Summer Survival for Parents of Children With ADHD

child sleeping in pool

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Summer means warm weather, splashing in the pool, vacations and time off from the pressures of school. But for many parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), summertime can also be stressful because the kids are home.

ADHD Summer Survival Tips

Sometimes, people think about ADHD as only affecting school and academics. For some kids with ADHD, this may be the predominant area in which they experience challenges, but it is much more common that ADHD affects all aspects of life, including home life and family interactions. If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, here are some ideas for making the summer months less stressful, more productive and fun for you, your child and the whole family!

1. Structure Your Child's Day

The school day provides your child with a regular routine that is fairly predictable in terms of the daily schedule. But when school is out for the summer your child's day may be wide open unless you create a new routine. Kids with ADHD benefit from the external structure that a routine provides. When their environment is organized, predictable and supportive, they have an easier time managing symptoms and regulating their behaviors.

When developing the summer schedule, start by setting consistent wake-up times, snack/meal times and bedtimes for your children. Fill the schedule with fun and interesting activities. Children with ADHD can get bored very easily, and boredom is often a gateway to trouble as he or she tries to create some stimulation — or mischief. Keep in mind, however, that all children need downtime, too, so plan those times each day as well.

When you are creating the summer schedule tailor it to your child's interests and needs. Try to plan activities in which your child gets sometimes for interacting with peers. Make sure all your kids get outside (with sunscreen) to play and engage in lots of physical activity. If your child can swim, the pool is a great outlet for exercise in the summer. Make sure your child is involved in the planning of activities. Get out a big calendar and have fun filling in the schedule together. Write the summer schedule out on the calendar and post it in an easily visible spot in your home so both of you can see what each day will bring.

2. Plan Academic Activities to Avoid the "Summer Slide"

When developing your child's summer schedule, be sure to include times for academic learning opportunities and practice. It is so easy to go through the summer and forget about school, but children will lose academic growth — particularly in math and reading skills — over the summer (known as the "summer slide") if they do not engage in educational activities. What makes this doubly important for kids with ADHD is that many of them also have accompanying learning disabilities. They can quickly lose academic gains without practice and repetition.

So, schedule regular academic activities at home with reading and math to help your child maintain his or her educational level and to provide continuity and enrichment over the summer. Talk with your child's teacher and ask for suggestions and recommendations tailored to your child's educational needs.

Because the rest of the year can be so busy with school, homework, sports or other after-school activities, many families find that summer is a good time to schedule formal academic tutoring lessons to help with specific learning issues.

Be sure to make the educational time fun! Build in reward systems to help keep your child motivated. Schedule this time during the morning or whenever your child is freshest and most focused. Use this time to help bolster your child's academic skills and self-confidence.

3. Summer Camp Options

You may find that having your child involved in a summer camp program helps structure his or her day and provides additional opportunities for fun, socializing, learning and success. When thinking about summer camps, keep in mind your child's needs. There are quite a few summer camps and treatment programs designed specifically for children with ADHD. If your child experiences marked problems in social interactions with peers, or if he or she is very impulsive and needs a good behavior management system, one of these specialty camps may be a good fit.

4. Choosing a Medication Break

If your child is on medication to help manage symptoms of ADHD, there is often a question about whether or not to give the child a break over the summer months. The answer should be unique to the child.

ADHD is a pervasive disorder that does not go away over the summer. Most children continue to experience challenging impairments in attention and mental focus, self-control, working memory, organization, time management, problem-solving and regulation of emotions — whether or not the school is in session.

Symptoms of ADHD, however, can affect each child in very individual ways. For some kids, the symptoms may be on the milder side or the child may struggle primarily with inattention in the educational setting. Perhaps this child does not experience any significant issues around peer and family relationships. For some children, a medication break or a lowering of the medication dose over the summer may make sense.

On the other hand, ADHD does tend to affect all aspects of a child's life — getting along with others; following through with tasks; being able to stop and think through situations before reacting; the ability to maintain self-control and inhibit behaviors; to "read" social situations; follow through with directions; delay gratification, and just get through the day in a productive and positive way.

If you are traveling over the summer on family vacations or if your child is attending camp or is involved in activities that require him or her to maintain focus, control his or her body, manage transitions, frustrations and emotions, and relate positively with peers — and your child is on medication that helps him or her to do this — then a medication break may not be in his or her best interest over the summer. If these areas are challenging for your child during the school year, they will continue to create the same challenges over the summer.

Work together with your child's doctor to sort out the best approach to summer medication decisions. If there are side effects that you are worried about, and you have been hesitant to make those changes during the school year, communicate and plan with the doctor. The summer might be a good time to make those tweaks, adjustments or even medication changes as long as you can carefully monitor the situation to determine the effectiveness of treatment approaches.

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