Holiday Challenges for Children With ADHD
The holidays are upon us, and many forces are conspiring to tax people's mental health. First of all, the light. Close to half a million Americans will experience seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that is associated with the fewer hours of sunshine typical of winters in North America. Next, is the holidays themselves, great fun for most people; a time of families coming together, looser, more relaxed schedules, parties, and celebration of religious and secular holidays. Then there is the family time. Families coming together can be a great experience, but also this can be a quite stressful time, particularly for those who are hosting other relatives in their home. They try to make sure everyone's needs are tended to and the peace is kept, not an easy feat in some families. Food can also be an issue this time of year. There's a large quantity of good quality of food often accompanied by alcohol, and worries about weight gain are common and justified. Let's also not forget that for many working Americans, this is the time of year when projects need to be wrapped up by Dec. 31, at a time when a lot of people who could help out are off for the holidays.
For families with children with ADHD, this can be particularly trying time of the year. Children with this disorder tend to function best with structure, and the holidays means early school closings, days or weeks off from school at home with less scheduled activities, more eating, and less exercise.
Well, without taking the fun out of the season, there are two things that can be done to help out children: exercise and planned activities. The holidays make a great excuse to get kids moving. Adults commonly use January first and the day to start a new exercise regime, but for kids, the extra time and extra calories that surround the holidays in November and December give parents an opportunity (the free time) and a justification (the extra calories) for asking their kids to do some exercise daily until the end of the year.
Exercise is a good idea for most kids, but particularly so for those with ADHD. A recent study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders showed that as little as a 20 minute walk in the park can improve concentration in kids with ADHD. This study was small (17 children) but the effect of exercise was comparable to the benefit of medication. Now I'm not saying that your child's pills should be thrown away, I'm suggesting that even a moderate amount of light exercise can do your child's mental health some good. Exercise is a good way to relieve some of the stress most families feel around the holiday season. In my next entry I'll talk about how planned activities can help families function well during this busy, sometimes turbulent time.