Around this time of year, I have a lot of parents and teachers ask how they can better prepare their kids for time off in between semesters. We all need time to relax and recharge, but for kids with ADHD or similar learning differences, unstructured time can be hectic and counterproductive.
No matter what kinds of activities are planned for break, travel, grandma’s house, creating some structure to the week is the key. The school day is incredibly laid out in terms of basic expectations. Universally, a school bell rings to begin the day, classes or subjects go in a certain order. Lunch is at a specific time and so on. It is my opinion that ALL children crave structure, especially children with ADHD or other executive functioning deficits. I often remind myself, even on the days where my schedule is jam packed, it is comforting to know I can peak at my planner and anticipate what is next. Our kids often feel the same way.
Creating a schedule for break is a great way to harmonize generally unstructured time. Turn this into a craft project, break out the markers and glue and create something cool to hang on the fridge or their bedroom wall. You can involve your kiddo in this process! Put possible break time activities in a hat/bowl/jar and have them draw out an activity, placing it on the day of the week when that activity will happen. Include some study time, whether it’s reading, doing a few math problems or playing an educational video or computer game, it is important to keep those brain “muscles” strong. Include the week’s activities that are important to your family, and also basic information that will be unique to winter break. Will there be a specific time for lunch? Will there be max computer/video game/TV time? Include time for chores! Age appropriate chores are excellent in helping kiddo’s learn shared responsibility and helping behaviors. You can find some great local activities on the Oakland County Mom’s website, the Metro Parent’s website or the Kids Out and About website. I also recommend using a site like Groupon to find local deals and discounts on family activities.
Setting up a rewards system for break can be a wise idea for those kiddos who need that extra incentive to make positive choices. I try to approach everything from a positive angle, ESPECIALLY with children who have attention deficits or trouble thinking about the consequences of their actions. Try to put together something that rewards good behavior; extra TV time, a trip to get ice cream, picking what is for lunch etc. On the down side, create a list of consequences for poor choices; the loss of TV time, increased number of chores, the loss of a desired activity etc. Deciding ahead of time how rule breaking, or repeated undesirable behaviors, will be handled can help reduce your stress and also help your kiddo keep their eye on the prize.
And finally, making expectations known and clear helps create that structure I mentioned above. Not only your expectations for your kiddo, but also what your kiddo can expect from you throughout their time off as well.