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An Anxious, Hyperactive Countdown to the Holidays

Merry, hyperactive Christmas from my impulsive, anxious child to yours! Here’s how we’re coping with excess ADHD energy during the lead up to the holidays. How’s your family managing?

Oh boy, it’s that time of year again — when the excitement of the holiday season renders the medication my daughter, Natalie, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), takes virtually ineffective. No amount of stimulants can keep her calm during the countdown to a visit from Santa. And this year, a weeklong trip to San Diego with extended family over the holidays is adding to the anticipation-fueled hyperactivity.

Waiting for approaching events — whether anxiety-provoking, fun and exciting, or both — often triggers behavior changes in Natalie. She expresses giddy happiness through increased hyperactivity. Anxiety over what’s to come translates into a lack of self-control and increased impulsivity. I remember the lead-up to her first Girl Scout meeting, first Tae Kwon Do lesson, and several Christmases less than fondly.

Throughout the past year or so I hadn’t noticed this happening as much and I believed Natalie was outgrowing the problem. Last year she did great in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Ditto with the start of fourth grade. But this year, well, let’s just say Natalie has had an overabundance of Christmas spirit.

[Free Download: Holiday Survival Kit for Parents]

Natalie was having a hard afternoon at school on a recent Friday, so her classroom aide sent her to talk to one of the school’s special education teachers, Mrs. Carter, who has a gift for helping Nat feel safe and grounded. After talking with Natalie, Mrs. Carter chalked up the afternoon’s problems to excitement about our upcoming trip to San Diego. Natalie had just found out that Aunt Julie is going to take her to Disneyland for a day — just the two of them! And at home over the weekend, Natalie was extra loud and bouncing-off-the-walls-active.

The only way I know of to help with this issue is to ritualize the countdown. Each year Aunt Ann gives both of my kids an Advent calendar with chocolates hidden behind each window — Natalie loves to use this as a tool to countdown to Christmas. For other occasions we’ve made paper chains, allowing Natalie to remove one link daily. Time is an awfully abstract concept for a concrete thinker like Natalie. A paper chain can be used to represent time visually, which helps her understand that there really will be an end to the torture of waiting, and puts the length of that wait in perspective. One mistake we made this year was not upholding our usual family traditions. Since we’re going to be gone for a week, we didn’t get a Christmas tree or decorate the house. Sticking with our usual holiday routine would really have helped Natalie feel settled. Our bad.

Now I just need to come up with some special activities to mark the days from now until Christmas day — to fill the calendar with the baking of cookies, the making of treats for the reindeer, the buying of presents. Geez, that’s only enough to cover three days, and I’m out of ideas! Help!

[Note From the Editor: Perhaps Kay and others would benefit from this relevant ADDitude article, “Avoid Holiday Havoc: Help for Children with ADHD.”]

[The Ultimate Holiday Present Is…Your Presence]

How does your child with ADHD or similar conditions deal with anticipation? What strategies do you use to keep things as cool in your household as it outside during the holiday season?