No More Pencils, No More Books: Helping Your Child Transition from School to Summer

 ADHD Weekly June 7, 2018

Ah, summer.

School is out, afterschool activities have ended, and your child is looking gleefully at two or three months of free time. You are looking at those same two or three months, but perhaps not quite so gleefully.

For the child or teen who has been diagnosed with ADHD and his parents or guardians, making the transition into summer can be challenging—the need for structure doesn’t end just because there’s no obligation to show up in a classroom. Taking a little time to prepare before that last bell rings can be the difference between an enjoyable summer and an endless one.

Before school ends

Start talking with your child about the change to the summer schedule now, so he can prepare for it and express specific concerns. That means thinking about age-appropriate ways to fill the days. Although the specific issues that arise between the end of one school year and the start of the next may be different for elementary-age children than they are for teens, they have general similarities.

“If each day seems to be different from one day to another, try to make a plan and write it down [where it can be seen by everyone],” former CHADD Professional Advisory Board Chair Ann Abramowitz, PhD, tells listeners of Ask the Expert: ADHD Out-of-School: Parenting During the Summer. By keeping the schedule handy, she says, children are aware of what is happening next and are better able to prepare for the next activity.

If your child is in middle school or younger, overnight or day camps may be the way to go. Camps tend to operate on a familiar schedule that’s a lot like school, but they’re filled with fun activities (and of course there’s no homework!). They can be an opportunity for your child to immerse herself in a hobby she’s passionate about—maybe music or animal care—or in something she’s never tried—perhaps archery or acting. And even though summer is just about here, town recreation departments, community centers, libraries, and local colleges and universities are often great places to find openings in appropriate day camps.

Parents of children at any age often find they do best in a camp that is geared specifically toward kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Then you don’t need to worry about people not understanding your child’s behavior or fear that he’ll risk being asked to leave if he is unable to control his energy. If you’re looking for a summer camp or program, the American Camp Association keeps a listing of camps that you can search by interest and need.

Beyond summer camp

Many kids do just fine without camps, especially if they can count on a handful of regularly scheduled activities, such as daily swimming lessons or a reading club or volunteer project.

Is your child enrolled in local summer programs for arts or sports? Dr. Abramowitz says many families will sign their children up for one-week programs throughout the summer. Taking your children’s ADHD symptoms into account is an important step on planning which programs are appropriate for them to participate in.

“Consider for your child what activities will be best,” she says. “It may not be the same activities that your neighbors or your friend’s children attend. Are [the programs] prepared for the behaviors your child might have? Will this activity help your child develop better behavioral or social skills?”

Finding programs that are interesting to your child and meet her needs can go a long way towards creating a memorable summer for your child.

Teens might be ready to hold a job, and there are still plenty of employers looking for summer help. The best job is one that plays to his interests and skills and keeps him engaged. Working in a store might not be your teen’s long-term goal, but it’s a great place for someone who likes to meet new people or shop, for example. Restaurants often need dishwashers, which is a great job for someone who would rather just do his work and get paid (and get a free shift meal, too!). Some high school juniors and seniors might still be able to find internships in professions they are interested in, although those often pay little or nothing beyond the experience.

Teens coping with ADHD symptoms should also take those symptoms into account when hunting for a summer job. Would this position give your teen new challenges that keep him engaged? Is it fast paced and excitingor too fast paced for him to meet the demands of the position? What about transportation and time management? Sometimes success includes steering into the curve and looking for ways to match job responsibilities with ADHD abilities.

During the summer

Check in regularly during the summer with your child and encourage him to get enough sleep and eat well and regularly, especially teenagers. Staying up late watching movies or living on a diet of vacation foods such as soda and chips could make behavior issues worse. And of course, making sure that he follows his treatment plan as usual is essential.

Think about potential disruptions to your family’s routine in advance. If you have houseguests or are going to be staying in someone else’s home for a long weekend or more, talk with your child about what that will mean in terms of her daily routine. She should also understand what your days will look like—especially if you work outside the home—and what responsibilities you might expect of her because she’s at home.

But be willing to accept that the best-laid summer plans may be disrupted. Maybe the job didn’t work out or all of the soccer games were cancelled because it was a thunderstorm-filled summer. Discussing in advance what your child will do instead can save headaches for both of you. At the same time, be positive: plan on occasional rewards for good behavior, being flexible, having a positive attitude, and whatever other efforts you want to encourage. An ice cream cone, extra screen time, a new book, or a trip to the beach are just a few summery ideas for short-term positive reinforcement that can plant the seed for more good behavior.

Above all, don’t forget that everyone needs some downtime in life—and that applies to children and teens who have been diagnosed with ADHD too. Not having to go to school and do homework can leave time and mental energy for plenty of other things, whether that means building the Brooklyn Bridge out of Legos, reading the entire Steeplejack Series, beating their own highest score in video games, or preparing to run a 5k race. Or maybe it means more time to go for hikes or on bike rides, to lie in a hammock and watch the clouds float by. It is summer, after all.

Looking for summer resources?