How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving With ADHD Kids

Happy ADHD Thanksgiving
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 “Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is usually the easiest one for ADHD kids as it is not focused on presents or candy,” says Developmental pediatrician, Patricia Quinn. This is great news!  However, like all holidays, Thanksgiving does pose some challenges. Here are some suggestions to help you and your ADHD child have a happy and memorable Thanksgiving celebration.

Routine and Structure

Children with ADHD flourish when they have a predictable routine and structure.

During the holidays these structures tend to disappear perhaps because you are hosting Thanksgiving and have guests at your home or because your family is travelling.  Where at all possible keep your child’s schedule as regular as possible, for example, bedtime and mealtime.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus, co-author of the book ‘Parenting ADHD Now, Easy Intervention Strategies to Empower Kids with ADHD,’ explains that during the holidays when kids are out of their routine, they don’t know what to expect; they feel rudderless. Over the holidays there can be many moving parts, so even you  do not  know the exact plans. However, explain to your child what you do know is happening, such as, ‘On Thursday at 10am we will be doing X.’ This can really help them. Also, acknowledge to your child that you know this time is hard, and use it as an opportunity to learn rather than fail.

Physical Space

If you are traveling for the holidays, they do not have the usual belongings around to ground them.

Elaine suggests bringing  a comfort item from home as this brings a feeling of familiarity to the new the environment. Let your child choose what they would like to bring. Perhaps a toy or blanket for bedtime.  You can also help them pack a ‘busy box,’ which has items in that will keep them occupied and entertained if they feel bored.

Behavior

When you are in the company of friends and relatives during the holidays the hope and expectation is that your children will be on their best behavior. However,  Elaine points out that it is important for parents  to set realistic expectations and remember that they are probably busy and distracted so they can’t guide their child like they usually would.

If your child behaves in a way that you wish they had not, Elaine recommends asking yourself ‘Is this naughty or neurological?’ With ADHD kids, neurology nearly always plays a part in the behavior. They are  probably responding to a situation that is stressful for them. When you realize they aren’t being purposefully rude or disrespectful, it is easier for you to respond in a way that is supportive of their ADHD symptoms. This approach helps them later in life too, as they will be less inclined to self-blame.

Road Trips

Elaine explains that road trips are not as problematic as they used to be thanks to technology and the different forms of entertainment it makes possible.

 If you are going on a road trip this Thanksgiving, here are suggestions from Elaine for a happy and stress free ride.

  • Have frequent stops so everyone can stretch their legs, burn off some energy and use the restroom. Be sure to schedule in time for these stops in your planning.  
  • Take supplies for the trip including snacks and water 
  • Have time for video games and non-screen time games, like the license plate game 
  • Have audiobooks that the whole family can enjoy listening to, such as Harry Potter or The Mysterious Benedict Society

Food

Usually on Thanksgiving Day, a turkey dinner is the main event and is served later in the day. This can be problematic for ADHD kids for 2 reasons.

The anticipation leading up to the meal can cause them to feel over excited or bored. A solution to this is to plan several things in addition to the meal for your child to look forward to. They do not have to be large things, perhaps watching the parade on the TV or their cousins arriving at 2pm. If they are feeling bored, suggest that they check out their busy box and find something in there to entertain them.

If they are hungry, rather than automatically replying ‘Wait for dinner,’  Elaine suggests considering if it is a fair request. If their last meal or snack was several hours ago, then it is fine for them to have a snack even if dinner is nearly ready. A hungry child is an angry child.

ADHD Medication

If your child usually takes ADHD medication, it can be helpful to set an alarm to remind you both when it is time to take them as the change in routine can mean that your usual reminders are not in place.

Elaine recommends deciding ahead of time if your child is going to take a medication vacation over Thanksgiving.  To help make that decision ask ‘What do the meds support my child with?’ If it is something school related then having a medication holiday might make sense.  However, if it is for symptoms  that are experienced in all areas of their life, then it might be helpful to continue the medication. Think what would be most helpful to your child and their experience during the holiday. Always speak with your child’s doctor before making changes to their medication.

Holiday Traditions and Connection

The importance of holiday traditions is much deeper than they seem.  Everyone sitting down to  watch the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV while the smells of cooking turkey wafts through the house, or using Great Grandmas pumpkin pie recipe might not seem significant; however, if your family has been doing this for generations, it is a way for your children to connect to their family history. Traditions provide structure and comfort that ADHD children love. It removes the anxiety of the unknown and gives them a framework of things to look forward to.

Elaine says “Thanksgiving is an opportunity to create positive memories that your children will have for the rest of their lives. It is also a time to build relationships, the whole point of holidays like Thanksgiving is connection. Solid relationships are the basis for the management of ADHD particularly in children.” 

A tradition Elaine’s family has is to go around the table and each family member says something they are thankful for. Even the very young children can take part in this. They really enjoy it and have meaningful words to contribute.

Quiet Time

If your child gets overstimulated or overwhelmed with the activity, noise and people during a holiday, select a place where they can go for some quiet time alone. If you are at home, their quiet spot might be their bedroom. If you are visiting with relatives, it can be helpful to pick out a spot together before the action begins. In their quiet spot they can disconnect from the social activities, read, have a little screen time, spend time with their comfort item or even meditate.

Is Thanksgiving Harder or Easier if You Have ADHD Too?

ADHD is often inherited so if your child has ADHD, there is a chance you do too.  I asked Elaine if Thanksgiving is easier or harder if a parent has ADHD too.  “It is a little bit of both, it can be easier because you have compassion and connect with their struggles, and you can create team expectations. For example, when you are about to go into a relative's home, you can acknowledge it might be hard ’I know this is going to be hard, but we will get through it.”

Sources:

Elaine Taylor-Klaus, Diane Dempster. Parenting ADHD Now, Easy Intervention Strategies to Empower Kids with ADHD. Althea Press. 2016

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