Helping Your Child With ADHD Through the Holidays

Surviving (and Enjoying!) the Holidays

Holidays can create feelings of stress in both children with ADHD and their parents. Photo © Comstock Images

Reduce Holiday Stress: Parenting Your Child With ADHD

Changes to the regular routine; flashing, sparkly decorations and lights; people gathering together; lots of voices talking and laughing loudly; meals that require a longer time sitting still; long rides in the car to Grandma’s house; excitement interspersed with periods of boredom from the long time away from school; lots of surprises and stimulation; sensory and activity overload -– the holiday season is here!

Holiday time -- a time for celebration, joy, and family togetherness -- can also be a time of great stress for families of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Understanding the challenges the season can bring about and preparing ahead of time can often make a big difference. You may even find that with these proactive strategies, you will not only survive the holidays... but actually enjoy them!

6 Tips for Helping Your Child Through the Holidays:

1. Prepare Your Child. For a child with ADHD, one of the most difficult aspects of the holiday season is all the uncertainty and change brought about by different routines and unfamiliar transitions that can quickly lead to disruptive behaviors. It is important to actively prepare your child for these new situations. Give your child advanced notice and gentle reminders of upcoming changes so that he or she can better anticipate and prepare for changes.

2. Maintain Routines. Regular routines and schedules tend to fall by the wayside when the holiday season is in full swing. Whether you are traveling or staying home, it can be harder to keep the consistency and structure in place that is so important for a child with ADHD. Be flexible, but try to maintain daily routines and rhythms as much as is possible.

Be consistent and predictable with your child’s sleep schedule, snack and meal times, rules, reminders, rewards and discipline. Don’t forget to build in opportunities for regular physical activity, exercise and movement during the day as well.

3. Anticipate Triggers. It is helpful to proactively anticipate, prepare and modify environments that may trigger problematic behaviors. Know the situations that can be hard for your child and intervene early to change the environment so that your child is most successful. This may also mean moving your child away from a negative environment.

Talk with your child ahead of time and together figure out an “escape plan” in which your child can retreat to a quiet place when he or she becomes overwhelmed in situations. Modify and adjust the environment, as needed. In doing this, you are taking a proactive approach to helping your child to be successful and teaching positive coping skills, rather than being reactive to the behavior only after it has occurred.

4. Educate Relatives. There are a lot of misunderstandings and misperceptions about ADHD. Learning about ADHD and the unique ways it affects each individual is a process that takes time. Your own immediate family has likely spent a lot of time learning about the nature of your child’s ADHD, but extended family members may not be as informed and insightful. Take some time to talk about the difficulties and challenges your child faces in certain situations and provide information to these relatives about the most effective ways to respond.

Be aware that you may also need to provide increased supervision and monitoring to help your child during the holiday season, particularly during the unstructured times. An additional benefit of this increased supervision is the modeling that you will be providing to extended family members. Observing your interactions with your child and the modifications you make to his or her environment helps teach those family members positive ways to respond and support your child. Read tips from readers on Dealing With Misperceptions About ADHD.

5. Medication Planning. If your child is on medication to help manage symptoms of ADHD, be sure to discuss medication issues with your child’s doctor before the holidays. Some children benefit from adjustments to their medication schedule to fit the holiday routines. ADHD does not take a vacation. It is a neurobiological condition that is impairing across multiple settings. The holiday time can be particularly difficult because your child must cope with a changed routine, more distractions, unfamiliar transitions, increased excitement, sensory overload, different social situations, and less structured times. For most children with ADHD, the holiday time is not the time to take a medication break.

6. Get Back to Basics. Remember what the holiday season is all about! Enjoy being with the ones you love and the ones who love you! Express thanks, warmth, and love. If things begin to feel overwhelming or stressful, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Simplify. Ask for help when you need it. Readjust expectations. Delegate tasks. Take some time out for yourself. Celebrate!

Read more about Coping With Holiday Stress.


Richard Lavoie. It’s So Much Work To Be Your Friend: Helping the Child With Learning Disabilities Find Social Success. Touchstone. 2005.

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