With school on break and maybe a trip or two planned this summer, it’s tempting to let your child go to bed later than usual and plan their days as they go. But changes in routine can be disruptive for most kids, and especially disruptive for kids with ADHD. Finding a way to maintain a regular schedule and implement some structure into your days can help your child feel more stable and prevent chaos in your home.
How to Implement a Successful Schedule
If it was up to your child, they might spend the whole summer playing video games or binging their favorite T.V. shows. While it is recommended to give them some freedom to choose activities they enjoy, setting up the day in structured blocks will help them transition easily from one activity to the next, allowing them to relish in the freedom of summer while still helping them organize their time wisely.
After their daily morning routine, these blocks might include such activities as exercise, reading, learning games, day camp, sports, art, and family activities. You don’t have to cut out video games or other screens, but it would be wise to plan screen time to ensure they don’t spend too much time on a device and that they don’t ruin their sleep.
Start the Night Before
Even though your mornings are likely going to be more flexible if your child is on break, it’s still important to make daily routines predictable. Keeping your child’s schedule intact will also help you avoid the morning scramble when they do return to school. To keep mornings running smoothly, prepare for the day the night before. This might mean bathing at night instead of in the morning, laying out clothes, jotting down a to-do list for the following day, and setting an alarm to ensure your child wakes up at a set time each morning.
Structure the Morning
It may be tempting to let your child sleep in during the summer, but doing so might wreak havoc on their circadian rhythm, or their body’s internal clock. According to sleep experts, a regular schedule not only increases the amount of sleep children get each night, but it can also improve the quality of their sleep, which is important for kids with ADHD who often struggle with sleep issues.1, 2 Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD, making it harder to focus, bringing their mood down, and negatively affecting their memory. In addition to following a set wake-up time, you should aim to have your child eat breakfast at the same time each day; studies suggest that a routine eating time also supports the body's internal clock and maintains a healthy digestive system.3 By sticking to a routine, you’re helping your child’s morning remain predictable and calm, setting the precedent for a productive day.
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Reinforce Summer Camps or Activities During the Day
Your child with ADHD may need some extra help choosing a summer camp or activity to suit their personality. Even if they’re gung-ho about signing up, fears may come up at the last minute and your child might change their mind when it’s time to get ready and go. Parents should reinforce their child’s summer schedule by easing their fears. One idea is to call up the camp director or another adult in charge of planned summer activities and arrange accommodations to help your child feel more comfortable (such as being allowed to call home if needed or being able to bring fidget toys with them).
Make Dinner a Consistent Time
Similar to breakfast, dinner should be held at the same time each day to keep your child’s circadian rhythm intact and keep evenings chaos-free. Since children with ADHD have trouble switching from one activity to the next, having set meal times can help prepare them for the transition because they know what to expect each day. If your child is hyperactive, consider planning a physical activity for them before dinner so they get all their wiggles out before settling in to eat.
Implementing a relaxing bedtime routine into your child’s evening helps them calm down and sleep sounder, getting the rest they need to be productive the following day. And while some facets of the routine should be obvious, such as brushing their teeth, consider adding in some other enjoyable activities to help them wind down. This may include some gentle yoga, breathing exercises, or listening to relaxing music. Be sure your child powers down devices an hour before bedtime and keeps tablets and computers out of the room to help them stay asleep.
Benefits of a Summer Schedule for Kids with ADHD
According to Larry Silver, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C., sticking to a summer schedule helps you avoid power struggles with your child. He tells ADDITUDE, “[O]nce you start negotiating with your child, you begin a tug-of-war that you will inevitably lose.” Even if your child presents a Powerpoint presentation of why they should run amok all summer, resist the urge to let them sleep in or stay up late or spend all day on their tablet; by sticking to a summer schedule, you can expect to have a calmer kid at home and an easier transition into the next school year.
Find more resources on raising a child with ADHD at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center and how non-prescription Brillia can help improve symptoms of ADHD without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects.
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