I absolutely love summer. I look forward to it all year. I may actually look forward to it more than my children! I love the sunshine, and the warm weather–even these 90-plus-degree days with high humidity here in the mid-Atlantic US! I love the long days, barbecues and pool parties with friends and family, and the general relaxed nature of summer.
As a parent of a teen with ADHD, I look forward to the break from the before-school/work rush with my children, the hiatus from homework, and the slower pace of the kids’ extracurricular activities. As an adult with ADHD myself, I look forward to the break from the endless influx of school papers, more evening time spent outside with friends, family and neighbors, and the more laid-back flow of life in the summer months.
But that last part is where those of us with ADHD can really get ourselves into some trouble! The diminished structure that comes with summer, along with disruption in sleep, diet and other routines, can wreak havoc for many of us with ADHD.
Those of us who have ADHD may tend to resist it, and even resent it somewhat, but structure is extremely important and beneficial to us in managing our ADHD traits. Although we may balk at the mundane sound and feel of it, the benefit of the predictability of routine in our lives can’t be overstated. Like it or not, those of us with ADHD thrive on routine and structure! But almost by definition, summer is the time when routine and structure tend to take a vacation themselves.
Summer is often when I see my clients “regress” a bit and start to struggle again with some of their previously well-managed ADHD challenges. Parents often complain of their ADHD children’s behavior and attitudes taking a turn for the worse. For adults, even the best-designed systems to improve time management, follow-through, organization, or other common areas of struggle can fall by the wayside during the lazy days of summer.
So . . . What should you do when summer wreaks havoc on ADHD in your house?
Go back to basics!
Here are my Top 5 Strategies for Enjoying your Summer with ADHD / ADD:
5. Protect your sleep: Healthy sleep is very important to most ADHDers—young and old alike. Insufficient rest can be a recipe for disaster for an ADHDer, causing increased problems with attention, self-regulation, emotional volatility, and hyperactivity. Do yourself a favor and try to maintain a healthy sleep routine with regular sleep and wake times as much as possible during the summer season!
4. Manage your Diet: It’s easy to throw caution to the wind with respect to food when “Vacation Rules are in Effect.” (This is a favorite expression of my children!) While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these special treats, poor eating habits can also wreak havoc on an ADHD child or adult. The temptation to skip meals or stretch out too much time between them in anticipation of a special meal or event is never a good idea as it can cause dips in blood sugar which effects attention, self-regulation, mood modulation, etc. Regardless of the occasion, it’s always best to make sure some quality protein is part of each meal or snack.
3. Plan your “Escape:” Think about the rough patches of summers past. Did you or your child say something inappropriate to a relative at a reunion? Did you or your child have a melt-down at a neighborhood gathering? Was the long car ride to the beach a nightmare for you/your spouse/your child? Think about what you’d like to avoid this year and what the triggers may be for you or your child. There are usually warning signs, even subtle signs, when things are about to go awry with an ADHD child or adult. A little self-discovery goes a long way in this regard! Help yourself or your child by learning to see the signs or triggers and having a pre-made escape plan in place. Also plan frequent breaks and stops on long trips (Is it more important to have a relatively peaceful trip or to break last year’s land speed record to the beach?!)
2. Plan some down time: For children and adults with ADHD, the routines and structure that are so comforting and help with self-modulation are often disrupted during the summer. There may be guests, social demands and travel to unfamiliar destinations. While it may seem counter-intuitive to recommend a “break” from your summer break, building some quiet time to refresh and recharge is very important. Self-care and time to do whatever it is that makes you feel refreshed should definitely be part of the schedule. Whether it’s exercise (which we know is essential to the ADHD brain!), a nap, a video game, or just some unstructured play, you need to put time for yourself (or your child) on your summer calendar!
1. Plan, Plan, and Plan some more: Although most of us resist it because it sounds boring and mundane, a good plan can be an ADHDer’s best friend. Take time to make sure you keep your calendar and your kids’ calendars up-to-date. Build in some routine in your calendar as well as time for transitions, so that everyone knows what comes next. Make sure you prepare ADHD kids in advance for any breaks from their normal routine. You may feel like a broken record, but repeated warnings and countdowns are a must to help ADHD children deal with transitions. For ADHD adults, take a little time to make a plan of what needs to be done for your vacation, backyard barbecue, etc. and break it down!
Although it may sound boring, predictability and routine are often the first line of defense in managing challenging behaviors of ADHD children and adults.
After all, ADHD doesn’t take a summer vacation!