The holidays are an exciting time for many children but can also be an overwhelming time for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Here are some tips on how to handle the upcoming holiday season for parents and caregivers of children with ADHD.
1. Don’t make your child stand in line.
If you take pictures with Santa each year, don’t expect your child with ADHD to be able to wait in a long line. Try going on a weeknight near closing time or call the mall ahead of time to see if they can arrange a specific time for your child to have their picture taken. I took my daughter to a dinky little mall with much less traffic. Sure, we got a second-rate Santa, but there was virtually no lineup, he spent 10 minutes chatting with her, let her sit on his chair, and it was great.
2. Do get your child to create a visual letter for Santa.
Children with ADHD may have difficulty with fine motor skills, focus and concentration, so getting them to write a letter to Santa may be difficult. Instead, I handed my phone to my daughter and let her go wild taking pictures of toys at the toy store and when we got home, she picked a few, we printed them out, and she got to cut and paste them and decorate a letter for Santa.
3. Don’t put presents out.
Children with ADHD are impulsive and have a hard time waiting their turn. Putting wrapped presents under the tree or near the menorah that they have to look at every day and can’t open is torture and just plain mean. My advice is to keep them wrapped and well-hidden on a top shelf that they can’t reach or in the trunk of your car until it’s time to open. Just remember to bring any electronics inside so they don’t freeze in your car.
4. Do help them count down the days in creative ways.
Children with ADHD often live in the present moment. Time can be a challenging concept for them so informing them that there are so many days or weeks left until the holidays can leave them confused and frustrated. Help them count down the days by surprising them with a little gift each day perhaps with a December count-down calendar which you can buy or create.
The Elf on the Shelf is also a great idea for children with ADHD because they love trying to find the elf in a different spot every day and there’s a movie to go along with it that they can enjoy and watch over and over and over again. My daughter likes making all kinds of crafts for her elf and it really helps to pass the time until our official day of celebration.
5. Don’t force them to pick a toy to give to a less fortunate child.
I know, that sounds terrible, but what I really mean is that children with ADHD often have comorbid conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder which makes them extremely attached to their stuff and their toys in particular. To teach them about the spirit of giving, have them make a list of friends or family members they would like to give a gift to. My husband did this with my daughter and it worked really well.
They went around the house looking for items for each family member and wrapped them up and put them under the tree. Those are the presents you can keep visible which your child will guard fiercely from the cat’s claws and fingers of younger siblings. Watching your child’s face light up when they see the joy their gift brings to another will be priceless. Just make sure to tell your sister ahead of time that she doesn’t have to keep your four-inch red sparkly heels unless she wants to.
6. Do bring your child’s favourite meal to holiday dinner.
Many children with ADHD have sensory issues and only enjoy certain kinds of foods based on taste, smell and texture and even that can vary day to day and meal to meal. Understand your child’s needs and don’t force or expect them to eat grandma’s meat pies or your uncle’s famous turkey stuffing.
Whether you’re hosting or visiting, be ready to sport your momvocate hat in case anyone gives you the stink eye and use the situation to educate everyone on ADHD while placing your child’s favourite meal in front of them for holiday dinner. Don’t forget ADHD-friendly desserts without all that food colouring! And don’t make your child sit at the table in a straight chair if this is not how they usually eat dinner, which brings me to my next point.
7. Don’t expect your child to sit quietly through a religious service.
Please, please, think of your child. If they can’t sit still on a regular day, why would you expect them to sit on a hard bench for an hour or longer at a boring religious service just so you can keep with tradition? Think of your child. Find a child-friendly service, and even then, it may or may not work so bring along your child’s iPad and headphones, ignore the stares, or skip the service altogether and come up with your own fun religious tradition at home. Your god will understand.
8. Do assemble gifts before wrapping.
You’ve managed to keep the gifts hidden and now it’s time to bring them out for the big day. Your child is so excited and begins opening gifts and then starts crying and throwing a tantrum because it’s taking so long for daddy to find a screwdriver to open the battery case, and oops, mommy forgot to buy the batteries, and oh my gosh, this other toy needs to be charged for 12 hours, but you can’t deal with that right now because you’re busy going through the garbage bag looking for the instructions on how to assemble this other toy and your child is having a full on meltdown.
Moral of the story? Assemble the gifts and set up any electronic gifts prior to wrapping them knowing that a child with ADHD on sensory overload will have a hard time waiting for you to get your act together.
9. Don’t punish your child for a holiday meltdown.
Yes, the holidays are about giving and sharing and loving and spending time together, but just remember, your child with ADHD is still a child and though you are doing your best to teach them great qualities, remember that there’s a lot going on during the holidays and there can be a lot of people around and it can be very overwhelming for a child with ADHD who might have a meltdown or various meltdowns right in the middle of your holiday celebration.
Understand their needs and take them to a quiet area and don’t forget any fidget toys or items that help them to calm down like a weighted blanket, head phones or your soothing arms.
10. Do praise them for good deeds.
Positive reinforcement works wonders with children with ADHD who are constantly being told to stop moving, be quiet and focus. Catch them doing good deeds over the holidays, no matter how small, and praise them for it. It will boost their self-esteem and their mood.
11. Don’t force them to hug and kiss visitors.
Children with ADHD can have a hard time showing affection but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It’s a sensory thing and also a consent thing – for all children as a matter of fact. Don’t force your child to hug and kiss anyone they don’t want to and in particular for children with ADHD with sensory issues, give them the benefit of the doubt and screw Aunt Jane’s feelings. Educate her instead.
12. Do enjoy yourself!
Raising a child with ADHD is hard and you need a break so make sure to either sneak away at the appropriate time, leaving your partner or husband or friend or family member to watch your child for a couple of hours and go have yourself a drink or two and toast the holiday season and all your amazing work this year as an awesome parent.