Holiday & Travel Planning

The “Peanut Butter” Fix for Thoughtless Relatives

Does your ADHD make you anxious during family gathering? Here are expert tips to help you make those once-dreaded family gatherings lots of fun.

Expert tips to help you survive dreaded family gatherings during the holidays.
family members gather around fire during holiday visit

Samantha adores her family. But for years the prospect of family get-togethers filled her with dread. The intricate planning needed to pull off such gatherings made her anxious. She worried that her ADHD would make it hard to hold her own in conversations with far-flung family members, many of whom she didn’t know well. Inevitably, one of her relatives would make an insensitive or cutting remark, to which she didn’t know how to respond. She wound up deflated, resentful, angry.

No longer. Now, if a relative uncorks a zinger, Samantha smiles and says, “Peanut butter.” It stops people every time. What can one say to a non sequitur like that?

Here’s how to make the most of your next family outing:

  • Don’t assume you’re the only one in your family who has ADHD. The disorder has a hereditary basis. If you have it, odds are, one of your relatives does too. If someone behaves inappropriately or says something offensive, consider the possibility that this person may mean no harm. Comments that seem harsh or cruel may simply be unfiltered.

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  • Watch for medication lapses. If you or someone else at the gathering takes ADHD medication, see to it that everybody’s symptoms are covered throughout. Nothing makes for a more “interesting” family get-together than having several folks come off their medication at the same time. If possible, schedule the gathering for a time of day when a lack of coverage is unlikely.
  • Get help with child care. Even in situations where there are plenty of adults around to watch the kids, it’s often a good idea to hire a baby-sitter or two. The extra help will allow you to interact with other adults without any of you having to keep an eye on the kids.
  • Keep background noise to a minimum. People with ADHD often have trouble communicating in noisy environments. When conversing with others, don’t stand close to a band, loudspeaker, or other source of sound. If you’re particularly sensitive to noise, invest in a noise-canceling headset, such as the ones made by Bose. If anyone gives you a funny look, just tell the truth.
  • Take breaks as needed. Talking and listening take a lot of energy. If you grow tired of talking, take a break and join a game of catch.

[Read This: Turn Holiday Hassles Into Holiday Hurrahs]

Many people with inattentive ADHD find high-energy social events too much to handle for very long. If you find yourself overwhelmed, find a quiet place where you can regroup. Take a walk, run an errand, or lie down for a nap.

If your ADHD is the hyperactive type, physical activity will burn off some excess energy. Lend a hand in the kitchen, play with the kids, or serve drinks. David used to feel trapped in the family room as relatives went on and on with their stories. But once he gave himself permission to take short exercise breaks, he found he actually enjoyed his relatives’ tales.

  • Prepare in advance to handle zingers. Imagine that someone says “You look really healthy, like you’ve put some flesh on,” or “You need to do a better job of disciplining your child.” How will you respond? You might simply smile and say “Thanks for caring about me.” If all else fails, you can always utter your own version of “peanut butter.”

[Get This Free Resource: Managing Your Time During the Holidays]