Family Travel & Holidays

Q: “How Do We Avoid Family Drama and ADHD Ignorance This Holiday Season?”

ADHD family drama is a common byproduct of holiday gatherings featuring generational differences and ignorance about attention deficit disorder. Here, learn how to devise a “rescue plan” in case relatives cross your child’s boundaries, and follow these tips to help older family members understand your child with ADHD, and vice versa.

Q: “My teens dread holiday gatherings because difficult family members of older generations will often misread their ADHD-related behaviors. I want nothing more than to bridge these generational differences and avoid family drama. How can I help my teens manage stress and keep relatives from trying to ‘fix’ my kids?”


Extended family members may not understand teens who are out-of-the-box thinkers, including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning differences, anxiety, and so on. Instead of considering and honoring their differences, these relatives often unload unfair judgments and expectations on teens.

Being around extended family may trigger your own intense emotions, blinding you to your kids’ needs in the moment. So talk to your teens about how you can best support them well before a family gathering. Create a rescue plan with these tips in mind:

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  • Talk openly with your teens and brainstorm solutions and coping strategies.
    • Ask them, “What really irritates you about Grandma?” Understanding how your children feel (maybe Grandma asks intrusive questions) will help you to redirect Grandma’s attention.
    • Encourage them to take a timeout when they’re feeling overwhelmed during a gathering.
  • Have a plan for what your children can do when relatives cross personal boundaries. Develop talking points and have teens practice them. Determine when you should step in, if needed.
  • Review basic social behaviors with your teens, such as polite greetings and eye contact. Teach them basic table manners that elderly relatives might appreciate, like placing napkins in their laps, taking their elbows off the table, and waiting to eat until everyone has been served.
  • Steer clear of controversy. Sometimes, teens want to discuss controversial topics that can lead to a heated difference of opinion among family members. Be ready to propose neutral topics instead, such as movies, books, fun activities, or pets.

Foster Engagement

Help relatives understand your teens by sharing some of their daily challenges, without oversharing personal details. Keeping relatives up to date on your teens’ goals, actions, and states of being will lead family members to be more understanding and compassionate.

Coach relatives on ways to engage successfully with your teens, so they can connect on some level. For example, when confirming plans with your extended family, mention movies your children love, activities or sports they’re participating in, or a new book series they started reading.

Also, be sure to notice when your kids help with tasks and show initiative — perhaps they set the dinner table or hung up relatives’ coats. Pay attention to what they do right and offer a high-five, a thumbs-up, a hug, or thanks. This encourages teens to continue positive behaviors.

ADHD Family Drama and Holiday Gatherings: Next Steps


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