Surviving the Holiday Season with Children with ADHD

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

The excitement and anticipation that comes along with the holiday season is sometimes overwhelming for children, especially those with ADHD.

What do you do over the holiday season? Do you often visit with friends and relatives, staying later than your child's normal bedtime? Do you deviate from your normal schedule more often than you stick to it? Do you have rushed days, spend weekends completing holiday activities? Besides the hustle and bustle of the holidays, children are inundated with excessive commercials for the latest toys and bombarded with images of Christmas. Their excitement begins before Thanksgiving and with each passing day, it grows.

Children with ADHD thrive with consistency. They work well in a structured environment. With the disruption of daily schedules, your child may suffer in school and their behavior at home may be disastrous. Children that are normally hyperactive may become even more so. (Is that really possible?) Children that are distracted easily will find it even more difficult to stay focused on the mundane school tasks. Children that are impulsive may find their impulsiveness increase. For some parents, this change in behaviors can begin as early as October and last well into January.

For children that have a hard time socially, this time of year may be especially difficult. Their classmates may make plans to get together with friends over the winter break from school. For the child that does not have many friends, this may make them feel even more isolated. Family gatherings may be stressful if your child does not yet have the social skills to act appropriately, or they may spend the day feeling left out and alone. Some parents complain that fights with siblings increase as well during the holiday season.

Parents must deal with their own commitments and responsibilities during this time as well as help their child cope with the daily stress the holidays bring. Parents can end up frazzled and frustrated, impatiently waiting for the season to end rather than enjoying this special time of the year.

To help keep sanity a part of your holiday routine, there are a number of tips that parents can incorporate into their daily life:

  1. Maintain routines as much as possible. Sometimes this can be very difficult with the many activities that are going on. Schedule events around your child's schedule. Bedtime routines and times are very important; children can cope much better with a good night's sleep.

  2. Make up a holiday calendar to keep up in your kitchen. Make sure you include school events such as holiday parties and assemblies. Use the calendar to keep track of visits to friends and relatives, as well as times you plan to do holiday shopping. Use the calendar to help your child know what is coming up and talk with them about your expectations during these events.

  3. Be proactive in your approach. Think about what problems may develop and determine if your expectations fit the situation. If necessary, shorten the time of a visit with friends or relatives. Talk with your child before each event about what to expect and what your expectations are. Be prepared with extra snacks or extra clothing that you know your child will like.

  4. Determine rewards and consequences for behavior prior to the holiday season and be consistent throughout. Be sure to provide directions and instructions in small chunks and be sure to maintain eye contact while you are talking with your child. Let them know what the consequences will be if their behavior does not meet your expectations and what rewards will be. (Rewards can be simple such as staying up to watch a favorite television show or receiving a treat during shopping.)

  5. Be understanding of the extremes of children with ADHD. They may not be as reasonable in their demands, or their impulsiveness may lead to making more requests for gifts. Take time during the holiday season to talk with them about helping those less fortunate and add the purchase a gift to donate to other children to your shopping list. If you cannot afford to donate toys, find locations in your area that make up food baskets and donate some time to help make up or distribute food baskets to needy families.

  6. Make sure your child understands that there are different rules in different households. When visiting friends and relatives, let them know ahead of time what behavior is expected in that house. If you are visiting a relative that does not have any children and normally has items out that can easily be broken, talk with your child before you enter the house. You may also want to shorten visits if you see that your child is not handling the situation well.

  7. Think about the invitation you have received before accepting. Is this a place you and your children will feel comfortable and accepted? Is this a place where you can gently excuse yourself for a short time to allow your child a few minutes of down time to calm down if they need it? You do not need to accept every invitation; it is okay to politely decline if it is in the best interest of your family.

  8. When visiting friends or relatives at mealtime, ask ahead what the menu will be. If there are not any foods your child will like, bring along dinner for them or make sure to feed your child dinner before you go. Your child will be much better behaved if they are fed.

  9. When opening gifts, set rules ahead of time. Tell children that no toys are to be opened until all gifts are open and gift wrap is thrown away. This may cut down on toys being broken before they are even used or items accidentally thrown away with the gift wrap.

  10. Take time to have down time at home with the family. It is important during this season to remember and cherish your own family. Plan nights for your family to stay at home either preparing for the holiday or simply spending time together. Taking time out for "family movie night" can do wonders in letting everyone catch their breath and stay focused.

Remember that the holiday season is a time of joy, sharing and family. Keep in mind that children that are overwhelmed from the activities of the season will show little appreciation or caring for others. Take time to appreciate your child and your family and have a joyous holiday.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.