A Covid-vaccinated summer is finally here! What a beautiful season, especially for families who can spend a little more time together without all of the classes, extracurricular activities, and other school year obligations. It’s a time of year that people get to feel relaxed and have a little less structure than a school year allows. Yet, routines are still key when raising a child with ADHD, no matter what the season or the stage of development they are in. So what does a balanced summer look like?
Abandoning all structure for the summer won’t be best for kids and teens with ADHD and will definitely throw the family out of whack. While spontaneity is important (and fun) from time to time, it is important to maintain a simplified routine to set expectations and build good habits. Routines offer organization and predictability to kids with ADHD. They comfort them, even if it sometimes seems counter-intuitive. Some relaxed and effective strategies for starting and maintaining summer routines include:
Establish an appropriate summer bedtime.
The sunlight dances in your yard a bit longer than usual during this time of year, so it can be very difficult to make sure everyone sticks to a healthy sleep schedule. While bedtime might be between 8 pm and 10 pm during the school year, stick to a similar window in the summer as well. Talk with them about their ideas for this window, share your own and create a compromise solution. Use incentives and consider doing a calming activity like listening to music or reading a book together as part of the night-time ritual. Setting predictable times to slow things down and turn off the lights will not only help their bodies stay healthy but also assist them in feeling refreshed the next day.
Create a summer morning plan.
Many kids want to sleep in as late as possible and do as little as possible in the summer. But they really need a consistent wake-up time, whether that’s 7:30 am to make it to camp, work or summer school, or 10 am on the weekends. Let them sleep in a bit longer than during the school year, but collaborate on a range of wake-up times. It could be 8-9 am on some days and, for teens, 10-11 am on others.
Consider planning some day trips where an early morning start is essential and they’re motivated to rise and get going. Morning light can help their body to regulate their metabolism and optimize cell functioning as well. Use incentives here too: link tasks they have to do in the morning to privileges they desire in the afternoon or evening. Continue to group activities like brushing teeth, washing faces, and eating breakfast so they stay in the groove for when school is back in session.
The days can get away from you in the summer. But the sun is shining for much longer, and outside stimulation is so incredibly good for childhood development. Movement is more possible during the summer since they aren’t sitting at their desk inside for most of the day.
Try to stick to a rule with screen time for all of your kids, and encourage them to be outside for at least an hour on the days that it is nice outside. Join them for family walks, bike rides or explorations. If you need to, consider shutting down the internet or turning off their phones to discourage late night usage.
Stick with family meals.
It’s easy in the summer to be looser about regular meals. Some families resort to grab-and-go dinners more than usual. Setting times that work with your child’s hunger patterns can help everyone avoid low blood sugar and emotional meltdowns.
Make the effort, at least a few times per week, to have a family dinner. Eating together, however brief it may be, offers a grounding opportunity for connection. Plan special meals together and have them help with the cooking and even the shopping. You’re teaching them an important life skill while having some fun. Then, they will have something to look forward to throughout the day when their stomachs start to rumble. If they have a regular eating schedule already established during the school year and are naturally hungry at those times, stick with them.
Fill up your cup
In the summer, as people are out and about with their families, you may engage in unhelpful comparisons to other parents. Perhaps you question your parenting abilities next to families with neurotypical kids. Cultural standards of parenting are idealized and can cause a lot of stress. As a parent to a child with ADHD, it can be difficult to remember that they always love you and are looking to you for comfort and guidance. (Yes, even when there are disagreements and emotionally turbulent times.)
During these warm, sunny months, I encourage you to be gentle to yourself. Take time to fill your cup up and do things that nurture you. When children and teens experience a happy parent, they are more likely to work with them and learn from them.
Build self-esteem with positive reinforcement.
Children are already susceptible to bullying and negative self-talk. A lot of self-esteem-related issues regarding appearance float around in the summer and it can be hard for kids and adults alike to stay body positive. Talk about any body image issues with respect and acceptance, and, if necessary, plan a visit to your primary care provider.
Improve self-esteem by encouraging them around daily activities and noticing when they follow through and cooperate. Celebrate their efforts and successes. Something as simple as, “You did such a great job handling your bad mood earlier” or “Nice job clearing the table when I asked” can really make a difference and turn things around. The summer is a prime opportunity to build up their self-confidence and focus on their progress as much as their accomplishments. This will help them thrive and become more resilient when the school year begins again.
As carefree as the summer can be for many, there can still be tense and confusing times for kids with ADHD and their families. Try out some of these additional tips to foster a summer of sanity.