Updated: May 8
By: Kimberly Harrison, Ph.D
Sometimes it can be tough to harness the energy of a hyperactive child during the school year, but the holidays bring about special challenges.
Changes in schedules and an abundance of over-stimulating activities can be difficult to manage. However, a little planning coupled with wisdom to change plans in the moment can bring about holiday magic! It’s important to remember that children with ADHD have to move and have to talk! They have a circular operating system, which makes them great at multi-tasking but not-so-great at staying on task. The ADHD brain is always looking for the next most interesting thing. And when the ADHD child is exhausted, they need to rest. With these things in mind, here are a few ways to help your child with ADHD thrive during the holidays:
Create a list of tasks which need to be done each day and then put them on slips of paper in a container. Your child can help with this. Ideas include gift-wrapping, cookie baking, baseboard cleaning, guest room decorating, centerpiece making, bed making, tree trimming, pillow fluffing, snowman-making, dishwasher emptying, etc. You can continually add slips of paper based on what needs to be done each day. Notice there are some “regular chores” mixed in with “fun chores.” Then, whenever your child is bored or looking for something to do, have them pull out a slip and do the job. The mystery makes tasks interesting. You can even assign points based on level of boredom (ex. cleaning baseboards = 3 points) and then have rewards assigned for various point totals.
Remember that over-stimulation can be difficult to manage, so create a plan, in advance, for calming activities which can quickly be incorporated when hyperactivity and impulsivity surge. For example, when going to dinner at the grandparent’s house, bring a holiday graphic novel or word search book and commandeer a spare bedroom in which to make a reading fort. Have time-outs as needed in the new, fun place.
Maximize the need to move and talk by assigning the role of emcee for the holiday gift exchange.
Have your child conduct interviews with older relatives to capture them on video. Work in advance to develop a list of appropriate interview questions.
If your child regularly takes medication to manage hyperactivity and impulsivity, don’t stop now. Being able to control themselves can help children with ADHD enjoy all aspects of the holidays much more than when they are governed by hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Make sure – no matter what – they get enough sleep.
Communicate your family holiday traditions in ways your child can embrace. Allow them to add to the story of your family in creative ways – maybe through singing carols, or perhaps by reading a traditional story, or helping cook a meal.
Extra energy and enthusiasm during the holidays can be very helpful. Helping your child manage their hyperactivity can add to your family’s joy this season! // For more parenting tips, check out my online video series "Conative Parenting: The Basics" to learn strategic, practical, and timeless parenting skills for your whole family.