Tips for Traveling During the Holidays with Children with ADHD

Health Writer

This year, 43.6 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from their home during the Thanksgiving holiday and even more will hit the roads, the rails or the sky between now and the New Year. [1] For many of those people, travel will go relatively smoothly. But for parents of children with ADHD, travel can sometimes turn into a nightmare.

The following are tips to help you manage your holiday travel with your child with ADHD:

Make sure your trip is well planned.

  • Create a schedule for your trip. If traveling by car, have your child help map the route you will be taking, including planning stops at restaurants and bathroom breaks. Having your children help you plan the route will make them more aware of how long it should take and what to expect during the travel time.
  • Plan out your activities while you are away. Make sure to include some activities your children will enjoy and can look forward to. While much of your time will probably be visiting family or friends, have your child pick out one or two activities he would like to do and work them into your schedule.
  • Write out your schedule to help your child follow along so he knows what is going on and what to expect.
  • Think about your child's schedule. If your child does best in the morning, try to be on the road or book your flight for that time. Try to avoid plane travel during times your child will be overly tired.

Talk about rules and expectations.

  • Although your rules will still apply during travel time, there may be additional rules. For example, at your house, your child might be able to leave the dinner table when finished eating but relatives may find this rude or your child may be able to get a snack from the cabinet at home without asking but your relatives may feel this is intrusive. If different rules apply at your relatives house, make sure you explain this before your trip.
  • Discuss your expectations. If you are staying in a hotel, what behavior do you expect from your children? If you are visiting relatives, is it appropriate for your child to play games on their phone, IPod or IPad during family activities or do they need to ask you first? You can avoid problems later if your expectations are explained before you leave your house.
  • Role-play social etiquette. Instead of being embarrassed when your child forgets to say hello or runs away from a hug from relatives, go through these scenarios, explaining what may happen and what he should do.

Be prepared.

  • Have a variety of activities for your child - some quiet time games, books or puzzles and some you can play along with. All children, but especially those with ADHD, need and enjoy the interaction with their parents and this can help them stay focused and involved during long car/plane rides or while you are waiting in the airport.
  • Create a reward chart for the trip. You may already have a reward chart for home, but making one specific to your trip helps. Write down the rules for the trip and let your child earn points or stars along the way. He can use the points for a reward, such as buying a souvenir or going someplace special during the trip.
  • Bring along some familiar items. Your child may sleep better if he has a favorite toy or even his own pillow or blanket. Having familiar items around helps him feel more secure, even in unfamiliar environments.
  • Bring along medication. If your child regularly takes medication, make sure to bring enough for him to have throughout your trip. Adjust when you give your child medication if his daily schedule is going to change. For example, if your child is going to be staying up late, you may want to delay giving him the medication in the morning.

Take ADHD into consideration

  • Avoid overstimulation. While it is hard to avoid overstimulation during hectic holidays, plan ahead by having a place you can take your child to get away from all the noise and activity, even if for a few minutes. Talk with your relatives about using a bedroom for this purpose or you may want to book a hotel room rather than spending the night at your relative's house so your child can have some down time.
  • Take walks outside. Fresh air and exercise help a child with ADHD stay focused and calm. Take breaks from all the family activities to take a break and take a walk outside.
  • Compliment your child. Make sure you let your child know when he has behaved appropriately. Remind him of his successes in the past and how he is a valuable member of the family.


"Thanksgiving Travel to Increase for the Fourth Consecutive Year, AAA Says," 2012, Nov 13, Heather Hunter,