Summer is upon us, and I know many of you are feeling conflicted. I mean, it’s great to have kids home and free to play more… but coming off the 2020-2021 school year, you not be ready for kids to be back home full time. Heck, some of your kids never even went back to school!

We’re closing in on Memorial Day, and I get a sense from many of my coaching clients that they are less-than-happy about the impending summer months. If past experience has taught them anything it’s that the summer never quite turns out like you plan it. About a week in, most parents throw their best-laid plans out the window and feel like they’re failing… Let’s face it – there really is no “vacation” in summer vacation…

Why does summer vacation often FEEL so hard? Because it is!

Despite our springtime fantasies about how much fun, sun, and relaxation you’re going to experience, most parents underestimate the amount of work summer actually requires – especially when you’ve got one or more kiddos who have ADHD!

Here are three strategies for ensuring that your summer “vacation” gets off on the right foot! 

(1) Understand Where Your Disappointment Comes From.

Disappointment lies in the gap between your expectations about what you wanted to happen and your perceived reality. The bigger the gap, the greater the disappointment. 

If you are always feeling disappointed about how your summers have gone in the past, perhaps you need to first examine why you have experienced a “disappointment gap”. Once you do that, you can figure out how to make the gap smaller in size for the upcoming summer months.

If you’re anything like me, you set some pretty high expectations for the season! We always start out thinking about ALL the things you are going to accomplish in these three short months! Let me guess a few things that were on your list: 

  • Get screen time under control.
  • Everyone reads, cleans their rooms, and finishes their chores before getting started for the day.
  • Work on impulse control and emotional regulation so that your child is set up for the next grade level.
  • Ensure healthy meals are on the table.
  • Lazy, smile-filled outings to the beach, park, bike trails, campsites.

Let’s face it, raising kids with ADHD make these kinds of expectations pretty difficult – if not impossible – to achieve. 

It’s likely that your past summers have felt a little more like this:

  • Screen time remains your biggest headache and feels completely out of control.
  • Chores? What chores? The bed hasn’t been made since May.
  • Impulse control and emotional regulation remain concerns, and school is about to start!
  • Do meals out of boxes or the drive-through count as healthy?
  • Those outings you dreamed of are filled with resistance, bad attitudes, and sibling arguments. 

There are some pretty big gaps between expectations and your perceived reality! If this is your experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have some pretty serious summer-with-ADHD disappointment. 

Exercise, Step #1: Take a moment and write down your expectations. Then, be clear with yourself what your past realities have been. How big is your gap?

We often approach summer time with gusto, forgetting just how short of a time it really is. 3-months is a blip on the radar when we are talking about creating new habits – not only in ourselves, but in our kids too. 

See, the human brain – yours and your child’s – is wired to do what we have always done – to fall back on routine and past practice. To create new habits – like implementing a new chore routine, or breaking a screen addiction – requires a significant amount of effort. 

There’s nothing wrong with setting lofty goals for yourself and your child over the summer… but when your list of summer expectations requires significant habit change in multiple areas over a short amount of time, all you’re doing is setting yourselves up to fail and experience yet another disappointing summer!

{BTW, for the best book on habit changes I have ever read, check out Atomic Habits by James Clear}.

(2) Commit to Focusing on the Positives

One of the best ways we can shrink our disappointment gap is to reframe the experience that we have been having. 

{If you’re not familiar with “reframing,” here is an easy example… is that cup of coffee next to you half-empty, or half-full?} 

When my clients come to me claiming that life in their homes are miserable and nothing is going right, I almost always prescribe the same activity: keeping a log of the positive things – large or small – that happen throughout the day. Bringing your attention to the things that are going right is an extremely impactful way to shift your perception of how the summer is going. 

Inevitably when parents come back to me after engaging in this activity for a week or two they always report having a better experience with their child. 

Focus on the the small wins you or your child experience every day this summer. Perhaps it is a successful play date with a neighbor, or an enjoyable dinner on the patio. Perhaps it was the quick smile your kiddo gave you when you told a stupid joke. Or maybe they’ve even made their bed!

When we focus our attention on the positive things in our lives, we will get more positive things coming our way. And that’s not mystical B.S., that’s how the anatomy of our brains work. When we practice to focus on the good, our brains will perceive more good where before we only saw negative. 

Exercise Step #2: On that same sheet of paper, reframe as many of your “reality” statements as possible. Instead of focusing on what hasn’t happened yet this summer, focus on what has.  Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of situations, find the glimmer of positive. They may be small, but it’s from those small successes you and your child will build major wins.

(3) Manage Your To-Do List; Prioritize Play.

It’s so easy to let our summer goals / to-do list get a mile long. But even though the days are longer, you still aren’t super-human.

A good rule of thumb is to only have 3 “must do’s” on your to-do list on any given day. Only three. No more. 

And I would take that one step further and challenge you to make sure that one of those three must-dos include a few moments of unadulterated play with your child. Let the groceries go un-purchased and hit a local park for an hour instead. Let him skip reading time and go hunt for frogs together instead. Extend screen time as long as he teaches you how to play the game. 

You get my point. Do something that you both get some enjoyment out of. Don’t set super high expectations and definitely don’t have any agenda other than bonding and enjoying time with your child.

Exercise Step #3: Set up an alarm for yourself each morning prompting you to write down 1, 2, or 3 things you are going to accomplish for the day. No more than three. Make one of them a playful activity with your child. Keep your list somewhere you – and your child – can see it, and celebrate yourselves when you accomplish them. 

Remember, the days are long but the years are short – and summers are even shorter. We don’t get that many summers with our children in the grand scheme of life. And if 2020 (and 2021) have taught us anything, it’s to enjoy the small things! 

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