How to Survive Summer Vacation

Parenting tips to help make summer vacation a happy one for your ADHD child and the whole family.

Schedule playtime for your ADHD child, like a ride on a Ferris Wheel
Schedule playtime for your ADHD child, like a ride on a Ferris Wheel

Hooray for summer! School’s out, the weather is warm, and your kids are ready to play. Summer camp may be in the picture, but what’s most enticing is the freedom and luxury to do absolutely nothing – until you’ve done it for a while.

“Mom, I’m bored!” “Dad, there’s nothing to do!” It’s amazing how quickly the thrill of nothing to do can wear off, sometimes in a matter of days. That’s when you realize how tricky the transition from academic routine and structure to the lazy days of summer can be.

When your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you can make two safe predictions about summertime: Your child is likely to get bored easily and often; and he’s almost as likely to become demanding – of your time, attention, and patience. The way to manage summer’s lack of structure is to strike the right balance between free time and planned time. Use these guidelines to light your way.

Keep a calendar (but leave some blank spaces)

Even during their long break, children need structure to feel secure and have a sense of what to do over the summer, and what they can expect. A simple calendar of events lets your child see what’s coming. Fill in ahead of time a mix of major summer activities, such as the family vacation or trips to visit relatives, and casual recreational activities, such as a weekend trip to the zoo or museum. For your younger child, you may also want to prearrange and mark down playdates.

Of course, summer should still be a time to relax, so try not to overschedule. One planned event a weekend is great, three or four can feel rushed and hectic. Leave room for down time every day, when your child can do whatever he wants – even nothing at all. And make time at the end of the day for the family to relax, read, and talk.

Loosen the reins, but stay on course

The summer months cry out for flexibility. That being said, you don’t want to relinquish basic family rules and routines. It’s tempting to let kids stay up later in summer, and a bit of that is OK. But remember that even a little sleep deprivation can lead to irritability and meltdowns at any time of year.

Try to maintain basic bedtime habits. Stick to scheduled chores, too, as well as other established behaviors. A whole day in front of the TV should remain taboo even during summer months.

Use community resources

Take advantage of the summer recreational and educational opportunities that most towns offer. Find a youth sports league, or sign up for day camp. Many local rec centers offer swimming, gymnastics, even computer classes. Encourage your artistic child to join a children’s theater group or sign up for community art or jewelry-making courses.

In addition, visit local zoos and museums, and find out where and when summer festivals are scheduled in your area. Don’t forget to add selected activities to your calendar. When you plan ahead and write it down, you’re more likely to do it.

Play after work

During the school year, you set a regular study time for your child because it helps him get his work done. In the same way, scheduled playtimes in summer – for kids and parents together – will insure fun as well as family bonding. So play catch in the backyard, take a bike ride, or go out for ice cream. These relaxed times provide just the change of pace you and your child need to de-stress after nine months of school, or even a day’s work.

Help your teen find work

A part-time job is a rewarding way for an adolescent to spend some of his summer. Few things work better in building a sense of maturity, independence, and personal competence. The structure a job affords is a plus for kids with ADHD, and the extra spending money is, of course, an added bonus. While some teenagers are capable of finding a job for themselves, many need guidance and encouragement.

Start by defining work goals for your child, such as earning money or learning a new skill. Discuss the right types of jobs, based on her skills, organizational ability, and attention capability. Then help her choose where to apply. It doesn’t hurt to work on interview skills; role-play business owners and managers with her. Your encouragement and support may be just what your teen needs to follow through on a job search.

Let kids be kids

This may be the key to your child’s summer-vacation success. Essentially, being a child is natural, spontaneous, and easy. You encourage this process when you allow your child the time and freedom to do what he feels like doing.

As I said earlier, some structure during summer vacation is important. But so is unstructured downtime. Most children can be amazingly creative in finding ways to have fun. With your encouragement, the freedom to do nothing opens up countless possibilities to do anything.

Parents needn’t be constant entertainment directors in the summer. It may be more helpful to express confidence in your child’s ability to be creative and inventive – and then let him. So go ahead and schedule some activities, then get out of the way and let your child do what comes naturally.