Summer has arrived and for the first time in 16 years I am not terrified. Finally, my two offspring are lazy teenagers who sleep until noon. I am SO grateful.
Only parents of boys (and maybe some girls) with ADHD will relate to how scary THREE MONTHS of unstructured time is. My two sons nearly managed to kill themselves and destroy the house and its contents every summer. And to think I once wanted six kids.
I remember one summer when the staff at the local emergency room actually started greeting us by name. “Well, if it isn’t the Richie family again.”
At the end of every school year I always wanted to smack those parents who said they were looking forward to a relaxing summer. Some of the most offensive comments:
“We like to snuggle up and watch movies.”
“We just sleep late and take it easy.”
“We are just going to hang out at the pool all summer.”
These are phrases you will never hear from parents of boys with ADHD. There is no relaxing. There is no taking it easy. There is no hanging out. There is only planning, scheduling, supervising (or paying the consequences of not supervising carefully enough), getting creative, getting desperate, bribery, and, if lucky, sleep.
So this summer, while parents of calm, bookish, crafty kids are sipping iced tea by the pool and patting themselves on the back for having such self-directed, goal-oriented, well-behaved children, parents of kids with ADHD will be in the battle trenches, trying to keep their children alive, their houses standing and their sanity intact while repeating, “use your indoor voice” and “keep your hands to yourself” and “Why did you take [insert item] apart?” about a thousand times per day.
If you are one of those parents with young, hyperactive, loud children, I sympathize with your plight. Maybe I can help. Here are a few things I learned from my years in the trenches:
1) Camp is crucial. Sign up for as many as possible. Can’t afford camp? Sign up for every vacation Bible school you can find. It doesn’t matter if you’re not Christian. You can de-program them later if you have the energy. A free three hours of play, songs, crafts and socializing that you don’t have to provide is worth the Jesus-y songs they will have stuck in their heads. By all means, look into other religious institutions that offer free camps as well. If the Buddhists or Jews or Hindus offer free camps, don’t pass them up. If your child is asked not to return to camp because he keeps fleeing the classroom and bolting to the parking lot to “give you one last hug” after you have already driven away, then see the tips below.
2) If camp is not an option, schedule the shit out of each day à la Super Nanny. Make sure to leave a long time for the things that keep the kids in one place. For example:
- Bath time: Give the kids food coloring, baking soda, bath crayons, bath paint, bath stickers and, if small enough, the family dog. Make use of every kitchen utensil, too. Especially the baster. It can add at least 10 minutes to bath time. Ditto the vacuum hose.
- Rest time: Even if the kids don’t nap anymore, rest time is crucial for your sanity. Never, ever abandon rest time. Set a timer if necessary. Add a few minutes a day. Bribe if necessary.
- Reading time: Minimal energy on your part. However, if your kids are like mine were and won’t sit still for reading, let them build Legos while they listen or tickle their back while you’re reading. Or, if none of that works, drive around for reading time and listen to a book on CD. A few of our favorite authors to listen to: Jack Gantos and Robert Munsch.
3) Encourage your kids to talk to strangers. For example, when son #2 was six, he asked if he could dress up in his suit and tie and give gum to people walking by our house. He stood in front of our house offering sticks of Extra to passing joggers for at least 45 minutes. He chatted up every passing jogger or walker whether they liked it or not. “Excuse me sir, you look like you could use a fresh stick of gum.” Quickly he realized that many people had dogs so he added dog bones to his inventory and extended each interaction by a few minutes. Our local exercisers thought he was adorable. He used up about half of his loquaciousness for the day. I finished a chapter or two. Win-win-win.
4) Go to garage sales. On Friday and/or Saturday mornings, give each kid a dollar and tell them they can buy anything they can afford at a garage sale. Then go to a few garage sales and watch your kids learn the fine art of negotiation. Son #1 came home with an old stereo system once. He spent about three hours in his room taking it apart. That $1 bought me three hours of peace. On the other hand, son #2 wanted to buy an old bullet at a yard sale. Temper tantrum avoidance technique: give a list of buying rules beforehand and always include No Live Ammunition.
5) Recruit as many teenage babysitters in your neighborhood as you can find, but make sure to give them very specific rules in writing. Add to the list as necessary. One time son #1 talked a 15-year-old babysitter into letting him on the roof. “My mom always makes me check our roof for hail damage,” he said. “She’ll be mad if I don’t.” Never in a million years did I ever think my list of rules would include No Checking for Hail Damage on the Roof.
6) Think twice before buying the book Backyard Ballistics because your budding engineer would like to build a potato cannon. Those potatoes fly HUNDREDS of feet.
7) Rely on TV for the most dangerous time of day: Dinner Preparation. One night, in the 20 minutes it took me to fix tacos, son #1 had fished an old toddler car seat out of the garage, drilled holes in the bottom, taken wheels off of a dolly, attached them to the car seat, tied a rope from the car seat to the back of his bike and convinced his younger brother to go for a ride. As I finished browning the meat, I looked out the window just in time to see son #2 strapped in the old car seat dragging behind that bike swinging from side to side in the middle of the street, grinning from ear to ear before biting it on a curb.
“Well, if it isn’t the Richie family again.”