‘Tis the season to be jolly, but for children with ADD/ADHD and their families, the holiday season may spell havoc rather than happiness. So what can you do to help your ADHD child cope with the disruption in established routines, the visits to relatives’ homes, and the excitement which can be overwhelming? If you are apprehensive about the holidays and are looking for ways to help your child maintain calm in the midst of all the chaos, you’ve come to the right place! As parents of ADHD children, we know exactly what you’re going through. To help the whole family enjoy the festivities without symptom flare-ups, we have put together a list of real-time strategies to keep everyone feeling good and help make this holiday season a time to remember.
Turning the Stress of ADHD Holidays into Success
There is no doubt about it: Holiday periods mean an excess of free time for children at home, lack of structure, collapse of day-to-day routines, and ADHD children feeling out of control. To reduce stress this holiday season, follow these simple guidelines to success:
- As much as possible, maintain the types of schedules and activities which adhere to those followed during school days.
- Since too much leisure time for ADHD kids is an invitation for trouble, make a list of holiday expectations, as well as a list of the things they want to do and map these out on a whiteboard or on the refrigerator for your kids to see. To reinforce the behaviors agreed upon, post a list of holiday rules/rewards which may include bed-making, eating three meals a day, avoiding yelling and hitting, etc.
- Schedule in daily physical activity, i.e. a fun family outing in nature. Exercise helps ADHD children sleep better, de-stress, and calms their hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
- Avoid over-scheduling: Leisure time away from all the hustle and bustle is just as important. Be sure your kids have some down time every day and that you and/or your spouse enjoy some private time as well.
- Develop coping strategies with your child, i.e., rehearsing calming-down techniques, role-playing worrisome scenarios, or developing a set of cues which let you know when they are feeling overwhelmed or impulsive; when they give the signal, have a back-up plan in place, i.e. some private play time, a talk to help calm them down. If your child is unable to recognize his/her over-stimulation, plan an early exit strategy to avoid a public meltdown.
- To orchestrate a peaceful holiday gathering with family members or friends who don’t understand, some helpful comments or explanations prior to your visit may be in order, for example: “Bobby sometimes has a hard time calming down; if we leave the table early, please carry on and we’ll return when we can.”
- Be generous with hugs, a warm touch, a reassuring look, words of encouragement, and positive attention.
To Medicate or Not to Medicate
To medicate or not to medicate during the holiday season – that is the question. While the experts have long debated the pros and cons of giving ADHD kids a break from their meds on weekends, the summer, and holiday periods, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It boils down to what works best for you, your child, and your family. Here are some rules of thumb to help you determine whether or not a drug holiday is in order:
- If hyperactivity interferes with your child’s ability to interact/socialize with family and friends, medication should probably continue (some parents advocate increasing time on medication in order to maximize the enjoyment of the high-energy holiday period)
- If hyperactivity is not an overriding issue and the attention deficit is primarily a problem in school, many parents opt to discontinue medications over the holidays.
- Depending on the severity of the symptoms, a highly structured home environment may compensate for a child’s deficits, decreasing the need for extended medication.
ADHD Mom’s Take: Greatest Holiday Gifts
The greatest gifts you can give your ADHD child are those which don’t need to be wrapped or placed under a tree. This year, give your children the gift of your undivided time, attention, understanding, support, and encouragement – and enjoy wrapping up the holidays on a high note!