Creating Stress-Free Summer Routines for Kids with ADHD

Kids with backpacks smiling and running out of the school at the end of the day.School is finally out, and everybody in the family exhales with a collective sigh of relief. No more harried mornings, bothersome homework sessions or arguments about bedtime. Time to kick back into free and easy mode, right? Well, not exactly. Just because you’ve eliminated school from daily life doesn’t mean all routines and structure should be thrown out the window. Kids with ADHD actually benefit from structure and predictability in their lives during the warmer months because they often can’t create these for themselves. Formulating and maintaining a summer plan with your child or teen continues whatever progress they’ve made during the school year and sets them up for a smooth transition in the fall. Here are the steps to help create the ideal stress-free summer routines for kids with ADHD.

Kids benefit from daily structure, especially kids with ADHD

After a few days of just chilling, family conflicts begin to arise. Arguments about summer screen time, household chores and curfews can quickly escalate into massive, unpleasant explosions. Plus, the Blobdom-Boredom Matrix sets in. Your son or daughter displays a lack of interest in doing anything other than lying horizontal using screens. This is followed by incessant complaining about having nothing to do when the devices are removed. It’s no way to go through a summer. 

Despite their claims for disliking schedules or feeling choked by plans, many kids, especially those with ADHD, need a sense of purpose and structure to their days. Having a place to go andAdolescent girl with ADHD laying on her bed with her arms crossed, looking upset and pouty. something to do keeps them engaged mentally, physically and socially. Otherwise, it’s screen time 24/7 and arguments about screen time 24/7.

Think about how much down time your son or daughter actually needs. You want to alternate free time options with planned activities so there’s a healthy balance. This is especially true for neurodivergent youngsters who may have trouble with initiating a wider range of appropriate activities. 

Maintaining routines serves a purpose because kids know what’s expected of them and what to look out for. While they may not like the structure, it helps them stay organized in ways they’re accustomed to. If your child or teen balks at this approach, you’re not alone–most kids think this way. But it’s in their best interest, nonetheless, to continue developing the executive functioning skills like planning, organizing and follow-through they really need.

Encourage your child to explore their interests this summer

Summer is a good time for kids to pursue their interests and non-academic interests. There’s so much focus on their academic achievement throughout the year, including grades, test scores and applications for college for high schoolers. Kids need a mental and emotional break to explore other parts of themselves, and the summer is a great opportunity. Summer can also be good for targeted remedial work or pursuing a school subject in depth. However, make sure there’s other fun stuff planned, too.

Family of two parents and three kids in the kitchen together, each focused on their own task or activity.The key to creating a stress-free summer lies in staying the course with routines you’ve already been following, but allowing for specific, strategic tweaking when necessary.

If you are working from home, you will benefit from dividing the day into chunks. Mornings for family work: you focus on your professional responsibilities and they use this time for summer studying, remediation, pleasure reading or hobbies like music or art. Consider setting up childcare trades with some friends or asking a relative (grandparent, aunt or cousin) for some assistance. If you can hire a mother’s helper, that can also help you focus on work at home more effectively. 

Since it is vacation, there’s probably more flexibility about when to wake up and go to bed, how much screen time makes sense and curfews for older kids. What doesn’t change are your expectations for cooperation and effort.

Whether your child goes to camp, plays organized sports, goes on playdates, plans sleepovers, works at a job or shoots hoops at the Y, there’s still some type of schedule for each day that correlates to the one they’re accustomed to from the school year.

5 steps for creating stress-free summer routines for kids with ADHD:

1. Pick a quiet time to talk about the summer with your child

If they already have plans for camps, work or travel, write these down on a large calendar or whiteboard that you post in the kitchen. The change of summer routines for kids with ADHD can be discombobulating, and many already struggle with transitions. They like to have a sense of predictability, so why not give it to them? Plus, when they ask about when something’s happening, you can direct them to the schedule. It will give them a sense of control. 

2. Make a time for a brainstorming conversation

Whether or not you have not made arrangements for the summer, I encourage you to make a time to have 2 conversations: The first one is for brainstorming and the second is for following up. Sit down for limited amount of time to talk about the summer. Consider what worked for last year’s summer routines for your kids and what didn’t. Perhaps do some preliminary research based on that info. Make a list of possibilities and who’s going to look into what. Older kids and teens will want to investigate options which helps them with their burgeoning desire for autonomy. Set a specific date and time for the second conversation within 2 weeks. Or, it’s out of sight out of mind. 

3. Set up your follow-up conversation

Come back together with everybody’s research that should include dates and cost. Map out the entire summer if everything comes through and make a tentative schedule. At this point, you, as the adult, have to take the reigns in terms of sign ups and payment. If you hit an obstacle, come back, regroup and find something else. Your kids may well need your assistance to create a purpose and destination for each day. If they refuse to cooperate, use screen time and other privileges as incentives and earned rewards. For example, if your daughter agrees to work as a mother’s helper for five mornings a week, she can earn an extra hour of screen time on those days. 

4. Relax some of the school year rules about sleep and wake times

Negotiate these items with your child or teen, letting them take the lead on what they want before you offer anything. That way, you come off as generous and they’ve got more buy-in to the program. You still have to establish clear times for waking up, getting dressed, leaving the house, doing chores and going to bed at night, but because it is summer, there’s some leeway. 

5. Collaborate and create very specific limits on screen time

In a calm moment, talk about what your child or teen would like and what you are hoping for. Listen to their input, reflect on what they’ve said and, if appropriate, make a compromise that you can stick to. Set a baseline for daily screen usage with extra minutes earned for doing chores, avoiding an argument when transitioning from the screen to something else or helping you out with a project.

Last but certainly not least, make room for summer fun and spontaneity. Set up times when routines are broken and name these as exceptions so your kids don’t think this is the new norm. Maybe go for an unplanned hike, ice cream treat or day at the beach. Think about one of  your own favorite summer memories for a moment right now. What made it special? How can you create some of those joyful times with your family? Summer calls out to us to enjoy being outdoors and enjoying the bounty of nature, trying new things and going places.

A creative image of a car an orange classic car on a beach with the ocean in the back and a surfboard on it that is holding beach supplies.

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