While summertime incites joy for kids – no school, no responsibilities, sleeping in, video games all day – it often induces stress for parents who now have to balance normal daily responsibilities with caring for their children an extra 8 hours of the day. This can be especially challenging for parents of children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Below, we’ve gathered a few summer parenting ideas that may be helpful while children are home from school:
- Maintain a schedule – People, and especially children, thrive when they have a schedule to guide them. Although the schedule may differ from the school year, it’s helpful to have normal waking and bedtime hours. This sets an expectation of structure and can help to minimize arguments and power-struggles during transition times. Next, plan regular meal times, and recognize that meal times may change from day to day based on your activities. That is okay! Generally speaking, children may want to eat a meal or snack about every 2-4 hours, so schedule meals accordingly and pack or plan for healthy snacks halfway between meals. Finally, plan some structured activities a few times each week – swim lessons, bike rides, sporting games, art classes, summer camps, time with friends, library visits, etc. This will help children stay active, engaged, and learning through the summer while still having fun!
- Fuel with good nutrition – a balanced and healthful diet helps to regulate mood, balance emotions, and provide for better problem solving and interactions with others. Keeping a regular meal routine may prevent “hangry” outbursts, and focusing on whole foods that are minimally processed will offer the best nutrition. Use some of the extra time in the summer to cook at home and prepare meals from fresh ingredients. Children can even be involved in the food preparation, which not only teaches new skills but encourages kids to try new foods. Try these snack ideas and check out these tips for less processed foods.
- Remember reminders – with any change in routine comes an increased chance of forgetting essential items and/or feeling unprepared, both of which increase stress and the possibility for frustrated meltdowns. Use checklists to make sure you have everything needed for outings (sunscreen, snacks, extra clothes, towels, a hat, bug spray, etc.) and pre-pack the day before. Organizing ahead of time will cut down on last-minute scrambling, allow for a less rushed, more enjoyable morning, and increase the likelihood of beginning your fun day out on a positive note. If your child will be participating in an outing without you, discuss details with your child in advance, and provide visual or audible reminders, as needed. Phone reminders or a note packed with lunch or a snack can be very helpful, or try linking responsibilities with other actions (for example: remember to re-apply sunscreen when you stop for lunch).
- Screen time rules – More free time often means more screen time, whether it be phones, tablets, video games, movies, TV, computer, etc. It is important to limit screen time for a number of health reasons, and a maximum of two hours per day is the general recommendation for children under 18 years of age. Setting clear limits on screen time and enforcing those limits helps children to learn time-management and stay on top of other household responsibilities. Many parents find that visual timers are helpful, and separating time between playing games and bedtime helps to improve sleep.
- Create opportunity for independence, learning, and success – School can often be a major source of stress and pressure for a child with ADHD. Summer vacation, then, should be a time to relax and allow your child to feel competent and happy, while still staying active. Give your child a sense of independence by allowing him to have a part in decision making. A great way to do this is through offering choices. For example, ask “Would you like oatmeal and berries or an egg with toast for breakfast today?” Or, if you’ve signed your child up for an activity she admits she didn’t enjoy, ask “Can you think of another activity you’d like to try instead?” Another great strategy that helps a child to learn, provides a degree of independence, and reduces parental “nagging” is cause & effect phrasing: If/Then, First/Then, When/Then. Here are some examples:
- If you play with your brother outside for an hour, then you can play video games until dinner.
- First we need to go to the store, then we’ll stop at the park for 20 minutes.
- When your bed is made and you’ve brushed your teeth, then we will get ready to go to the pool.
Using this structure sets a clear expectation for the child and puts the responsibility on him to get the outcome he desires. Of course, it is critical for the parent to follow through and do what was promised to build trust and positively reinforce the child’s actions.
- Be prepared with activities for times when boredom strikes – Children love the freedom and extra time that comes with summer vacation, but inevitably the day comes when they don’t know what to do with themselves. If leaving them to their own devices has proved problematic in the past, help them stay entertained with a list of activities. Try creating lists together, and include a variety of activities: independent play, play with others, indoor activities, outdoor activities, and possible spontaneous outings with the family. Pending the day and situation, provide the appropriate lists to the child when they complain of boredom. Here’s a few ideas to get you started –
- Assemble a Lego set or block set
- Do a puzzle
- Play a board game
- Write a poem or song
- Bake homemade granola bars
- Help with cooking
- Build a blanket fort
- Take a trip to the library
- Pack a picnic and take it to the park, stay and play a while
- Go for a bike ride
- Plan a scavenger hunt for a sibling or parent; make the treasure something special to the family, like a favorite picture (Make sure to remember where you hide it in case the scavenger hunt doesn’t get solved!)
- Build an outdoor obstacle course to complete
- Play four-square
- Draw with sidewalk chalk
- Start off the school year on the right foot – After months off from school and the “normal routine,” many children have a hard time adjusting back to long days of learning and strict schedules. This can be even more challenging for a child with ADHD. Help your child succeed by preparing him adequately. Maintain a “learning mode” through the summer by asking your child to complete workbooks or other fun learning experiences (see additional resources below). A few weeks before school resumes, start the transition back to the school-year routine: set earlier bed times and have your child wake-up at the time he would need to for school. Try filling the days with more activity to start preparing for longer days, lots of learning, and no opportunity to nap.
With everything be safe, wear sun protection, and stay hydrated with water. Happy summer!