Learning Disabilities and ADHD Articles

How to Support Children, with Learning Disabilities and ADHD, with the Transition into Summer

Filed under:
ADHD Screen Time Outdoors
Written by:
Kate Holmberg
Counselling Psychology Practicum Student
June 11, 2024

“Mom, one more minute, PLEASE!” As parents, it can be challenging to get your children off their devices during summer vacation. It may often feel impossible to motivate your child to engage in something other than video games. As a related consequence, the transition into summer can contribute to increased loneliness for children with ADHD and LDs. This article will tackle strategies on how to maintain structure in the summer and how to proactively limit screen time. It will also provide strategies to support the development of a healthy routine. Some of the strategies include: creating social opportunities for your child, helping to foster a growth mindset through cognitive reframing, creating a visual schedule, offering choices, and expanding interests through special projects. This article emphasizes that there are opportunities to work on executive functioning skills, such as problem-solving, flexible thinking, and resiliency, in the summer. 

Difficulties Children may Face with Screen-time over the Summer
Children nowadays have a variety of options when it comes to using technology. They can game, text, use social messaging sites, and binge watch streamable services. In the summer, it can be challenging for children to monitor or recognize the signs of unhealthy technology usage. Additionally, children with ADHD often have physiological reactions, a rush of dopamine that targets the reward centre of the brain, that reinforces their desire to have screen time. Therefore, it may be challenging to get your child to abandon their devices and head outdoors. When a child overuses technology, there are typically strong feelings when their devices are removed. For example, your child may react negatively when you attempt to pull them away from their screens. Your child may display bursts of anger, frustration, or anxiety when you restrict technology access. 

When a child overuses technology, it can appear as a child isolating themselves, an example being they only socialize with online friends. Perhaps, your child’s sleep routine and daily habits are out of sync. For example, your child could be on their screens all night, and sleeping all day, which can impact their mental health and willingness to engage in other activities. Ultimately, technology can be tempting for children as they head into summer but also has the potential to increase anxiety and depression and limit social interaction. 

Difficulties Children may Face Socially as they Head into Summer Vacation
It takes work to navigate social relationships and oftentimes youth with ADHD struggle to initiate plans or attend events. Children with ADHD, and/or LDs, are likely to experience greater loneliness than their neurotypical peers. This could present as your child feeling stuck on how to reach out to friends. Another example is that your child could feel overwhelmed because they continuously forget plans. In the summer, there is often less structure when it comes to expectations and routines which can contribute to loneliness. 

When there is less structure, it can be challenging for youth, especially those with LD/ADHD, to maintain friendships and you may find a cyclical pattern begins to arise. Children with ADHD could find themselves in a cycle where they:

  • Feel overwhelmed (by expectations, plans, or initiating with peers).
  • Fear rejection (which can inhibit making plans with friends).
  • Experience social anxiety (when in social situations)

which in turn results in fewer social invitations and leads to more feelings of overwhelm. 

When a child with LD/ADHD feels lonely, it can actually reflect other underlying challenges and stressors. Some underlying challenges may include lower self-esteem, rejection sensitive dysphoria, feeling socially anxious, and challenges with working memory and other executive functions.

How Can You Support Children with LD/ADHD Heading into the Summer?

Many of the same strategies that will help to manage kids’ time on electronic devices will also help to provide opportunities for building social connections. Some of these strategies include: 

  1. Routines
  • Provide structure for your child and the entire family. Even though there is no school to get up for, having a daily routine will promote well-being. 
  • As much as possible, provide consistency for your child as it can reduce stress and support executive functioning. 
  • Choose a consistent time to wake-up and go to sleep. This consistency can make a difference in emotional and executive processing.
  • Have regular meals and healthy snacks as it helps regulate emotions.

    2. Organize Plans for your Child

  • It can be challenging for some children to coordinate and initiate plans with friends or get involved in activities. It can be helpful to support your child in coming up with plans and working on them reaching out to friends. With young children, you can help coordinate the scheduling for a playdate while for older children, it could be beneficial to help them set goals in the summer where they can practice their initiation skills. When having your child organize summer plans, it can be helpful to have a calendar where they can write down any plans to support their follow-through. 
  • Signing your child up for summer camps can help maintain regular peer interactions. Additionally, summer camps can help facilitate social skills practice and also help the child develop leadership skills. There are camps all around the city and many are free of cost! In the resource section, there is a link for events/camps happening that are hosted by the City of Calgary. 

    3. Make a Visual Schedule

  • A visual schedule can set expectations for the day and remind your child, who may have challenges remembering information, of the next activity and overall plan. In the resource section, there is an example of how to develop a visual schedule.
  • A visual schedule can also help mitigate conflict in the home surrounding expectations. For example, having planned screen-time, within the visual schedule, can help to cue your child about when they get access to preferred activities. Additionally, the visual schedule can help establish clear expectations around what needs to be completed prior to preferred activities. 

    4. Offer Choices

  • As parents, it can be hard to transition children away from electronics; therefore, offering choices can help mitigate conflict by allowing your child some control over what to do next while also providing concrete ideas. For example, “Johnny, in ten minutes we will be done with electronics. Do you want to go outside and shoot some hoops or build legos?”

    5. Use Screen-time/Social Media in a Positive Way

  • Screen-time is not always a negative thing and often can be helpful for children to decompress from their day. Social media can be used to connect with family members or friends; this can help maintain these relationships. Therefore, instead of appearing as a manager, try to consult your child and discuss what they are using screen-time for and how it fulfills a specific need. 
  • Additionally, screen-time can also support child skill development by increasing their ability to self-advocate and problem-solve. Furthermore, downloading educational apps or games can be a way to maintain skills while making it fun. For example, there are spelling games, math games, or puzzle games that can be downloaded from the app store. 

    6. Introduce a Special Project 

  • In the summer, it can be beneficial for your child to learn a new skill or practice skills that are difficult for them. For example, a child with an LD could benefit from working on their math, writing, reading, or comprehension skills. 
  • Finding ways to make the activity engaging can help motivate your child.

    Some examples include:

  • Give them a special topic to research, perhaps an interest, and have them find information about the topic, make a poster, and share their findings.
  • Use sports equipment to work on a new skill; for example, having your child play basketball and while working on passing, you can practice counting by multiples of a certain number or spelling a certain word.
  • Teach children how to read recipe instructions and how to use that information to bake.
  • Go to the library and sign up for a summer reading program. Often there are incentives in these reading programs to help motivate your child.

    7. Create Opportunities for Cognitive Flexibility

  • Introduce improvisational challenges like making up a dance, doing theatre, or on-the-fly creative/problem-solving projects. Activities like a treasure hunt, where you provide your child with a list of items to collect or find, can help with thinking outside of the box. The treasure hunt can include finding items in the house or even outside in nature.
  • Help to increase your child’s independence by having them have a list of grocery items that they have to find and their own cart. This can help facilitate problem-solving, when they cannot find an item, and also put them outside of their comfort zone.
  • Play board games that involve thinking creatively or analytically.  Board games can also be a fun and helpful way to practice math, reading, and writing skills but also social skills like taking turns, accepting defeat, and sportsmanship. Some suggestions include; Bananagrams, Scrabble, Chess, Checkers, Monopoly, Battleship, Anomia, Yahtzee, Ticket to Ride, Qwirkle, and Rummikub. 

    8. Develop their Growth Mindset

A growth mindset helps to instill confidence and willingness to try hard things. When a child learns that mistakes happen and they have the capability to keep going, this helps build a growth mindset. A growth mindset also helps children understand that they can develop new skills and that they can change. Sometimes children may believe that who they are and what they can do is set-in-stone which can impact their willingness to try new things.

  • For example, your child could say, “I don’t want to go swimming because everyone is better than me.” As a parent you can help your child reframe this by saying, “it’s normal to be nervous, everyone is at a different stage in their swimming abilities; however, you will get better the more you practice.”
  • As a parent it can be helpful to draw comparisons to situations where your child has overcome challenges and developed new competencies. For example, if your child is avoiding swimming, you could say, “Do you remember when you were seven and learning how to play soccer for the first time? It was hard but you worked on it and eventually scored the winning goal.” This can help emphasize a growth mindset and draw connections between past experiences and current challenges.

    9.  Parental Controls and Screen-Time Contracts
If there are still continued challenges with transitioning from electronics, additional supports can be found in the way of:

More information to support parents in navigating the media world can be found here:

Summer vacation is a time for rejuvenation and relaxation; however, it is vital to balance this recuperation with routines, structure, and interesting activities. The summer can be a time to learn a new skill, maintain a skill, or expand a child’s interests. It is vital to keep children connected to friends, or similar aged peers, to maintain social skills and mitigate loneliness. Remember to establish clear boundaries around screen time with your child and utilize visual schedules or routines to emphasize the previously established expectation. Give your child the tools to develop a growth mindset. Focus on emphasizing the positives of your child, such as skills learned over the summer and past school year. Remind your child that sometimes transitions can be hard but having a plan can help to prepare and support them when challenges arise.