Summertime splendor— the sunny season most families look forward to all year long. But for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and their parents, the lazy days of summer can seem like unending weeks of struggle and frustration. Less structure, fewer rules and lenient schedules often mean trouble for children who thrive on routine. Fortunately, parents with children diagnosed with ADHD, along with parents of all children, can combat potential summertime difficulties with a little planning and a lot of love.

Why is summer so difficult for ADHD children and their families? While most children find security and comfort in routine, ADHD kids thrive on it. Such kids rely heavily on the habits established during the school year to diffuse the challenges associated with the disorder.

Once classes are dismissed for the summer months, many families throw their school-year rules and routines away like last year’s book bag. Parents often let down their guards and relax the day-to-day structure that provides the basis for the ADHD child’s daily habits. But, embracing later bedtimes, hit-and-miss mealtimes and weakened family rules can wreck havoc on the home front, causing problems for children and parents alike. This isn’t the way it has to be. Because of the lack of structure during the summer months, parents should take the reins to control the ebb and flow of the household routine. This helps maintain the peace that family members relish during the school year.

For children, especially those struggling with symptoms of ADHD, maintaining school-year structure is essential to combating behavior issues. Try to keep your child’s daily schedule the same year-round if possible. Stick to the same bedtimes, mealtimes, playtimes and morning routines followed when class is in session. If you choose to stray from your established schedule, don’t become frustrated when behavior problems arise in children. Simply return to your planned schedule and praise your child for even the slightest improvements. This praise reinforces good behavior.

Although summer is typically a time for relaxing household rules, clear-cut expectations are essential for children with ADHD. Rules provide kids with a framework in which to better differentiate right from wrong. When school-time rules are loosened, children often push the envelope to see how far they can challenge parental authority. The best way to prevent this from happening in your home is to keep your household rules consistent all year.

It is also essential that children get plenty of sleep, even during school vacations. Children ages 7 through 12 need nine to ten hours of sleep each night. Getting children to bed on time during the summer months can be a challenge, especially when the sun shines until nearly 9pm. Try using black-out window shades to darken your child’s bedroom until the sun sets.

If your child attends a day or sleepaway camp, tell the counselors about your child’s ADHD. Any established program should have measures in place to allow children like yours to succeed at camp— a main reason to clue staff in to key information about your child.

Also learn how your child’s day will be structured at camp. If the schedule is lax at day camp, offer more solid structure at home. And as transitions can be especially difficult for children with ADHD, consider having your child return home from sleepaway camp at least two weeks before the new school year begins. This gives both of you time to readjust to any schedule changes and properly prepare for the return to the classroom.

When it comes to good behavior, practice makes perfect. Much like playing the piano or sinking a free throw, practice breeds success when learning behavioral skills. A child who practices good actions on a regular basis becomes more skilled at using acceptable behaviors. Practicing good behavior with your child involves using simple words, a caring attitude and gentle guidance to teach the actions you want to become second nature. Spend time offering scenarios that could cause your child to misbehave, then explain how he can handle himself when these situations arise. Role play with your child and model how he should react when he is tempted to act up. Practice sessions should be fun for you and your child. Likewise, approach them with a sense of excitement. These teaching moments also present opportunities for you to connect both physically and emotionally.

What else can parents of children with ADHD do to make the grade this summer? Follow these tips to help you and your child earn an A+.

  • Provide your child with chances to succeed and praise your child for staying on task. Kisses, hugs and pats on the back show that you notice when he is doing well. Celebrate milestones by enjoying a movie or an ice cream cone together.
  • Give your child clear rules and stick to them. Ensure that your child understands what is expected of him and what the consequences are if he misbehaves.
  • Focus your attention on the positive. Talking and yelling about how your child failed puts the emphasis on the negative. Take the positive approach by limiting your words during your child’s naughty times and being generous with your attention when he does well.
  • If your child’s behavior gets out of hand, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare professional can offer support and guidance if you need it.
  • Some parents choose to discontinue their child’s medications during the summer break from school. Check with your healthcare provider before making any changes in medication.

When the time comes to take out the swimsuits, sunscreen and beach balls, keep in mind that school year rules and routines shouldn’t be shoved in the closet with the cold weather gloves and boots. Keep your household structure at the forefront year-round, and your entire family will have a wonderful and peaceful summer.

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