Tips for parenting kids with ADHD in the summertime

Emily Perl plays with her children, Liam, 12, and Thomas, 10, in the backyard of her home in Orem on June 21, 2023.

Emily Perl plays with her children, Liam, 12, and Thomas, 10, in the backyard of her home in Orem on Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

School’s out, and summertime is here. Let the water gun fights and bubble blowing begin. But the newfound freedom children get as the final bell for the school year rings can be difficult, especially for kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which affects 5%-8% of school-aged children and includes symptoms like lack of concentration, disorganization and restlessness. 

When the structure and stability of the classroom go away, so can kids’ routines, leading to unhealthy habits and pent up energy. For children with ADHD, it can be particularly challenging to suddenly “take away what is normally there,” says Ellie Brownstein, a pediatrician at the Greenwood Health Center in Midvale, referring to the typical school day. 

Emily Perl, whose oldest son, Liam, has ADHD and autism, knows this all too well. The Orem mother also has two other children, both boys, and suspects her youngest will be diagnosed with ADHD soon. 

“Summer has always been a little more difficult,” she said. “Not because they’re here all the time because I love having my kids around … but just the demands and overstimulation or not being stimulated enough.” 

But fret not. Perl and Brownstein offer plenty of strategies to help kids with ADHD thrive during all of summer’s chaos. 


Eddie Perl, 7, shows off the gap in his teeth after losing a tooth while playing in the backyard of his home in Orem on June 21, 2023.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Establishing routines

Preparation is key to keeping kids on track, Brownstein says. She suggests setting long-term goals with your child to give them a sense of direction during the summer months. That can be anything from learning a new instrument to practicing a sport.

Perl chose three skills for her children to work on throughout this summer: handwriting, typing and swimming. Her kids picked their own activities to practice, too. Additionally, daily schedules with shorter-term goals can foster good habits and keep kids engaged in the present. 

“You should use a whiteboard, use a calendar, use something that you can say, this is our wakeup time. Here’s when we’re having meals. Here’s activities planned for the day,” Brownstein said. “I would definitively have your kid be involved in picking some of those activities … which can include everything from going to the park, to the zoo, going on a hike, bike riding, to keep them active and burn off energy.” 

Perl uses a whiteboard to communicate expectations for the day, as well as a routine card that allows her kids to check off their completed tasks, like “brushing their teeth.” She also emphasized the importance of dedicating an hour a day to physical activity, something she discovered helped Liam years ago before he started his schooling.

“I noticed that he had a better day if I made him do some kind of movement in the morning, so I would create little obstacle courses around my house, and be like, ‘OK, go in between these chairs and then crawl under the couch and then jump over this,’” Perl said.  

And Brownstein is quick to refute a common misconception — that structure is boring. Initially, kids may frown upon having a daily schedule in the summertime, but structure can be fun. It just needs to consist of exciting activities.  

As for teenagers, who may be less receptive to instruction, it’s all about flexibility, according to Brownstein. Recognize their independence, but don’t let those routines get out of hand because, before teenagers know it, they’re staying up late and sleeping all day. 

“Bigger kids are more opinionated, and I think if you can give them a little bit of freedom and a little bit of autonomy, you’re going to get better buy-in,” Brownstein said. 

Utilize rewards and natural consequences

Giving children rewards can be beneficial, as long as they are “obtainable and reachable,” says Brownstein. A bigger reward might be too far in the future for kids to care about, but it can still be effective when coupled with smaller rewards that build up to it. 

Either way, little things like letting your child pick a game to play after they complete a task encourage them to stay the course. Perl only allows her kids to use screens after their routine cards are completed. She’s not a big punisher but believes that privileges “are not given freely.” They’re dependent on good behavior. 

If you are going to punish your child, Brownstein recommends using natural consequences. For instance, if your kid leaves their toys on the floor and doesn’t pick them up within a certain amount of time, then take them away.

“I think consequences are important, especially for certain behaviors, which should be natural consequences and not so large that you can’t recover from them,” Brownstein said. “For example, if on day three of summer you get your phone taken away for the next two months, then what do you do for the rest of the summer when you have a problem?”  

Harsh punishments can be devastating for children and counterproductive. It’s all about being fair, and a part of that is including children in those discussions. 

Ask your child, “What should be an appropriate consequence,” Brownstein said. Give them every chance to succeed. If your child is late to dinner because their watch is broken and they lost track of time, then fix that problem and decide on a solution.


Alan and Emily Perl pose for a portrait with their children, Liam, 12, Thomas, 10, and Eddie, 7, in the backyard of their home in Orem on June 21, 2023.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Additional considerations

Summer camps can be a great way to keep kids in a daily routine while allowing them to still have fun and socialize with other kids their age. 

“They give the kids a new situation and a new setting, and something fun and interesting to do because most of them are kind of unique and different and not just like going to school,” Brownstein said. 

Perl agrees. 

“If I can get my kids to go to a camp, and they can focus enough to be there for two, two-and-a-half hours, I love that,” she said. 

Currently, Perl’s son Liam is at a circuits camp and will soon be headed to another at Lake Placid that focuses on the luge, an Olympic sport similar to sledding. Her youngest is at a robotics camp. 

Medication is another issue to consider. Some children stop taking their pills in the summer, but ultimately, every case is different. Brownstein says a discussion should be had with a doctor or provider. 

 “You have to decide what works best for you and your child because some families will spend a lot of time trying to manage behavior because they don’t use the medicine, and sometimes you can have a better time and enjoy each other better if you still use that. It really depends on your need,” she said. “If your kid does great at home and really only needs it to get their schoolwork done, then stopping that medicine for the summer can be fine.” 

Final thoughts

Even with these strategies, parenting kids with ADHD in the summer can still be a real challenge. On those days when her children are unproductive, Perl’s philosophy is to “connect, then redirect.” 

“When things are high, I find that I need to connect with them. So I’ll just step away from whatever I’m doing, where I will step towards them and say, ‘Hey, let’s talk for a minute,” she said. “After I’ve connected with them, then I will redirect and say, ‘Hey, I’m really glad that we had this talk. I noticed you’re still in your pajamas, and it’s almost lunchtime. Do you think that you could take your pajamas off and put some clothes on for the day.’ They are much more willing to be on my team when I have given them emotional connection.” 

Perl always highlights the importance of empathy for all parents of ADHD kids.

“I would say for any parent that has a child with ADHD that they should be patient and compassionate with themselves. That it’s OK to lose it. But it’s always important to apologize and repair. That’s what I think because none of us are perfect, including our children,” she said.

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