During the holidays, routine and structure go out the window: A child with ADD or ADHD might have to endure long travel times or sit politely at the dinner table for extended periods, and parents have less control of diet and sleep. Planning for these holiday side effects — and developing strategies to avoid the havoc of seasons past — is helpful for the ADHD child and his parents.
Decide how the days will be spent — throwing parties, decorating, visiting relatives, preparing holiday treats — and set up a schedule with some flexibility built into it in case your child needs downtime. Sketch out each phase of the holidays, including all "free" time when your child might be playing with other children or relatives. Now, given what you know about your son or daughter's behavior, flag the activities that could cause a problem for him or her. Amend the schedule if necessary.
If your son or daughter is on medication, talk with your doctor about possibly extending the coverage to 24 hours during the holiday season. Increasing time on medication can maximize your child's enjoyment of the season and reduce holiday stress during this high-energy period. No matter what, discuss with your child the following coping strategies for a holiday the whole family can celebrate.
Giving a child some tools for self-control can prevent an overreaction from becoming a temper tantrum. Relaxation techniques — yoga and breathing exercises, for instance — can help a child who is easily upset by a highly charged atmosphere. Also, give your child some verbal cues to keep him in a positive state of mind. When facing a crowd at a relative's house or given the task of sitting politely at the table, whisper to him, "I know you can do this. It'll only be a short time out of the day."
Children with ADD can benefit from practicing calming down at home before venturing out into holiday bedlam. Use a "stop, relax and think" technique with your child, or try role-playing a scenario that has given her trouble in the past. Or, have your child ask you or your partner for help at the onset of conflict with a relative or friend. In time, just walking toward the parent could help her to calm down.
Don't include everything
Too many events can overstimulate an ADD child. Decide which occasions are most important, and don't overload the schedule. Include private playtime or an outing to a child-friendly restaurant with a friend to provide some one-on-one fun for your child. Also, spending time together in a quiet corner of the house or taking a short walk can head off a tantrum in a child. If you're planning to spend several days visiting a relative, consider staying at a hotel instead of sleeping over. This will give your child built-in breathing space. To avoid hurt feelings, explain to your family why you're not bunking with them.
Build happy memories by enlisting your child to help cook the holiday meal with you, create decorations or wrap gifts and packages. Such activities strengthen the bond between children and parents.
Encourage good attitudes
Commending a child's good behavior reminds him of his strengths and increases his confidence that he can manage whatever the holiday throws at him. Is your child a joker? Have him read a book of riddles to family members. Does she have a knack for magic tricks? Let her amaze the crowd after dinner. Reminding children of their past successes will set them up to succeed this year.