Keeping the Peace at Holiday Gatherings
Sometimes having a child with ADHD can make get-togethers stressful. Follow these strategies for peaceful celebrations.
Think of the last celebratory meal you shared with your extended family — and your child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Was it a dream or a nightmare? If your answer is the latter, and your child played a part, here’s my advice.
- If your child takes medication, don’t stop it. Your child will likely need it to cope with the increased noise, activity, and excitement of the season.
- Plan behavioral strategies to deal with your child’s individual ADHD behaviors, particularly because medication may work less well when there is more stimulation.
- Is he hyperactive? Then be sure he has room to run around when he needs to. During those endlessly long, seated dinners, let him get up frequently to walk or even to help serve the meal.
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- Is he impulsive? Cousins running around and the high pace of activity might lead him to do and say things without thinking. You might need to provide increased supervision during the least structured times.
- Is she easily distracted with a short attention span? Sit next to her to help her refocus if necessary.
- Avoid sensory overload. Some kids with ADHD become overwhelmed by the stimuli of sounds, sights and activities they can’t filter out. They might become more irritable and tearful, or could just as easily become overly active and wild. Many will complain that it is too noisy or busy and that their head hurts.
If your child has experienced sensory overload in the past, it might be better to pass up family gatherings that involve a large or boisterous crowd, like a Fourth of July barbecue or an afternoon picnic in the church parking lot. If your child becomes overloaded on site, take a walk outside or to a quiet part of the house. Hold her and help her calm down and regroup. Perhaps another child could play a game with her in a quiet room.
Remember, ADHD is a neurological disorder that never takes a vacation. Your child goes through a lot every time his ADHD behavior lands him in hot water. If your child takes medication, be sure he or she is covered for special holiday events. If a dinner is expected to go late into the evening, plan the dosage to cover these hours. If you have family visiting and your child likes to get up early with the cousins, make sure early morning hours are covered too. In fact, it’s usually OK to use medication more frequently than usual during holidays. Discuss this issue with your child’s doctor to decide what’s best.