The holiday season is a special time, but to a parent of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it can be stressful. Children with ADHD typically need to stick to a routine, and all the disruptions combined with the excitement of the season can wreak havoc on their moods and behavior. Visiting family members, sugary treats and staying up late are just a few things that can interfere with day to day life.
But there is no need to cut your ADHD child off from the celebrations or let stress over behavior issues ruin your holiday. From Halloween to New Year’s Day, you can keep the peace by making a plan. Make an appointment with your Newport Beach child psychiatrist to make sure your child’s medication levels are appropriate (occasionally, a temporary increase in medication can help) and talk about some behavioral strategies to help you both. Then you can start to make a plan.
Start early. Plan ahead. During the holidays, routine and structure go out the window. A child might have to endure waiting patiently in airports, sitting politely at a dinner table for an extended period of time and long, action-packed days. For a young person with ADHD, having a plan can be a real game-changer.
Decide ahead of time how the holidays will be spent, from the decorating to visiting relatives and preparing the holiday treats. Then you can set up a schedule for your child that allows for some flexibility for when your child needs to rest or have downtime. You know your child better than anyone else, so you’ll know when he or she typically gets burned out or distracted and how much rest is necessary.
Sketch out each phase of the holidays, including all the “free” time when your child will be playing with other kids or family members. Inform the rest of the family of your schedule and go over it with your child. The schedule can always be amended if necessary, but if you reach an agreement beforehand, you’ll be less likely to be met with resistance when it’s time to implement it.
Schedule your time wisely. Too many events can overstimulate a child with ADHD. Decide which occasions are most important and give those your time and attention. Include private playtime or an outing to a child-friendly venues to give your child time to burn off some steam. Spend some quiet time together reading or taking short walks if you see your child is on the verge of a meltdown.
Set up a big holiday calendar in your kitchen or another common room where your child can see it. Write down every last plan, from school assemblies to holiday parties. Keep track of visits with family and shopping dates as well. That way you can keep your child up to speed on what lies ahead and keep the entire family informed as well.
If you’re traveling, you can ensure the family will have some downtime if you stay at a hotel instead of with your loved ones. This way your child will have plenty of breathing space. Just make sure you explain the situation to your relatives to avoid hurt feelings if they were planning to host you.
Rehearse calming techniques with your child before the holiday festivities begin. Some ADHD children need to practice calming down at home before venturing out into the madness. Role-playing or rehearsing the “stop, relax, think” technique are excellent strategies. To avoid conflicts with other kids, bring along a game or some toys for your child to share and encourage him or her to ask you for help at the onset of a conflict with another child or a relative. Make sure your child understands ahead of time that different rules have different households and that they need to be respected.
Instead of simply lecturing the child about potential bad behavior, commend good behavior and set him or her up to succeed. Reminding children of their strengths increases their confidence that they can survive whatever the holidays throw at them. Remind the child of past successes if you need a little help in that department.
Try to be understanding of the extremes of children with ADHD. They may not be as reasonable in their demands as other children, and their impulsiveness may lead to more requests for gifts. The holiday season is a good time to talk to them about helping those less fortunate. You can buy one gift for your child to donate to a toy drive or volunteer for an organization that helps needy families to help your children see how lucky they are to have the things they do.
Most importantly, make your ADHD child feel special during this time. Build happy memories by wrapping gifts together, doing some craft projects or enlisting him or her to help cook a holiday meal with you. These activities will strengthen your bond and help give your child some much-needed confidence.