From Screen Time to Safe Socializing: The Summer 2020 Guide for ADHD Families

Summer safety during a pandemic means activities that are socially distanced yet still fun and collaborative for kids with ADHD. Use these strategies to better communicate with your child, devise activities for the whole family, and make the most of this weird summer.

finger art of family with face masks on - summer safety activities for adhd kids 2020

Summer is in full swing, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. With a global pandemic canceling our regularly scheduled lives, many families are still fumbling their way through the season and scrambling to conjure fun from a summer without camps, community pools, and sleepovers — all while trying to keep the peace at home.

With lingering concerns about structure, screen time, and safe socializing, many parents fear this summer is simply doomed — especially in the wake of distance learning, which was a fantastic disaster for so many students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). But I assure you the summer can be saved – if families refocus now on collaborative planning and positive communication.

Finding Activities for ADHD Kids This Summer: Key Strategies

Deal with Difficult Emotions and Feelings First

Children and teens with ADHD often struggle with emotional regulation, flexibility, and impulse control. They have low tolerance levels for uncertainty, disappointment, and discomfort, which may give way to feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration.

These difficult emotions contribute to family stress and drive conflict, especially when happening alongside loss and grief. Addressing these feelings first can help children adapt and manage, helping tremendously in setting the tone for the rest of the summer – and the pandemic. To do so, follow the three Rs:

  • Reflect: Listen to your child with compassion, and reflect what you hear as an exercise in validation and empathy. If your child is fed up with isolation, reflect this feeling by saying something like, “I can understand that you’re over this. It does wear on you. And it’s really hard because we don’t see an end.”
  • Recognize problems and brainstorm solutions. Zoom out to better detect patterns of worry or anger, and challenge your child to devise solutions to improve the situation. For example, if clearing dishes from the dinner table has become a new source of contention, ask your child, “How can we get back to clearing the plates without arguing?”
  • Reset: Redirect your child’s attention to something calming when they’re stressed or upset. Ask them to brainstorm activities that can help, like listening to music or exercising.

Use this guide to learn about warning signs indicating that your child or teen might need support from a mental health professional.

[Read: The Most Obvious Pandemic Parenting Advice You May Not Be Following]

Scheduling Activities for ADHD Kids: Creating a Long-Term Plan

Sit down and answer the following questions as a family:

  • What is the big picture for the summer?
  • What would you most like to see happen this summer?
  • If you could make three wishes about this summer, what would you ask for?

Desperate for ideas? Aside from purely academic activities, these activities are popular among children and adolescents with ADHD:

  • Cooking and trying new recipes
  • Learning how to play an instrument via how-to videos
  • Playing a sport
  • Volunteering
  • Reading an exciting book series
  • Driving or walking to a new place

Refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines on “Daily Life and Going Out” for information on low-risk and high-risk activities, and consult local rules and regulations as well.

[Summer in the Time of Coronavirus: At-Home Activities for Kids with ADHD]

Begin with a Daily Summer Routine

Identifying big, long-term goals for the summer won’t mean much without a plan to see them through. Routines help keep consistency, minimize reminding and nagging, and improve cooperation. With your family, devise a routine that values steadiness over rigidity, and predictability over restrictiveness. The routine should establish regular wake-up, bed, and meal times, as well as chunks of time throughout the day for activities, including screen time and socializing.

The foundation of any solid routine is collaboration. When drafting your routine, ask your children what matters most to them. This ensures their buy in and participation in the plan. Adjust the routine if your teenager has a job or an online class.

Once the plan is set, write down everything that is agreed upon, and keep it in a visible place – visual cues are so important for ADHD brains. Have a weekly family check-in to discuss upcoming plans and make any necessary adjustments.

Screen Time

Too much screen time is by far the most pressing concern among parents this summer. Finding the right screen time balance is complicated for all families — especially now, when increased use of screens is normal and somewhat unavoidable.

To avoid fights, negotiate a baseline amount of screen time with your child and help them understand how much additional time may be earned. Link bonus screen time to desired behaviors, like completing academic work or chores, to help your child understand that screen time is a privilege.

Use screen time to meet your own needs, and think strategically about this when planning. Movies, games, TV shows, online activities, and video chats can help you juggle childcare while working from home.

Block out screen-free times for the whole family throughout the week. These moments — for example, over dinner or even an hour or two after — allow for more family bonding and communication.

As a rule of thumb, it’s best to push screen time to the latter half of the day, when children and teens flail around the most. That said, get a sense of what your child likes to do with their screen time, as it may mean breaking it up into chunks throughout the day, or lumping it into one period. For example, if your child likes to play video games only after breakfast, when most of his or her friends are online, consider that when drafting a schedule. Another rule of thumb: Screens absolutely must stay out of bedrooms at night.

For more tips on managing screen time during the pandemic, read, “My Kids Are on Screens All Day: Is That Okay?

Safe Socializing

Kids are bored, frustrated, and lonely. They need their friends, and it’s on parents to help them strike a balance between safe in-person and online hang outs.

  • Teach them specifics about social distancing. Take out a tape measure and show them what six feet looks like. Keep gloves and masks in their backpacks or otherwise within reach. Clearly agree on what constitutes a safe in-person hang out, and prepare them for complicated situations.
  • Agree on safe outdoor spaces to meet friends. Consider supervising your child first to see if they’re sticking to social distancing guidelines. If they’re not, go back to the drawing board, and tell your child that they will have to earn back your trust. Instill in them the importance of revealing if they’ve messed up, as it could mean that they’ve exposed themselves and others.

[Read This Next: The Lost Summer of 2020? How to Balance Fun and Learning for Worn Out Kids]

The content for this webinar was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “S.O.S. (Save Our Summer): A Parent’s Guide to Daily Routines, Screen Limits & Safe Social Outings” by Sharon Saline, Psy.D., which was broadcast live on July 1, 2020.

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