When school lets out for the summer, some parents of children with ADHD breathe a large sigh of relief. No more homework, no more calls from the school, no more fights in the morning. But summertime brings its own set of problems. The transition from strict daily school schedules to a much more relaxed schedule can exacerbate ADHD, which can show up as poor behavior, fights with siblings and parents, and increased impulsive behaviors.
Whether your child is heading off to a few weeks of summer camp, going to a daily summer camp or staying at home during the summer months, creating a summer schedule can help ease the transition from school to summer and help keep your child’s life predictable and structured.
What to include in the summer schedule It’s important to make sure your child’s summer schedule includes free time where he or she can choose his or her own activities. Include specific times for:
- Daily routines, such as meals, bathing, wake-up and bedtimes
- Outdoor activities
- Crafts or other creative activities
- Self-guided activities
- Family time
- Educational activities
- Extracurricular activities such as camp, sports teams and other preplanned group events
- Work schedules (for older teens who have a job)
- Doctor appointments
Your family might have additional items, such as a visit from grandparents, to include in your schedule. Letting your child know in advance of upcoming events can help them better prepare.
Tips for setting up summer schedules
How you set up your summer schedule needs to reflect your family’s unique needs. Some people prefer to create a master summer schedule that includes all 10 or 11 weeks. Other families might find it better to post a general daily schedule and update with appointments, sports practices or other occasional events each week. There isn’t any right or wrong way; there's only what works best for you and your family. The following tips can help you get started.
_Talk to your children about their ideas in the beginning of the summer. _ There might be specific activities, such as going to the zoo, water park or the beach that your child would like to do. Discuss the different options and decide in advance which ideas you can incorporate into your family’s schedule (and budget.)
_Include outdoor activities each day. _ Exercise can help improve symptoms of ADHD. Biking, swimming and playing on the playground are not only good for your child’s overall health but can help to improve memory and attention and reduce hyperactivity.
_Allow for self-guided play. During the summer months, parents can sometimes feel as if they need keep their children amused. Set up a self-guided play area filled with books, puzzles, crafts, and games. Then set aside a specific time when your children can amuse themselves.** When planning a daily schedule, structure the day to give your child time to wake up** _(or for medication to become effective) before scheduling tasks that require sustained attention such as reading or academic work.
_Incorporate time for reading and other learning activities into each day. _You might want to include a weekly trip to the library for new books. Reading each day can help keep your child’s academic skills sharp and minimize the summer brain drain.
_Use a large master schedule that shows the family’s schedule. _ This lets each person know what is going on and gives him or her information needed to make plans with friends.
_Consider your own schedule when planning the summer schedule. _ If you work outside the home, make sure your children’s activities don’t interfere with your ability to get to work. If you need time when you arrive home to cook dinner, run errands or simply wind down from the workday, include this in the schedule.
_Try to plan at least one family outing each week.This can be taking a walk after dinner, visiting a museum, going swimming or a family game night. Take advantage of the extra daylight in the evenings to spend time together as a family.** Take a few minutes each evening to review the calendar for the following day.** Use the calendar to help prepare your child for upcoming activities and review expectations.** Include time for your child’s hobbies.** _ Being involved in hobbies gives your child a sense of accomplishment and can increase self-esteem. Make sure children have time to explore their own interests.
_Plan screen time. _You might want to include time for your child to work on the computer, tablet or phone. Keep in mind that using these devices can sometimes make it more difficult for a child to get to sleep. Plan screen time early in the day or make sure it ends one to two hours before bedtime.While schedules help to create routine in the summer months, try not to schedule every moment. Incorporate unplanned time into your schedule. You can block off times to give your child a chance to create their own activities, get together with friends or have impromptu family time. Most of all, make time for fun.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbaileyand on Facebook at eileenmbailey.