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Summer with ADHD: 5 ways to find the balance between structure and flexibility

It can be hard for kids to navigate summer with ADHD.

Summer is magical… we believe that. We also recognize that summer can present a few challenges for parents. The kids are bored, there is lack of routine, the siblings may be fighting…. and all this is magnified when you have a child with ADHD or ADD. The goal of summer is to enjoy less structure and to slow down, but kids with attention deficit disorders NEED structure.

Studio 5 Parenting Contributor Heather Johnson shares how you can find the right balance.


The Need for Structure

“We’re looking for summer to be relaxed. We’re looking for it to be flexible and calm,” Heather said. “However, this lack of structure is the exact opposite of what an ADHD brain needs.”

Children with an attention deficit disorder thrive on routine and structure. “Routines make things predictable. Predictability makes things safe. Kids with an ADHD thought process need to feel that safety,” said Heather.

She suggested finding a balance between new experiences and a predictable schedule. For example, schedule new experiences on specific days and times, like Mondays and Wednesdays from one to three. Let your kids know that on certain days at certain times, you’ll be trying something new together.

Maintaining the Basics

Heather emphasized the importance of maintaining the basics – regular bedtimes, wake-up times, mealtimes, and controlled screen time. “ADHD brains need that more than anything,” she said. “We tend to think that what they need the most is a bedtime routine, but we’re finding that we need more consistency on when they wake up.”

Scheduling Downtime

Downtime is essential for an ADHD child to recharge. Heather advised scheduling downtime and making it accessible, even when on a family vacation. “You’re going to go on a family vacation. Make sure that child knows where they can go to have downtime every day on that family vacation,” she suggested. If you’re going to the beach, tell them beforehand that there will be an umbrella set up. If they need a moment to pause, they can come sit under the umbrella and recharge.

Does Screen Time Count as Downtime?

Heather advised finding something other than screen time for downtime if possible. However, she acknowledged that sometimes screen time can be a great way for an ADHD brain to take some downtime.

Creating an Exit Strategy

Knowing your child’s triggers and patterns can help you create an exit strategy before they get to a place of panic. “We need to pay attention enough to know, ‘I’ve got about five minutes before this child is going to hit a wall.’ We’re going to exit before that even happens,” Heather explained.

Rewarding Positive Behavior

Finally, Heather emphasized the importance of rewarding positive behavior. “When things go well, talk about it, speak up about it, point it out, let them see,” she said. “When we’re specific in that feedback of what they’re doing well, they want to duplicate it.”

Summer can be a challenging time for families with ADHD children, but with understanding and planning, it can also be a magical time.

“The cool thing too, is, I think summer has this beautiful community aspect to it. You might not have a child in your home who has ADD or ADHD, but you know someone who does. Knowing that they need extra time to plan and prepare, knowing that routines matter… this applies to all of us – even if it’s not your child,” Heather concluded.

To contact Heather for counseling, email, or visit

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