I know a lot of parents out there dread summer break, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I start counting down the months, weeks, and days in about March of each year, when I realize another school year has been wasted fighting for an appropriate education due to my son’s ADHD, autism, dysgraphia, and severe executive functioning deficits. As of this writing, there are 9.5 days left. My son and I cheer about the number as we arrive at the curb of the middle school for drop off, and as we pull away each afternoon for the final few weeks (it reduces his stress).

The summer dread is understandable. It’s tough to entertain kids who are perseverating on their boredom at home, every minute of every day. Summer break doesn’t have to be chaotic and tedious, even with ADHD. There are many strategies you can employ to reduce behavior issues this summer, and increase the moments of joy and thriving. Here are the most effective:

5 Strategies to Reduce ADHD Chaos this Summer

  1. Make Activities Routine
  2. Morning Schedule Check-In
  3. Keep Kids Active
  4. Set 2 Goals
  5. Set Them Up for Success

Make Activities Routine

Structure and routine make kids feel more safe and secure. In addition, for those with ADHD, structure combats the consequences of poor executive functioning, lagging skills, and distraction. Yes, it’s that powerful.

This summer, make your consistent activities routine. “We swim Thursdays at 5 pm every week. We practice multiplication tables on the fun app (wink, wink) every Monday and Wednesday 12-12:10 pm (keep academic practice short — they need a break). Kids pick dinner every Friday. We walk the dogs at 9 am every day. We play outside or actively every day 10-11 am…” You get it by now.

Morning Schedule Check-In

Posting a schedule and reviewing it each day with a child with ADHD is a powerful behavior outburst mitigator. With a poor sense of time, knowing what to expect and when can ease a child’s stress and anxiety. When my son was in elementary school, we had a Post-It calendar on the wall (that a picture of our calendar several years ago). Every morning of the summer, we’d look at it together and discuss what was happening that day.

Plus, if there were any changes in schedule coming up, I’d point them out to him at that time, to reduce sudden changes as much as possible (and the ensuing meltdown you could count on every. single. time.). Routines and schedule also help to clearly define expectations, crucial for kids with ADHD and/or autism.

Keep Kids Active

Obviously, it’s good for your child to be active for overall health and wellbeing. Exercise is also good for the brain. Studies have proven that it improves focus and cognitive function. I’m not one to strictly limit screen time, so I know it’s important to make active play or activities part of our summer routine and schedule. This really can be anything that gets them moving — walking the dog, biking, swimming, martial arts, dancing, trampoline, and more…

Set Only 1-2 Summer Goals

Parents often feel like summer break is the time to try to buckle down and improve everything (How many times have you said, “We’re going to work on that this summer?” Dozens for me, if I’m honest.). We end up trying to work on too many things, and fail to produce improvement. You can only be successful in this if you focus on 1-2 goals at a time. When there’s a great deal of improvement on a goal, swap it out for another goal you’d like to work on.

Keep it simple and motivating. When my son was little, we used the My Growing Up Chart for behavior modification. He got stickers for daily hygiene and those types of things that come on the chart, but we were also able to add two behavior goals to work on in tandem. If he got a certain number of stars each week, he got a reward (usually a Lego set at that age). This is the only behavior chart that ever worked for my son.

Set Them Up for Success

I just wrote about why setting our kids up for successes should be our #1 goal when raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. Kids with disabilities should have the opportunity to successfully participate in all childhood activities. We need to modify the circumstances when necessary so it can happen. This is true for childhood summertime staples, too.

There are summer camps specifically for kids with ADHD (ya’ll know how much I love SOAR!) and autism (I know Talisman is awesome too). It doesn’t have to be weeks-long sleep away camps; many local recreation departments hold day camps for kids with special needs or have plans in place to accommodate kids with special needs.

If you’re child doesn’t do well in swim class instruction, hire the teacher to do private lessons. Get noise-cancelling headphones for fireworks. You can even get a special pass at Disney to accommodate special needs. Pitch a tent and camp in the backyard if they’re too anxious to go to sleep-away camp. The sky’s the limit. Think out of the box and make this summer as relaxing and special for your child.

Bonus: Remember to Use the Magic Phrase

Don’t forget to keep our magic phrase in your hip-pocket and use it often. When you child is getting upset or noticeably uncomfortable, ask, “How can I help you?” Seriously, it’s just the kind of magic your summer deserves.

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Penny Williams
Author. Parenting Guide. Journalist. Speaker.
Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD. Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.