Parenting a child with ADHD can be especially tough during the summer. “Kids with ADHD blossom when they have a structured schedule, and summertime is notorious for having a lack of scheduling,” according to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of Making the Grade with ADD: A Student’s Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Psychotherapist and ADHD expert Terry Matlen, ACSW, agreed. Because most parents can’t mimic the tight structure of school, kids often get bored — and may get into trouble, she said. That’s because when kids with ADHD get bored, they seek out stimuli, which can be anything from picking fights with their families to playing with fire, she said.
Some parents discontinue their child’s medication during the summer, which poses another challenge, said Matlen, also author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD. “That can create a situation where the child has a hard time with self-control, mood regulation [and] social behaviors.”
But while the summer can be challenging, you can absolutely overcome these obstacles and enjoy a fun break. Below, Sarkis and Matlen offer their excellent suggestions.
1. Create structure.
Again, structure keeps your child focused. According to Sarkis, you can create structure by engaging your child in activities at the same time each day or meeting on the same day each week.
Because ADHD runs in families, one of you may have ADHD as well, making it harder to establish structure, Matlen said. Enlist the help of your non-ADHD spouse to assist with planning out the day, she said.
2. Incorporate physical activities.
According to Matlen, physical activities are especially helpful for kids who are impulsive and hyperactive. “It helps them direct their energies in acceptable, healthy ways,” she said. If your child is clumsy, try “non-competitive activities such as swimming, running [and] biking,” she said. (Some kids with ADHD have “fine and gross motor skills [that] may not be on par with others their age.”)
3. Start a rotating playgroup.
Sarkis suggested that parents set up a weekly playgroup with other parents around their neighborhood. You can meet once a week at a different home for a few hours. “This is an inexpensive way of providing structure to a child, and it also giving parents time off in the process,” she said.
4. Consider camps.
According to Matlen, young kids do great in day camps that offer outdoor, structured activities, while overnight camps with physical outlets are ideal for older kids. If your child has a specific interest, such as art, horses or computers, specialized camps are another excellent option, she said.
Both Sarkis and Matlen also suggested camps for kids with ADHD. To find a camp, contact your local CHADD group or post on an ADHD forum, Sarkis said. “Look in your local paper, and ask your pediatrician, teacher, or school counselor,” she added.
(Also, this article has several helpful suggestions on finding a good camp.)
5. Try local facilities.
If camp isn’t feasible, try a local swim club or the Y, Matlen said. These facilities offer an array of fun activities at an affordable cost, she said.
6. Get creative. “Parents can also set up a badminton set in the backyard, purchase a trampoline [or] set up an obstacle course with tunnels and objects to hop over,” Matlen said.
7. Engage them in nature.
For instance, show your kids how to garden. “Kids can get dirty while learning about nature,” Matlen said. Also, “Setting up bird feeders and tending to the food gives kids the opportunity to learn how to care for living creatures,” she added.
8. Visit the library.
Kids with the inattentive type of ADHD often prefer quiet and calm activities, Matlen said. During the summer, many libraries offer either free or low-cost programs for kids, she said.
9. Check out the arts.
Kids who prefer quieter activities also might enjoy attending concerts, plays and art classes, Matlen said.
10. Encourage older kids to work.
If your kids are older, talk to them about the many ways they can earn money, such as dog walking, pet sitting or even having a lemonade stand, she said. This improves math skills and promotes a healthy independence and solid self-esteem, she said.
11. Let your child have a say.
Ask your child what they’d like to do this summer, including the new skills they’d like to learn, such as playing the guitar, camping or cooking, Matlen said. “Once he sees that he has input and that his opinion is valued, the parent has a much better chance at getting him to try new things,” she said.
If your child already has a certain skill, ask if they’d be willing to teach that skill to a younger child. According to Matlen, this can “do wonders for his self-esteem, which for many kids, can get pretty battered during the school year.”
12. Consult your doctor about medication.
Some parents take their kids off medication during the summer since there’s no schoolwork. However, it’s important to thoroughly discuss this decision with your child’s doctor, Matlen said. She’s seen kids significantly struggle without their medication. For instance, because of their hyperactivity and impulsivity, they may lose friends, she said. And “Their behaviors might cause tremendous stress on the family.”
In addition to creating structure and engaging your child in a variety of enjoyable activities, don’t forget to find some alone time for yourself, Sarkis added.