The holidays can be like instant stress—just add water for most families! Relatives invade, parties and social engagements become more like obligations than good times, schedules go awry as time for shopping, socializing and other activities seem to take over. For a kid with ADHD, they often cling to their schedules and routines for stability, whether they seem to resist those things or not. Take those routines and schedules away or drastically switch them up, then it seems like utter chaos and confusion in an ADHD mind. Under that level of stress, a kid with ADHD may even seem to regress from all of the work achieved over the past year—behavior meltdowns and hyperactivity may soar to an all-time high, disorganization and distractions may overtake the routines that they have developed for months if not longer. Even social skills, reading social cues and remembering proper social etiquette may all get a little undone when other routines are upset. But, it’s all okay! It’s just the holidays, and there are several things that you and your family can do together to help your kid with ADHD cope and function at his or her best until the normal routine comes back into play.
- Talk to your kid. Make him or her aware well in advance that the family’s schedule and routine will be changing for the holidays, but that’s okay because you will work together to establish a new one for the holiday season, then you can return to the other schedule once the holidays are over. Remind him or her that just because certain schedules and routines may need to change a little that all of the other skills that he or she has been building over the year can still be applied.
- Role-play. Talk through specific scenarios that your kid may experience that could be tough for him or her such as being in a party with a lot of strangers, having a conflict with an older or younger relative, having to share space with overnight guests, etc. Going through possible complexities and difficult situations that could arise in advance will help your kid cope with these events in a positive manner because he or she is prepared for and somewhat expected the situation versus being caught off guard and angry by the unpleasant surprise.
- Schedule. Develop a new temporary schedule and routine. If there are overnight guests, where and when will everyone sleep, take showers, what time will meals occur, who will prepare them and what will the meals be? If there is a school vacation, will bedtimes change for a while, will limits on television and computers, etc. still be in effect? Will chores change, times of certain activities and other responsibilities? Work on changing this new schedule and list of routines together to allow your kid more ownership of these changes.
- Safety Net. Explain to your kid that you know even these schedule and routine changes can be difficult, not to mention the many social interactions that may be expected over the holidays. Give your kid a code word that he or she can use with you at any time, signaling that things are getting overwhelming and he or she may need to consult with you about feelings or a problem, may need alone time or may just need to head home because it’s too much to deal with right now. Let your kid know that under most circumstances that you will completely respect his or her needs, but there may be situations that cannot be addressed immediately, yet you will address them as quickly as possible. Discuss other coping skills your kid can use in the meantime if he or she can’t immediately get their needs met.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed by all family and friends, and with a little forethought and planning, your kid can handle all of the chaos and changes with you there as support.