5 Questions to Ask Your Child’s Doctor before Taking a Summer ADHD Medication Holiday

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Many parents consider having their child take a break from his or her ADHD medication over the summer. Research shows that there are in fact some benefits to summer medication holidays for children who take ADHD medication. For kids who experience medication side effects, such as insomnia, decreased appetite, or slowed physical growth, a summer break can provide relief and chance to catch up in weight gain and growth. Summer medication breaks also give parents an opportunity to observe their child’s ADHD symptoms when his or her medication is not in effect. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends short ADHD medication breaks periodically as a strategy for assessing whether medication or not the medication is still effective and necessary.  If the child behaves very similarly on and off ADHD medication, then either the medication isn’t doing its job and adjustments are needed, or the child’s symptoms have improved to the point where medication is no longer needed.

Are you considering a summer ADHD medication holiday for your child? Start by talking with your child’s doctor.  Having answers to the following questions will allow you make an informed decision, and will help you create an effective plan for getting the most out of a summer medication break. 

  1. How will we evaluate changes in my child’s ADHD symptoms? Ask your doctor about rating scales you can complete before and after your child discontinues his or her medication. It can be helpful to also have camp counselors or summer instructors complete rating scales. Make sure you or an instructor is able to observe your child during some academic activities over the summer so that your child’s ability to stay focused can be assessed.
  2. How will the break affect my child during summer activities? For some children, ADHD medication primarily serves as a tool for managing symptoms during activities that place a high demand on attention, like sitting in a classroom, reading a book, or doing homework. For other children medication also significantly helps manage attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity when they are playing sports, interacting with friends, participating in less structured games and activities, and traveling on family vacations. Share your child’s summer plans with the doctor and ask how a summer medication break may affect your child during his or her activities.
  3. Are there any safety concerns around taking a medication break? If your child is very impulsive and required intense supervision before starting an ADHD medication, discuss whether a summer medication holiday is compatible with your current childcare and vacation plans.
  4. What will we do if we need to reintroduce a modified ADHD medication schedule that can accommodate summer academic activities? If you would like to take a summer medication break but are concerned about the impact it will have on your child’s summer learning activities, talk to your doctor about a modified summer medication plan. Can the frequency of his or her medication be reduced by taking it only on days when academic activities are scheduled? Or, if he or she is attending a summer program that only has academic enrichment activities in the morning, is a short-acting medication that wears off by the afternoon an option?
  5. If medication needs to be restarted this summer, what steps should be taken? Have a plan in place for restarting medication in the event that your child’s ADHD symptoms begin to interfere with his or her daily activities this summer. Will you be able to quickly schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor? Or will they be able to provide a simple phone consultation? If you need to restart your child on a lower dose of his or her medication and gradually work back up to the current dose, how long will that process take?

Summer ADHD medication holidays can be beneficial for some children with ADHD. By creating a plan and working closely with your child’s doctor the medication break can go as smoothly as possible. You’ll be setting your child up for success so that he or she can enjoy the summer and make the most of his or her time off from school!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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