The holidays can be challenging for nearly everyone, but for children with special needs the season can be especially stressful. For children with ADHD the many social gatherings, coupled with a departure from a normal schedule, can be a mine field of meltdowns, anxiety and emotional overwhelm.
There are, however, some simple and practical steps parents can take to navigate that mine field successfully, according to Dr. Floyd Sallee, a child psychiatrist with the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience. Dr. Sallee, an ADHD specialist, says that the most difficult challenges for children with ADHD are “lack of structure, lots of excitement, overstimulation, no restrictions and little to no rule setting and the frustrations that come with that.” To minimize challenges before a holiday event, parents need to prepare the child by reinforcing the rules of the new and different settings. While in those new and different settings, parents’ willingness to stay within earshot of their child playing can help derail a potentially unpleasant situation. “Be vigilant and monitor the frustrations of the child. If you see them becoming overwhelmed, find a quiet area and let them gather their energies. You know your children’s stress thresholds, so take charge, to prevent too much stress on the child. “
Family situations can be particularly challenging because of the familiarity of family members with the child. For the child’s benefit, parents need to “be in charge and assert themselves as a parent so that the children aren’t getting too many rules from too many people.” In addition, parents should stay as structured with medication and behavioral treatment as possible. For a child with ADHD, keeping any amount of the usual structure helps minimize frustration and anxiety. It also helps to “limit choices in activities and interactions to no more than two at a time so children don’t become overwhelmed. “
Although smaller gatherings are ideal for children with ADHD, sometimes the larger gatherings cannot be avoided. For those times, Dr Sallee suggests limiting the amount of time spent to an hour or two rather than four or five, and, whenever possible, stay near the child to monitor their stress levels. Then, parent can “anticipate problems and limit exposure to them” as well as “help the child by giving them time to settle down.” The bottom line is that “parents are called on to be extra vigilant” during the holiday season, but if the parents “supply control, reassurance and limit stimulation” children with ADHD can navigate the sometimes murky waters of the season successfully.
To get further information from Dr. Sallee, contact him at Floyd.sallee @uc.edu. For more information on ADHD, visit www.adhdsupport.comor www.chadd.org.