By Beth Levine
You’ve finally gotten your life with your kids on a roll: You are kind of on top of the school routine and have somewhat nailed the play date and activities schedules. Then, blammo, summer hits, and all that hard-won efficiency goes out the window. If you are a parent with ADHD, this complete rewind can come at a cost.
“Routines are very comforting for people with ADHD; it tells them where they have to go and when,” explains Sharon Saline, PsyD, author of What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life. “The school year actually provides a structure and when that is gone, these parents have to create a structure that may not have been there, and they are neither particularly skilled at or have experience doing. There’s this inherent sense of inconsistency, which makes it harder for parents with ADHD to stay organized, and create routines, particularly if things are changing very quickly, day to day, and week to week,”
Get Ready for Summer
Take heart! All is not lost.
“Summertime is a good time to fill your toolbox with and practice new strategies,” says Abigail Levrini, PhD, CEO and founder of Psych Ed Connections, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. She is also the author of Succeeding With Adult ADHD: Daily Strategies to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Manage Your Life.
Here are some tips for planning great summers — even with your ADHD:
• Start in January
ADHD being what it is, you will need time to organize and make decisions about the coming summer. OK — too late for this year. But put a note in your 2024 calendar to start thinking about summer plans early. Color the last week in December red as a reminder., if you have to. Do whatever you have to do because summer camps, activities, daycare and vacation spots fill up fast. You do not want to look up in May and realize you are shut out of options.
• Ask yourself: What does this family need?
What you want to do first is a needs assessment: What are the demands that exist, and how are you going to meet them? “And if there are no demands, how are you going to set up a daily structure, so the kids aren’t just zoning out on their screens all day?” says Saline.
• Don’t stop your own therapies
Stay on your medications if you are on them, and stick to regular therapy appointments.
• Make your kids your partners
Does every morning seem like a mad scramble for lost swimsuits and immunization forms? And every evening is one big nag to get them to clean their rooms or wash a dish?
Get a big dry-erase board or set up a family Google doc where you list everyone’s chores and responsibilities. Each person has to check in the night before and sign off on their specific items.
Backpack by the door — Check. Signed forms — Check. Carpool arranged and arriving at X time — Check. Laundry done — Check. Dishes washed — Check.
Then all you have to do is look to see what family members have accomplished. If it’s not done, then they have to get it done, or they are docked screen time (or whatever) the next day. It’s actually very helpful for everyone to know what it is, exactly, they should be doing.
“I’m a big fan of color-coding so everyone can easily see what they need to do,” says Levrini
• Ask for help
There is no shame in realizing you are going to need help. Remember, it takes a village and all that. In addition to enlisting your kids to help, reach out to babysitters, cleaning services or whatever you need to get the show on the road.
“A lot of people see asking for help as a weakness. But I’m a firm believer that knowing when and who and how to ask for help is in and of itself a really good coping skill that needs to be practiced and learned,” says Levrini.
• Limit screen time
It may be tempting to just let the kids veg out in front of a screen. But is that really what’s best? Kids who are overstimulated this way tend to get cranky and sullen.
Also, factor in the different types of screen uses. Are they just watching YouTube pranking videos? Or is it an interesting nature documentary? Or are they using it to socialize with friends, which is important?
Experts haven’t set a limit on what exactly is too much time, but whatever you decide, stick to it.
“Watch their behaviors. If they’re getting agitated and irritable when they get off, then maybe it’s time to cut back a little bit,” says Levrini.
Make sure to set alarms for both your kids and yourself as reminders to limit screen time. It’s helpful to give them a 15-minute warning before it’s time to stop, as it can be tough for them to disengage abruptly. Remember to set a separate alarm for yourself to give them this warning. Also, Saline, says: “Link today’s screen behavior to tomorrow’s time. How they get off their screen will determine how much screen time they have the next day. If they argue with you, the next day they get less time.”
• Don’t overschedule
Your kids and you need time to decompress.
“Self-care for parents, especially women, with ADHD is often the last item on their overflowing to-do lists,” says Saline. “But giving yourself some time and space that’s just for your own benefit helps fill your own bucket, so you have energy to share with others.”
Saline adds that many adults with ADHD aren’t even sure what to do with themselves during down time because they are so accustomed to being in motion, juggling work, family and extracurricular activities.
“Regular self-care doesn’t have to be a big production,” she says. “It can be as simple as taking a bath, walking the dog around the block alone or savoring a cup of tea once the kids are in bed. Anything that feels nurturing and is relatively easy to do fits the bill.”
• Keep vacations simple
Shoot for vacations that require little planning on your part — think cruises, all-inclusive resorts or any sort of thing where you stay in one place and mostly everything is provided.
“It takes all of that planning off the table,” says Levrini. “Go for something that has built in structure and takes out that guesswork and having to rely on your own executive functioning.”
For more travel tips, check out “Traveling With ADHD? Check Out These Tips to Help You Pack!”
• Stick to a sleep schedule
Yes, it’s summer. It’s OK to kick back and stay up or sleep in … a little. However, a study in the August 2020 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology found that people with ADHD often have sleep disturbances, which can profoundly affect their quality of life. So if you’ve got something that’s working, don’t go too far off course.
“If your family gets way off track, I encourage most people to start to tailor bedtime back a month before school,” Levrini says. “Back it up a half hour each week until you can get back to the optimum bedtime.”
If sleep is an issue for you, watch ADHD Online’s webinar, Is Sleep Eluding You at Night? with Stephen M. Lange, PhD.
• Remember: Life isn’t perfect
Most of all, be kind to yourself.
People with ADHD tend to be very critical of themselves when they perceive that they fall short. But this isn’t the Mommy/Daddy Olympics.
“One of my mottos is good enough is better than perfect. Because there is no perfection. It’s an illusion. If you’re thinking that life has to be perfect, and you’re always comparing yourself to others, then you’ll always end up on the short end. President Teddy Roosevelt once said comparisons are the thief of joy,” says Saline. She urges people to practice what author Maya Angelou once wrote, which is to forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.
You’ve got this! Just remember — you don’t have to single-handedly orchestrate the best summer that ever was. Let it just be summer: a time to unwind, explore and re-energize for all of you — including, yes, you.