Often the school year is high stress for kids with ADHD and their families. Summer is a respite from the organizational, focus, executive functioning, and social demands.
But just because the structure of school is removed for a few months, doesn’t mean we toss all the hard work of managing the symptoms of ADHD to the wind. In fact, there are a lot of things you and yoru child can do to treat address the inattention and hyperactivity that impact them all year long. Here is a quick “Summertime Guide to Parenting a Child with ADHD.” It is by no means comprehensive, but may offer a few tips that can make the summer more fun and help everyone be prepared for a successful next school year.
1. Have fun and take a break. For a week or so after school gets out, let yoru child breathe and do what makes them happy. Relax a few rules, give them some freedom to choose what they do, let them get messy. Don’t worry about the clothes on the floor or the mismatched socks. All of that structure can be put back in place after everyone gets a much needed breather.
2. Get outside. One of the most effective treatments of ADHD symptoms is “green time,” or as we said in the old days- playing outside! The brain just loves sunshine, fresh air and exercise. Oh, and it’s fun! Many parents find their children are much more focused after an afternoon outside running around. See what happens when your child has outside time.
3. Experiment with routines. If your daily routine during the school year left everyone stressed and disorganized, summer is a good time to try something new. Whether it’s implementing a visual schedule or practicing limits on screen time, summer is a good time to experiment, try new things and see what happens without all the stress and time pressure during the school year.
4. Teach a new skill. If our ultimate goal is to support our kids to an independent adulthood, they need to learn how to do things independently. Summer is a great time to teach our children how to do their laundry, cook a meal, take care of pets, mow the lawn, organize their bedroom, etc. Learning these skills takes time and practice and summer allows for both without the demands of homework and early wake up times.
5. Support development of executive functioning. There is emerging research that suggests kids who don’t have a lot of free time or free play, have weaker executive functioning skills. Why? Because executive functioning is developed when our brains have to solve problems and independently organize information. Overscheduled kids don’t often have to problem solve or organize as most of that work is done for them.
Keep in mind that learning executive functioning skills doesn’t have to be limited to organizing papers or completing homework. It improves through life experience,challenges to solve, practice of patience and listening skills. Ask your child to listen for bird calls, look for bunny tracks in the woods, follow a sea gull’s flight at the beach and you will see executive skills at work.
So the summer is a great time to let your kids figure things out on their own, plan a day trip, follow a recipe, arrange their own playdate/hangout with friends (including calling friends on the phone –no short cuts with moms’ texting!), and manage boredom. Boredom is a biggie, so…
6. Let them be bored. You remember being bored as a kid, right? Today it seems we feel guilty if our kids get bored. In fact, boredom has been the cause of many a great discovery and exciting adventure! Bored kids eventually realize they need to create their own fun and will start to use their imaginations, enlist the neighbors into frivolous shenanigans and, yes, improve executive functioning. I know, your child (like mine) is a pain when bored. There’s whining and maybe a meltdown or two, but if you let that go by (practice deep breathing) you’ll see your child can manage their time. Of course, they can get into mischief and their free time fun isn’t always full of the best choices, but it’s all a learning opportunity to prepare them for their future independence, right?
7. Make positive memories. Sometimes parenting a child with ADHD can feel like an endless slog of managing time, reminding about responsibilities and coping with impulsivity. Don’t let that be the only relationship with your child. Dedicate time to doing things your child enjoys, let them be successful and share that success with you. If they are into climbing trees, let them climb and show you how high they can go. If they love to make noise, bring them to an open space and let everyone (including you) yell as loud as you can. If they can get lost for hours in a book or building Legos,sit with them, read with them, build with them. Don’t correct their mistakes or nag about their lack of, well, anything….just enjoy them for who they are.
Summer can be a wide open canvas of time for us to try new ways of relating and being in the world. With the school year being a metaphorical pressure cooker for many families, summer gives us all some space to breathe and enjoy ourselves.
During the summer, a child with ADHD can have some room to be a bit hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive. Who knows what they will learn about themselves and the world around them when left to daydream, invent, run around and use their time as their own?