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Navigating the Holidays!

The holidays bring us excitement, memories, and unfortunately too often for families impacted by ADHD, stress and frustration.  With an understanding of why the holidays can wreak such havoc for a child with ADHD and a few simple strategies, you can learn not only to manage this busy time of year, but to enjoy the festive season.

It is critical to understand what is happening in the ADHD brain.  This knowledge can bring about a new level of awareness into the “why” of your child’s behavior.

  • The ADHD brain loves all things exciting and holidays can be very stimulating. Remember the ADHD brain loves extremes and this is one of them!
  • Beyond just the excitement in the air, there are schedule changes, special events, and even school becomes more exciting. This can exacerbate all symptoms of ADHD.
  • The ADHD brain tends to get fixed on things that are very stimulating, which can show through meltdowns, frustration, extra energy and excitement and sleep changes.

So now what? What are you supposed to do to help lessen the meltdowns at parties, the stress that comes along with school work and often more family and friend events and the all-consuming frenzy of the season? Our favorite time tested tips are below!

  1. Keep a routine “Flow” to your days, weeks, and months during the holiday season
  • It is best to stick to a daily routine as best you can. Don’t throw your usual schedule out the window– your child needs it!
  • Keep in mind, routine does not necessarily mean a strict schedule.

Routine refers to the “flow of the day” where expected events occur in a particular order.  For example, bath always comes after dinner and after bath, it’s time to read a book.  During this busy time of year you may find that certain parts of the routine need to be cut short or taken out completely.

  • Time is the major disruption during holidays. Dinner may happen after a school concert or basketball practice may be cancelled. The key is to keep the flow consistent so your child can rely on the expectations of what is to come.
  1. Prepare your child for changes with consistent reminders and visuals
  • When changes to schedule are inevitable during the holiday season, prepare your child in advance.
  • We like to find consistency in how the changes are communicated, as well.

State the changes at the same time every day. Perhaps this is a review of the daily calendar of the breakfast.

  • As always, the ADHD brain thrives on repetition. Pair the verbal schedule changes with a visual. This can be anything from a highlighted calendar to a bright post it note placed in his/her agenda.
  • It is also helpful to come up with a cue word that will alert your child to a change that may be occurring to give their brains a moment to process that there will be a change and they are being prepared for it.


  1. “Teach the Unknown”
  • With all of the exciting events that go along with the holidays, children with ADHD are bound to be thinking about “What’s next”. They get stuck on future events and have difficulty focusing on the task at hand while they sit and wonder what is to come in the afternoon.
  • Help your child “Stay present” and focus on the task at hand by “Teaching the Unknown”. Teaching the unknown means to give them all the possible information they could have about an upcoming event.
  • Include, where it will be, how he/she will get there, who will be there, what he/she will do while they are there and how long it will last. Try to answer all questions they may have and fill in as many blanks as possible.
  • If you don’t have an answer to the particular question, tell you child how you will find out that answer. Will you call a neighbor to see if their child is attending?


  1. Schedule “Talking Time” with your child each and every day
  • Talking time is important everyday but can be very helpful to gauge how your child is managing all of the ups and downs holidays can bring. This allotted time provides a time where they can count on being listened to.
  • Have a set “Talking Time” every day so it become part of your child’s routine flow. For teens you may want this time to be when you know you will be in the car or when they are getting ready to go to bed.  Standing outside of a bathroom door can work well for those who don’t really want to talk at all!
  • Many people wonder if children get too anxious if they learn about the events too soon. You know your child so trust your instincts, but the vast majority of people thrive on information.  Anxiety is largely based on the unknown and “what if” questions, so if you can eliminate those stressors during talking time, you can help decrease your child’s anxiety.
  • If they don’t have anything to add during “Talking time,” try asking the following questions: What was the best part of your day? What was something you didn’t like about today?  What are you looking forward to?

Expectations for adults as well as children are too often amped up during the holiday season.  This year perhaps you may decide to do less, try out new strategies and enjoy all that comes with this time of year!


Mom's Choice, ADDA, CHADD, ACO

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