The holiday season is not only a time of joy and happiness, but it can also be a source of tremendous stress and difficulty. For some there are the pressures of family visits and entertaining, for others it can be a lonely and depressing time. And while some are lucky to have extra time off work and school, others find it difficult to fill their time constructively. For those who have a family member with ADHD, the stresses and distractions can be an even larger burden.
For kids with ADHD, Christmas and the holiday season can present many extra challenges. Finding ways to effectively manage these stresses can make for a great experience this holiday season. Consider some of these tips.
- Maintain or establish routines. For kids with ADHD, habit and routine is an important part of managing behavior. Having regular times during the day that are “down time” helps everyone. Try to mimic the regular school day routine with snacks between physical activity, specific times for using the computer and for reading, and standard bedtime routines all scheduled for the same time each day. Routines can also help avoid arguments and debate about when it’s appropriate to play or time to stop and eat lunch.
- Stay on meds. While it’s common for some families to give their kids a break from medication when they aren’t in school, the holiday season is not the best time to do this. With all the added stresses, distractions, excitement, and disrupted routines, the challenges of managing ADHD symptoms during the holiday’s means kids who normally take medication will need all the help they can get.
- Get plenty of rest and exercise. Holidays are about rest and relaxation, but that doesn’t mean you should take a break from being active. Try to get outside and enjoy the fresh air every day. In the cold weather, consider taking the kids to an indoor playground or enjoy other indoor activities such as bowling. It keeps the kids busy and makes for great quality time together. Rest is just as important as exercise. Try to keep the kids on the same bedtime routine as when they are in school. Remember, it’s easier to be patient and keep emotional control when you’re well rested.
- Open presents away from the tree. For kids with ADHD, the pile of presents under the tree can be irresistible and distracting. Consider having the gift opening in another area. Open one gift at a time, play for a bit and then put it away before opening the next gift. Give the ADHD child the job of handing out gifts to keep them focused or to keep them interested on the task at hand.
- Take regular breaks during the day. Christmas day is just that, a day. You don’t have to cram everything into an hour or two in the morning. Open a few presents, then take a break. Go back later and open a few more. Build in extra time for playing in between and try to have some quiet time.
- Don’t put out snacks and have plenty of healthy options on hand. Part of the fun of the holidays is to enjoy all those cookies and snacks. But for kids with ADHD, the impulse to indulge on sweets is hard to resist. Keep them away from temptation by keeping them out of sight unless it’s snack time.
- Don’t over-plan. Make it simple, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember that family traditions are great as long as they work for YOUR family. Be prepared for every activity to take longer than you expect. The less you plan the more likely you will be to get it done.
- Keep a pen and paper handy to record gifts. In the excitement of opening gifts, most kids have trouble keeping track of what came from whom. Kids with ADHD are no exception and in fact can have a tougher time in the chaos of the moment. If they are old enough, have the kids do the recording to keep them focused. If you have time try getting the kids to write thank you cards between each gift opening.
- If a big fancy sit down meal is part of the tradition, consider spreading the courses out, or letting the kids eat early. It’s hard enough for some adults to make it through a big meal without getting anxious, don’t force the kids to do it too.
- Remember that there is should be no fault or shame when it comes to kids. Be open and honest about how ADHD affects individuals and families. Talk to relatives and let them know what to expect and how they can help. Just like in school the school system, you have to be prepared to advocate for your kids during the holidays.
Managing ADHD is a daily challenge. The holidays can be additionally trying. But with a little planning and understanding, it can be a wonderful experience for everyone. Remember, too, that your family is not the only one facing these issues. Reach out, read, talk and share. The blog at the Totally ADD web site has a number of wonderful posts about managing the holidays with ADHD. Read them and enjoy.