ADHD and the holidays

Are you dreading the holidays with your ADHDer?

Does the thought of spending time with friends and family scare the bejeebers out of you?

Well, if your ADHDer is anything like mine, then he (or she) is a handful at the best of times and I don’t blame you.

Like me, you probably also have- or have had- a dilemma with friends and family battling to deal with your ADHDer, or struggling to understand that ADHD is a disability.  And if you medicate your ADHDer then you’ve probably also had flak for doing so. Maybe your parents or family members “…don’t believe in ADHD…” and don’t agree with how you are treating the condition. Perhaps you even have close family and friends whom you haven’t even told about your child’s ADHD- for whatever reason…

The holidays make all this a lot more difficult than usual.

As it is, a simple Sunday lunch with the family can be a nightmare for ADHDers and their parents. In the holidays- even if you do not actually go away- you will most likely be spending a lot of time with close friends and family over the silly-season, so you can multiply the nightmare comparison by a factor of 10, at least.

You’d think an ADHDer would thrive in this season of noise and colour and excitement, but what it really does is make them needier when it comes to their demand for immediate gratification- and it makes them come across as even more hyper and disruptive than usual. ADHDers battle socially. They don’t read social cues and they cannot read body language. The bright lights, colours, crowds and the pressure to meet holiday deadlines and interact socially, quickly sends an ADHDer’s brain into overload. And this is when they become difficult to handle even for people who love and understand him.

One of the first things that fall by the wayside when Christmas holidays start is the daily routine. You sleep late, eat later, eat “junk”, shop, gallivant, visit friends and family, and in some families you no longer medicate* your ADHDer.

ADHDers desperately need their routine and structure. When they can predict their day, and they know exactly what’s going to happen and when, they are a lot more relaxed- they do best when expectations are clear and obvious. Try to stick to some kind of routine, for the whole family’s sake! You could change your routine to suit a more relaxed holiday mode but do try and keep a structure that your ADHDer can see and anticipate. And perhaps start preparing your ADHDer for a slightly different set of expectations for when the holidays start and he’s no longer getting up for school.

Stick up a visible calendar to countdown things like the start of the holiday, the day you leave for granny’s house, Christmas day, New Years’ Eve and the day you leave to come home again- and take it with you on holiday!

Whatever else you do- try and do your best to stick to your plans. And as tempting as it is, try not to say yes to everything!

Have a look at previous holidays and try to avoid situations that have led to meltdowns before. It may mean avoiding certain situations or even ignoring some traditions- but you can make it work for your family. Make new traditions! Allow yourself to make decisions that others may not understand for the sake of having a holiday that’s memorable for the right reasons.

Just like when you’re preparing your ADHDer for the start of a new term or school year, involve him in planning the holiday. Imagine if you yourself were told that you’d be leaving on a 2 week holiday in the morning- the night before you left! You’d be more than a little fed up at not knowing about it wouldn’t you? Well, an ADHDer brain takes a little longer to process information like this, and even if you’ve told him several times you’re going away- don’t stop doing so until you can be sure he has grasped it. Talk about it every night at dinner and include your ADHDer in the packing process so that he retains the information.

And all through the holidays try to make sure that your ADHDer gets enough sleep and enough water!

Preparation for criticism

You may also want to prepare yourself for some criticism or even disapproval from friends or family- especially the people you ONLY see at Christmas time.

Keep in mind that these people do not know your ADHDer as well as you do, and the first time they see him, he’ll be in his element! He’ll be polite and amiable and even you’ll be surprised by how well he’s doing… the next time he sees these people they’ll be boring and he’ll be back to his “normal” self very quickly. Everyone will wonder why he’s such a handful today when yesterday he was “fine”!

And if people know your ADHDer is medicated, then they will most likely tell you that they don’t understand why he’s medicated since they can’t see a problem with him. You may want to gently remind them that they don’t “see” any problem BECAUSE he’s medicated!

At some point someone will ask how your ADHDer is doing at school, or when he’s going to start “big school”, and we all know school is a touchy subject. If you do not share as much about your ADHDer’s life with your family as I do- and believe me I know it takes a long time to reach this point– then you might want to prepare some “answers” for these questions, and perhaps even rehearse some subject-change-techniques!

The most important thing is that you and your ADHDer have a holiday filled with happy memories, and with enough preparation it CAN happen.

You may want to read these articles too for more tips and advice:

Surviving ADHD During the Christmas Holiday

Christmas Craziness: Not Just for ADHD Kids

Reconnecting with Family and Friends

ADHD Holiday Help: House Rules for Children

Avoid Holiday Havoc: Help for ADHD Children

Happy Holidays — Really!

*this is not something I agree with, but that’s another post

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Angel Swemmer

Angel Swemmer

Angel Swemmer, a  mom to a teenage-almost-adult ADHDer and what I write is purely my opinion on things I feel strongly about, based on my experience as an ADHDer parent.

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