If you have school-age children, either summer vacation has already begun or it is just a few days away.
Kids usually count the days until summer vacation with glee. Free time! No homework! Play, play, play!
Their parents may have more mixed emotions. Bored and demanding kids! Messy, complicated days! But, slower pace and vacation time!
Wouldn’t it be great if the whole family could be on the same page (or at least similar pages) regarding their expectations for summer? How could that come about?
One way would be to bring all the family members together in a summer planning family meeting. I know – there may be groans from the younger folks! But they might feel more engaged if they are asked to answer these questions: What are your dreams for this summer? If this were the best summer ever, what would happen in the next three months?
Give them a little warning so they have a chance to consider their answers. If they need help getting started, you might suggest areas to dream about, such as new experiences to have, books to read, trips to take, volunteer opportunities to participate in, parks to visit, money to earn, time to spend with friends, lessons to take (swim, violin, whatever), etc.
At the time of the family meeting you’ll need to have a few supplies on hand. Primarily you’ll need either a large piece of paper such as newsprint or a large white board, along with appropriate markers. Designate someone who can handle the job of scribe to write down everyone’s ideas in a brainstorming session.
There may need to be some rules so everyone feels like an equal participant. Perhaps you take turns around the table with each person offering one idea with no interruptions or comments allowed. Or you have a talking piece and agree that only the person holding it can speak, but with agreed-upon limitations on how long they can speak.
At this point in the process, nothing is off limits. Write all ideas down. Once they start coming, they may come rapidly. Agree on a time limit for this part of the process.
At the end of the brainstorming part of the meeting, take a break. Everyone will probably need to move around and perhaps have a healthy snack and some water to drink.
When you come back together, it might be a good time for a quick discussion of what values seem to be behind the various items. Make a list. These values will be helpful when the time comes to prioritize the items, since it is probably clear that choices will have to be made. You can’t do everything! Some of the values you might find behind your family’s dreams could be fun, relaxation, change of pace, new experiences, new learning opportunities, chance to give back through volunteering, etc.
Now it’s time to get real. Pull out large calendars of June, July, and August (include September if that’s part of your summer) and put them side-by-side.
Begin by entering the last day of summer followed by the first day (or days, if necessary) of school. Folks with ADHD (adults, as well as kids!) don’t connect with the future well. “The end of summer” is just words until you make those words real. Visualizing them on a calendar is one way to help.
Now it’s time to fill in events or commitments that are already scheduled. Enter any trips you have already planned or any other large commitments so you can see what free time you have to work with. Are there swim team practices, summer camps (day camps or sleep-away camps), summer jobs, business trips, music lessons, etc.? Put them all on the calendar.
Especially if you have a big, active family, the calendar pages will need to be large! You might want to use a different colored marker for each family member’s activities. Once you have filled in your scheduled commitments, notice how much time is free.
Now it’s time to prioritize the items on your dream list and make choices based on what can really be accomplished over the summer. Prioritizing can be a challenge for anyone, but for folks with ADHD it can be especially difficult. Everything has a tendency to look equal. It’s very hard to choose. This is where the values you listed earlier come in.
What is your overall goal for the summer? Perhaps your goal is to be less busy and slow the pace of life. What values underly that goal? They can vary from person to person but could include peace, calm, quiet, etc. As you look at your calendars, you may be surprised to see that that you actually have to remove some already scheduled items to achieve that dream.
See if there is one value on which all the family members can agree and be sure you have honored that with a joint activity that everyone can participate in.
There may be a unique value that each individual family member holds dear. The discussion about these values can provide an occasion for getting to know each other better. Did you all know that Mom really wanted to have more time to take long walks in nature, or that Dad would love to have a special day to spend with each of the kids?
During this process family members will have a chance to model and practice many executive function skills that most folks with ADHD need to develop. Using the Executive Skills formulation from Richard Guare and Peg Dawson, here are just a few of the skills and how they might show up in the process of planning a family summer:
- Response inhibition – Each family member will need to be quiet and respectful while others offer their comments and share their dreams.
- Working memory – As new ideas come to mind, each person will need to remember them (or write them down) until it is his turn to share.
- Emotional control – Family dynamics usually involve some tensions.
- Flexibility – Not everything on the list will be possible in the limited time summer offers, but the ideas can be kept for future reference.
- Planning and prioritization – This is the executive skill that underlies this whole process.
Those are just a few of the skills and ways that they will be practiced and modeled in this process.
Each family will have a unique experience and unique results. As summer progresses, it may become clear that some factors were not foreseen during the family meeting. Some initial plans may need to change. Don’t expect perfection! Family life is messy. That’s a fact. A sense of humor, flexibility, and respect for each other will go a long way to making this a great, possibly memorable summer!
I’d love to hear how you integrate any of these ideas in your family life!