Parents want their kids to have a great time in the summer, too.
Parents of kids with ADHD can find summer worrisome though. As one mom observed: “Every summer, it seems my son with ADHD gets some injury or another. What’s going on?”
This mother is not alone in wondering about the link between ADD and injury risk. Here’s the basic equation:
ADHD + SUMMER = INCREASED RISK
Let’s think about ADHD. For one thing, ADHD is characterized by several features that can increase safety risks:
- Distractability is one common ADD characteristic. Distractability can cause children to be less tuned into rules and/or to get side-tracked and consequently forget rules or precautions. Because of this, distractability can lead to accidents.
- Impulsivity is an ADHD characteristic that causes children to act quickly, without thinking, creating another risk for accidents or injuries.
- Hyperactivity is evidenced when a child with ADHD can’t seem to be still and may walk, run, or climb around energetically, whether or not the situation calls for it. Yet another risk factor for injuries.
- Children with ADHD are also more likely to push limits and get into riskier situations.
- ADHD is associated with a developmental lag, and children with this condition are typically 3-5 years less mature than their peers. Because of this, they may be less ready to safely engage in activities typical for other children their age.
- Research has also shown that children with ADHD are likely to underestimate safety risks as well as actively consider accident prevention strategies.
Now, let’s think about summer. Summer is typically characterized by both increased physical activity for most children and reduced structure once school is out.
Combine ADHD and summer together and it is no surprise that summer injuries may be more likely!
ADHD + SUMMER + SENSIBLE PRECAUTIONS = MINIMIZED RISK
We want our kids to enjoy the freedom of summer and all of its fun activities. And, we want to keep them safe. Here are seven sensible precautions to help you manage and minimize risks!
1) Consider the safety features of any play environment. For example,
- Discourage playtime in or near streets
- Select playgrounds with well-maintained equipment
- Assure that young children do not play alone near deep water
- Create a fun, fenced backyard play area
2) Provide anticipatory guidance. Discuss in advance possible consequences of various actions and activities. This will model for your child “thinking ahead” and will help build awareness of potential safety concerns. In particular, asking your child about potential consequences of various situations will assist in engaging and developing the mental skills needed for improved safety awareness.
3) Establish, regularly review, and help your child practice specific safety “rules” for various play settings. For younger children, examples might include:
- Walk in front of swings, not in back.
- Watch carefully for other children before jumping off swings or other play equipment
- Call an adult to get a ball that goes into the street
For older children and teens, safety rules can be brainstormed jointly. Examples might be:
- Swim or boat only when adults are supervising
- Bike only in agreed-upon locations
- Use a helmet when biking or riding a scooter
- For teens who drive, clear rules, and perhaps a contract, can address safety issues. (Driving rules are beyond the scope of this particular blog post.)
3) Then, reinforce safe behavior by positive acknowledgement whenever you notice your child following the rules or demonstrating any additional safety behaviors. At the same time, don’t hesitate to put reasonable consequences in place when safety rules are violated.
4) Develop awareness of the times of day and duration of activities that work best for your individual child. A child who is tired, hungry, or wound-up is less likely to pay attention to safety and is at greater risk of accidents or injuries. As your child with ADD gets older, explicitly teach self-awareness of signs of fatigue, hunger, and over-stimulation that can impact safety behaviors. Then, limit potentially risky activities such as biking or swimming to appropriate times.
5) Provide your child training in sports, biking and/or swimming skills and related safety factors. Explicit, stepwise training with supervised practice can assure improved skills and, as a result, safety.
6) Implement structure and supervision for your child. Structuring your child’s summer days will help prevent boredom and attendant mischief or risky behaviors. Structure can be achieved through day camps, overnight camp (if your child is ready) or by planning and organizing your own schedule for the summer days and weeks.
7) Consider continuing medication during the summer. ADHD meds can help limit impulsiveness and boost attention, leading to your child having improved attention to safety concerns.
Implement these seven strategies and you can be sure you are doing your best to assure a safe and fun summer for your child with ADHD!