Preventing the Summertime Blues

 ADHD Weekly, June 1, 2023

Is your family ready for summer?

The school year is coming to an end and your child is looking gleefully at two or three months of free time. Meanwhile you are looking at those same months—perhaps not quite so gleefully.

For the child or teen who has ADHD, 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 with your child to prepare for summer before that last bell rings can mean the difference between an enjoyable summer and an endless one.

Prepping for the beginning of summer

Start talking with your child about the summer schedule now and encourage them to give suggestions and ideas for the coming weeks. Planning age-appropriate activities and selecting day programs together helps your child engage with and be excited about the summer plans.

“If each day seems to be different from one day to another, make a plan and write it down,” says Ann Abramowitz, PhD. She is an associate professor of psychology with a research focus on ADHD at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and a former chair of CHADD’s professional advisory board. Take the schedule you’ve created and post it where it will be seen by everyone, she suggests. By keeping the schedule handy, children are aware of what is coming up next and are better able to prepare for the activity.

If your child is in middle or elementary school, overnight or day camps or local summer academic exploration programs may be the way to go. Camps and programs tend to operate on a schedule that’s a lot like school but are filled with fun activities. And of course there’s no homework! Children can immerse themselves in a hobby they’re passionate about (maybe music or animal care) or in something they’ve never tried (perhaps archery or acting). Town recreation departments, school districts, community centers, libraries, and local colleges and universities are often great places to find appropriate day camps or exploration programs.

Children with ADHD often do well in a camp or summer program that is geared specifically toward kids diagnosed with ADHD. Their parents don’t need to worry about staff not understanding their child’s behavior or that they could be asked to leave for behaviors related to their ADHD symptoms. If you’re looking for a summer camp or program, the American Camp Association keeps a list of camps you can search by interest and need.

Beyond camps and exploration programs

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

Dr. Abramowitz says many families sign their children up for special one-week programs or field trips with local schools, libraries, or community centers throughout the summer. Taking your children’s ADHD symptoms into account is an important step in planning which programs for them to participate in.

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

Finding programs your child will be excited about that also meet their needs can go a long way toward creating a memorable summer.

Teens might be ready to hold a part-time job, and there are still plenty of employers looking for summer help. The best job is one that plays to their interests and skills and keeps them 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. Often a teen’s first employment experience is at a restaurant or a fast food establishment, which is a great job for someone new to the workforce and still learning the skills for being a successful employee. Some high school juniors and seniors might find internships in professions they are interested in, although those often pay little or nothing beyond experience.

Teens should also take their ADHD symptoms into account when hunting for a summer job. Would this position give them new challenges that keep them engaged? Is it fast paced and exciting, or too fast paced for them to meet the demands of the position? What about transportation and time management? Success in a summer job includes matching job responsibilities with ADHD abilities.

During the summer

Check in regularly with your child during the summer and encourage them 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 they follow their treatment plan as usual is essential.

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

Be willing to accept that the best-laid summer plans may be disrupted. Maybe the job won’t work out or thunderstorm-filled days will lead to canceled events. Discussing in advance what your child will do when the unexpected happens can prevent 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, remember that everyone needs some downtime in life—and that applies to children and teens, 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 an entire novel 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?

Join the discussion: What are some of the tools you have used to make summers enjoyable for your entire family?