If you’re like many parents we see at our learning center, you may be already wishing it was time to send the kids back to school. While we look forward to the freedom and flexibility of summertime, parents of kids with ADHD often find that it quickly turns into uncontrollable chaos. Rather than wishing the summer away, we want you to be able to reclaim your dreams of fun family experiences outside of the school year grind.
Summer Struggles for Kids with ADHD
While summer is the perfect time for kids to be kids, the lack of a consistent schedule poses a monumental challenge for parents – especially parents of children with ADHD and other behavioral disorders.
It doesn’t matter what age, summer is an exciting time for kids to experience freedom from the classroom, homework, and constant need to pay attention. Yet for kids with ADHD in particular, the break from a consistent routine can cause anxiety that leads to acting out. As much as performance in school can be challenging for these kids, the school year creates a natural schedule, providing consistency for children who thrive in structure and predictability. They thrive in the regularity of morning and bedtime routines and school day schedules that bring order to their lives.
Without a set daily routine through the summer — traveling, waking up at different times, and staying up late for family gatherings — kids who have more difficulty regulating their behavior and emotions feel more out of control without the usual outside structure that brings them a greater sense of calm. This summer “free-for-all” can then lead to the challenging behaviors and constant arguing that you may be experiencing in your home.
We know that kids with ADHD are the most successful when there is structure and regularity. George DuPaul, Ph.D., professor of school psychology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania says, “All kids benefit from consistency, but ADHD kids, in particular, need consistency. It’s not a luxury for them.” Summer shouldn’t mean that structure and expectations are thrown to the wind. Actually, kids with ADHD need just the opposite. So how can you create enough structure in your family’s summer to give your child the break they deserve while also feeding their need for consistency?
Creating the Structure Your Child Needs to Thrive
Understandably, parents need a break from the school year routine as much as kids do. We crave family time outdoors, visiting relatives afar, and having homework-free evenings. Yet we know that saving routines and behavior expectations only for the school year are going to leave your summer dictated by frustration, for both you and your child. The key is to commit to providing enough structure to let your child thrive while enjoying a variety of fun summer activities.
Here are some ways you can bring more harmony to your home and set your child with ADHD up for a smooth and enjoyable summer:
Bring structure with simple daily routines.
As enticing as it is to enjoy late dinners and family gatherings, your child still needs the structure of a precitible daily routine. Create a regular bedtime and morning wake-up schedule to follow on weekdays and while traveling. This will help regulate your child’s emotional state while experiencing different daily activities.As much as you can, post a daily and weekly schedule to your child knows what to expect and when. Print and post the schedule like a teacher might do in a classroom and be prepared to enforce it. Know that this is work for you, but it will pay off in the absence of emotional outbursts that get in the way of your summer enjoyment.
Create a family charter for behavior expectations.
It’s important for children to know what’s expected of them, and it’s important for them to be clear on the guidelines for their behaviors as well as the consequences for not behaving. It also makes parenting decisions easier when you’ve already established these guidelines in advance.Have a family meeting with your kids to discuss the challenges that are getting in the way of your summer fun and come up with rules that everyone can agree to. Discuss as a family what it looks like to live up to each rule and give examples of what would break each rule. Figure out as a family what the appropriate consequences are for not following the rules. Write this up as a document everyone can see – we suggest printing a copy for all family members to sign and make copies for everyone’s room.
Re-focus your goals.
Consider the goals you have for your child over the summer but first, take time to think outside of the box. Is it to have healthier sibling relationships, foster their creativity or see them become more confident? After considering your big picture family goals, plan activities/create routines that would give your children opportunities to move towards these desires.
Develop your child’s strengths.
All children have talents, abilities and strengths. If school is difficult for a student, summer is the perfect time to remind them of how amazing they are and plan activities in which they can naturally excel. If your child loves sports, sign them up for the community soccer camps; if they love art, plan a day at Cool Creations, where they can enjoy the tactile work of making ceramics; if they love to build, check out KiwiCo where they can design and construct hand-made science and art projects.
Set up your home for success.
You can help your child stay focused and organized if your home is organized. All toys, games and sports gear should have a place it belongs. That way your child (not you) can easily put things away and know exactly where to find them the next day. Hanging a large calendar is also a great way for your child to know what is happening each day.
Role play difficult situations before they happen.
Children with ADHD or impulse control challenges can have a harder time navigating social situations with peers. Practicing how to handle or respond in certain situations is a great thing to do before a conflict may arise. Take just a few minutes to explain expectations and ways for your child to get your help if they are stuck before heading to next summer block party.
Reframe parenting challenges from an empathy perspective.
Let’s be real – when you have a child with ADHD, parenting challenges are going to come up no matter how much effort you put into creating structure. Understanding where your child is coming from – how a previous late night or coming home from a vacation and jumping into a summer camp program might be causing them to feel more out of sync – can give you a better mindset from which to help ease your child’s unease and bring greater peacefulness to your summer.We love the teachings of Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston and author of 5 award winning books, who emphasizes empathy as a way to connect better with our kids. For instance, if the last nine months of school left your child feeling anxious and defeated, spend some time to remember what it was like to feel that way when you were a kid. Empathy can be a parent’s strongest tool when you choose to engage it.
Have daily reflection time.
Whether at the dinner table or before you put your child to bed, take time to talk about what went well in the day, so you can highlight the positives, and to set expectations for what’s to come the next day. This simple routine gives you a wonderful chance to connect your child, giving them the personal attention they crave, as well as feeding their need for consistency and knowing what to expect.
Parents, You’re Not Alone
Your child overcomes obstacles everyday. Some may be because of their ADHD and others are just because they are a kid. Whether or not you have a child with ADHD, parenting is an on-going journey of challenges and growth. And our children respond to where we are in our learning and growth journeys as parents as much as their own.
The tips provided in this article are a great family resource, but we also know that life’s challenges can’t be solved by following a quick-fix “How-To” article. Bringing greater harmony to your home this summer is about a commitment to the process of continual evolution to ever-changing circumstances. As Brene Brown writes, “We cannot give our children what we don’t have. Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books.”
It’s important – even more so in the summertime – to remember to carve out time for self-care and connecting with others for support. We created La Jolla Learning over a decade ago to ensure that families with children who faced difficulties in school would not have to face these struggles alone and could find the help they needed. After ten years, we know that difficulties in school become difficulties at home…and these challenges do not go away just because it is summer.
Yet, the freedom of summer can create a beautiful space to make great strides in deepening connections with your child and strengthening the foundation upon which they can face the challenges life throws their way. The La Jolla Learning team is here to help you turn summer into the bright season of joy and growth you imagine. Reach out to us if you are struggling. We are here to help make this your best summer yet!
About the Author
Karina Fowble studied child development and psychology at Point Loma Nazarene University. As Program Coordinator at La Jolla Learning, Karina spends her day connecting with families, listening to their stories, and helping them find personalized solutions to remove roadblocks to their children’s school success: “When I feel I have offered hope to a discouraged parent, it brings life to my day.”