Structure is a lifeline for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) who have difficulty with transitions, problem solving, and planning ahead. The school year comes with plenty of calming routines: waking, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and catching the school bus make up morning routines; dinner, homework, free time, bathing, and bedtime at night.
While most of us look forward to the breaks in routine that summer brings, ADHD kids are more comfortable with predictability. Unanchored by their familiar structure, they can easily become anxious and upset.
Here's how to ease your child's summer anxiety:
Create a new routine
A disorganized summer can create a discombobulated ADHD child. Since many don't fare well with large blocks of free time, summer camp -- either day or sleep-away -- is an excellent solution. Be certain to select a program in which counselors know about ADHD and can handle inevitable emergencies and meltdowns. Make sure the counselor and your child know how to contact you if there's a problem.
It is not too late to enroll your child in a series of two-week or three-week summer programs (such as soccer clinics, arts programs and computer camps), a strategy that provides both structure and change throughout the summer. Some change, if well planned, will keep your stimulation-seeking child interested and engaged.
Let the child know the plan
If your child isn't attending a structured camp or classes, try to plan supervised activities throughout each day. Choosing activities your child enjoys works best. But remember, it's not enough to make the plans and send your child off to the beach with your in-laws. Go over the day with your child -- when they're leaving, how they'll get there, who will be there, what they'll be doing, where they're having dinner -- the night before. Offering at least some measure of predictability -- and keeping surprises to a minimum -- will help your child stay calm.
Family vacation rules
If you don't factor your ADHD child into your family travel plans, you may be in for a wild ride. Time your child's medication dose to cover long car rides and plane trips. Bring plenty of books, toys, card games, and computer games for the trip -- they help provide structure and activity. Plan for frequent stops so your child can walk or run some energy off. If possible, don't travel beyond dinnertime. Give your child time at the end of the day to move around, jump on the bed, and regroup.
While many parents feel compelled to give their children "medication breaks" over the summer, I don't often recommend it. ADD/ADHD medication helps children fare better socially as well as academically. It helps them control impulses and enables them to pay attention to their friends, keep focused on playing fields, follow counselors' instructions, and avoid accidents caused by impetuous behavior.
Summer is perhaps the best time of year to enjoy these wonderfully exuberant children. Strategizing and planning will help you make the most of these priceless moments.