-to-day living at home easier. We took a class on the subject and there is a also a book that can help parents with “intense” children.
Summer can be a challenging time for parents of children with ADHD. But with challenge comes opportunity. Opportunity to grow, to learn, to change, and to just have fun with your unique kid. Keeping a summer routine for kids with ADHD can be a lifesaver!
What makes your summer go smoother? Drop us a comment below!