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A Well-Deserved Summer Break for My Daughter

The transition from school to summer’s routine-less days is enough to spoil the fun of vacation for my ADHD teen daughter, leaving her wracked with anxiety.

Yesterday after school, Lee hurled herself into the car and said, “I’m so stressed! I can’t wait to get home.” I could see she was holding back tears.

Here we go again, I thought. I wished school was over, and that I had a magic wand I could wave to melt her anxiety away. Every year, as the school year comes to an end and the teachers’ demands increase, Lee reacts with emotional swings that range from ecstatic to mad. Now she was mad.

“Are grades more important than how I feel?” she asked. “I had a bad headache today and my teacher still made me work!”

As she vented, I thought of how close we were to when she could sleep in, hang out with her friends, and look forward to our summer vacation. But even if I reminded her of these things, they wouldn’t cheer her up. Lee was going through what ADHD experts called “transition trauma,” as she counted down the weeks before summer. This time of year, for my child and many others with ADHD, causes a state of anxiety that settles in over our house with the “June gloom” of the Southern California sky.

While most kids were excited about the transition into summer, sensing that freedom was just around the corner, Lee felt like she was on quicksand, ready to sink. There were longer school assignments, a different schedule, and demands to turn in missing work or get a D, and all of these signaled change.

Routine was the container to shove her ADHD into, so it was manageable. Without that container, the ADHD spilled out. Things got messy. Things were forgotten. Teachers were reacting to her impulsive bursts of behavior and missing homework assignments, asking how Lee, who does a pretty good job most of the year, suddenly became that problem child in the last weeks of school.

As soon as we got home, Lee grabbed our cat, bolted to the safety of her bedroom, and slammed the door. When she was younger, I could cheer her up by baking cookies together or help her plant flowers in her “secret garden.” But at 16 years old, she wanted to decompress alone. I knew I could ease the headache soon with a sandwich, but her mood would take time.

As soon as school was out for the summer, with a calendar and schedule, I could help her create a routine. We’d write out daily stuff, weekly activities, projects, and time to relax. She’d complain that mom was butting into her life, but summer had its container, too. The sooner she organized what summer would look like, the faster her anxiety would dissipate.

Even though there was no magic wand, I could reassure her there was hope ahead. Just a few more weeks, and she’d be standing on solid ground.