Before I begin, I want to just affirm exactly what ADHD is.
It is now proven by many studies that is a neurological condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Signals are just not getting through consistently to give our children the messages that they need to listen, to respond appropriately, to be organised and to think first and act later.
Our children are not being deliberately naughty, rude, belligerent or lazy. They cannot help it. The brain is wired differently.
He is not giving you a hard time; he is having a hard time.
So….. schools are out and there is a welcomed respite from the stresses of school life.
However Summer holidays can be very long for our children with ADHD without the structure and with added challenges of lack of routine, holidays and Days Out.
He* may get frustrated, cross, tetchy and the result will be arguments, shouting and fighting.
I suggest 9 practical ways to help your child smile this Summer.
* I have used the pronoun ‘he’ for this blog for ease of reading but appreciate that girls are as likely to have ADHD as boys.
1. Keep to a structure
Our special children need the structure and routine of a day clearly mapped out for them. So use a planner, or list, or visual timetable. Google pictures to use if he prefers. Make it really clear exactly what is going to happen that day.
Decide together what the day should look like so that he feels like his opinions matter. He will be less reluctant to ‘pop to the shops’ if he knows something more motivating is happening after.
I have also made some planners which clearly shows your child what chores need doing before you leave. So it is clear and means you don’t have to keep nagging and repeating yourself. If you’d like a copy email me email@example.com
2. Make mealtimes fun
Summer can be full of over-sugary, highly coloured food – ice cream, candy floss, sweets. Although this isn’t a cause of ADHD, studies have shown that too much sugar and colour can certainly make the behaviour more exaggerated.
Give as occasional treats but make sure he keeps to his usual diet.
Have fun planning and making meals together. Praise him for helping and he’ll feel chuffed that he has been useful.
Get him to lay the table and help put things away after. Don’t nag – decide together what jobs he can do. That way he is more likely to do them as he won’t see them as chores.
Have themed days and make food part of the fun:
- Sport – diet of a sports person
- Animals – use fruit to make animal faces
- Colours – make food of one colour
- Space – use star cutters for bread, fruit, pizza
- Science – melting, freezing, exploding
3. Bring back fun indoors
Use the long days to bring back the fun to family life.
You could decide together some great things to do and together write them on a post-it note. Put all the notes in a decorated box and call it ‘Lucky Dip’. When you have a time in the day, ask your child to go to the ‘Lucky Dip’ box and randomly choose a lovely activity to do together.
Check out Pinterest for more great ideas, but here are some suggestions:
- Get arty and make something out of junk, playdough, beads, material. Join Pinterest for tons of ideas.
- Play card games.
- Make up a play, a song, a poem and perform it – write out the script and record and then edit it.
- Design and write a puppet show. Use socks for puppets.
- Make a lego tower that touches the ceiling.
- Make a collage or paint a picture on a large canvas.
- Go on a colour treasure hunt – how many purple things can you find around the house?
- Cook together.
- Make an indoor obstacle course using cushions, soft balls, cardboard boxes.
- Make a volcano or other science experiment using household materials
- Make a rain water collector.
- Play memory games.
- Have a picnic – indoors or out. Plan it and make it together.
- Play board games together. Decide the rules before you start so there are no arguments. Better still, design and make your own game.
4. Keep screens to a limit
Screens can be a great calming activity, particularly after a hot, exhausting day. There are some great mindfulness apps with calming meditation. Find some good YouTube videos that are fun and relaxing.
Some of the games actually promote problem-solving, team building and creativity. So it is not dreadful that he wants to be a screen. Go and sit with him whilst he plays so you can see what all the fuss is about and use the language so you can talk about it together. During this time, teach him the perils of the internet and how to keep safe. Unless you have these conversations and spend time with him, he may put himself into vulnerable scenarios.
The time he spends on a screen should be limited. Agree beforehand when he should come off so that it isn’t a battle. Ask him how long he thinks he should be on it. And then he’s more likely to stick to the agreement! Use a kitchen timer or a sand timer so he can clearly see time remaining.
Have the next thing to do really motivating so there’s an incentive to finish. Don’t forget to use the planner.
Be a good role-model and come off your phone too. If he sees you glued to Facebook he wont react kindly if you’re nagging him to get off his Xbox.
5. Have some quiet time
Have a dedicated space set up that is calming.
Fill it with fluffy cushions, low lighting, soft toys, colouring sheets, favourite picture books and lava lamp. Headphones and MP3 player to listen to calm music or audio books.
You could buy a small tent or throw a sheet over a couple of chairs.
This could be a place he could go to if he is feeling over whelmed, to calm down or just to chill out. To have his own space will make him feel special and safe.
You could also use an emotions chart to help him describe how he’s feeling or get him to verbalise where he sits on a 1 to 10 scale.
This is useful to help him learn to self-soothe if he begins to feel frustrated or angry. Teach him to recognise the physical signs like sweaty palms, flushed face and heavy beating heart. Then he take himself to his calm space or use other strategies such as counting in his head or reciting a rap.
You may need to help him by giving him choices such as ‘go to your special space or go and sit in the garden’.
Reward with praise if he manages to successfully calm himself.
6. Go outdoors and have fun together
Our Summer could be boiling hot or chucking it down. Try and go outdoors come rain or shine. Again check out Pinterest for more great ideas, but here are some suggestions:
- Jump in puddles.
- Blow bubbles.
- Plan a bake or toy sale outside your house.
- Paint pictures on the ground or fence using large decorator’s brushes and water.
- Make chalk pictures.
- Find a large sheet of plastic, add bubble bath and water and have fun slipping and sliding
- Wash the car.
- Make a mini garden.
- Make a sensory garden.
- Make a bird feeder.
- Collect natural objects and make them into a piece of art.
- Check out a local hotel that has a pool and enquire about getting a day pass.
- Find parks with climbing equipment, ducks, animals, café.
- Ride his bike, scooter, skateboard – do time trials and make circuits.
7. Different Expectations
If you go out for the day, have a family function or are going to a restaurant – then have different expectations of your child.
Wherever you go have an Emergency Pack – snacks, games, fiddle gadgets, chewy toys, colouring, MP3 player and headphones.
Try not to be embarrassed by other people who may criticize or give you funny looks. You know your child can only sit for 7 minutes. You know he doesn’t like loud music. You know him best. So you need to adapt things to suit his needs. We have to make changes to our world to accommodate his world. Perhaps educate the wider family and let them know clearly that your child is trying hard and needs understanding and support, not criticism.
Quit whilst your ahead. If the day is going well but he looks like he’s had enough then leave and go home. It’s always best to end on a high with a smile on his face.
8. Be successful every day
Our children with ADHD face a lot of challenges and their self-esteem can suffer hugely. We all know that school can be a tricky place as they may be in constant trouble and labelled as ‘naughty’.
So the Summer holidays is respite from that feeling of being a failure. Every day provide an opportunity to be successful. Find a reason for your child to be rewarded with smiles, praise and a hug. Manipulate things so that he has opportunity to shine.
Comment on how nicely he put way his toys, got dressed really quickly, was super helpful in the supermarket, spoke politely to his sister. Notice the small things.
If he has a talent or skill then let him use it to shine as much as possible.
Make time every day for him to talk to you. Sometimes this is best when you’re walking side by side or driving in the car. But this should be every day. Praise twice as much as you say anything negative.
It’s really tough but our children with ADHD get bored very quickly. So you need to keep him on his toes and occupied otherwise you are in for a rough time.
It can be expensive to go on Days Out all the time but you could perhaps build up to a fun outing at the end of each week.
There are some great parks, woods, adventure playgrounds to explore and are free. Join an annual scheme like National Trust which makes each visit cheaper.
Theme Parks, Water Parks, zoos, funfairs, Butterfly Farms, fruit picking, swimming, cinema all need careful planning. Involve your child in decisions on where to go, how to get there, what food to pack, what things to put in the Emergency Pack.
Keep to the plan and remember to leave whilst things are going well.
Our children with ADHD can be a challenge, especially when the days are so long. Remember, your child is not deliberately trying to wind you up. His brain is wired differently. With careful planning, creativity, tons of praise and enabling him to have real input, the long Summer days can be full of wonder, excitement and fun!
Let me know how you get on and if you have any other fab tips to share.