Summer Schedule Gone Haywire: ADHD on Vacation

Children with ADHD thrive with reliable daily routines — even during summer holidays. The best vacations balance new adventures with predictable schedules. Here’s how to strike that balance.

A family going on their vacation together after planning their summer schedule.
Family packing trunk of a car
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Vacation, Finally!

We've all been there. The vacation you so desperately hoped would give everyone a much-needed break from everyday stresses turns into a week-long string of misbehaviors and meltdowns. The culprit? The transition from a structured home environment to an extended vacation with little or no routine can take a toll on kids with ADHD. Here are strategies for planning wisely to avoid a ruined holiday.

Family using the free summer schedule to visit giraffes at the zoo
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Make a Schedule

A disorganized vacation can create a discombobulated child. Since many kids don't fare well with large blocks of free time, plan a few organized activities in advance. Can you enroll your child in a swim lesson? Can you visit a water park, museum, or zoo nearby? Activities like this will keep your stimulation-seeking child interested and engaged.

A mother and daughter at the beach, on a summer schedule
Mother and daughter wearing casual hats at the beach
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Prepare Your Child Mentally

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.

[Free Download: 20 Secrets to a Smarter Summer]

Boy playing on a tablet, reveling in the freedom of his summer schedule
Boy sitting on grey couch playing on tablet
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Rules Are Rules

The summer months cry out for flexibility. That being said, you don't want to relinquish basic family rules and routines. Make sure to stick to established behaviors. A whole day in front of the TV, for example, should remain taboo even during a vacation.

Father and son at a summer movie, enjoying their empty schedule
Father and son at the movies with 3D glasses and popcorn
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Reward Positive Behavior

Make sure that you acknowledge and reinforce good behavior with a reward system, even on vacation. You can use stars on a chart or extend a special privilege, like playing a favorite video game for an extra half-hour or going to a movie as a family one night.

Girl sleeping in the middle of the day in the summer, not on a normal sleep schedule
Girl asleep with white teddy bear
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Get Enough Sleep

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 to keep your child's brain and body in working order.

Boy running with kite during the summer, enjoying his empty schedule
Boy running with kite on sand
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Let Kids Be Kids

Structure during vacation is important, but so is downtime. Most kids can be amazingly creative in finding ways to have fun. Parents needn't be constant entertainment directors during your vacation. 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.

[Special ADDitude Collection: Summer Learning Ideas for Kids with ADHD]