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Tips For A Happy Holiday Season With Your ADHD Child

The holidays can be very stressful for families with ADHD children.  Below is an article with helpful ways to approach the Holiday season, authored by Dr. Jose Zaglul.  You can also find the article on pg 73 in the December/January edition of  NextGen Magazine: http://www.nextgenmagazine.org/current-issue/.


The Holidays can be a trying time for some families with ADHD children. The loss of routines, numerous gatherings with family and friends, and the frequent bombardment from advertisers, about the latest toys and gadgets that your child should have, can trigger situations of tension and turmoil.

The best way to prepare for the Holidays is to be prepared all year. If you have an adequate system to deal with your child throughout the year, you should be able to navigate the Holidays with ease.  If you have been implementing appropriate, flexible but clear rules and routines at home, and if appropriate limits are set throughout the year, few adjustments are required to make at the time of the Holidays.

Not every child with ADHD will have a problem during the Holidays. In fact, for some families, the Holidays provide a reprieve, as they don’t have to deal with the demands of school and homework. At the same time, some children with ADHD may do well in social situations, while others don’t.

So the first rule is to know your child and prepare accordingly. What are the things that can trigger a meltdown? What activities does he enjoy? Which activities can he tolerate and for how long? Will he need snacks if the dinner is going to be late? Can he tolerate being around a group of adults that he or she does not know? Knowing this can help you prepare for family gatherings and your family may be able to prepare and make accommodations for him.

It is also important to prepare your child. Depending on their age, make them aware of the plans and what to expect, in a language appropriate for their age. Let them know if there are changes in plans with enough time for them to assimilate the news, especially if it is an activity that they were looking forward to. Having said this, please don’t over-do it! At times we give too many explanations when simple information is enough. When you explain too much you run the risk of getting into power struggles.

Let’s talk now about medications and medication holidays. ADHD is not only a condition that affects your child in the school setting, but it can severely affect family life and the
interaction of the child with peers and family, with significant implications for your child’s self-esteem. While ADHD does not disappear during the holidays, some parents stop the medication during this time and during vacations, especially when their child’s appetite or sleep is affected by the medication. Most child psychiatrists recommend using the medication throughout the year, but having a drug holiday may be appropriate in situations mentioned above. My rule of thumb here is, if when you stop the medications, your child’s behavior deteriorates to the point that he needs frequent redirection, is always in trouble, acts very impulsively or has problems with his peers, then it is better to continue the medication without a drug holiday.

In terms of toys and the demands of your child for some specific toys, let’s go back to the beginning of this article.  The Holidays are not the time to start to set limits about what toys to buy, when to use it or what type of video game your child is allowed to use. Those rules should have been in place already.

It is true that even when the bombardment from advertisers is there throughout the year, it intensifies during the Holidays. Without getting into too much explaining, be clear with your child about what the reasonable expectations are, in terms of the toys they may get. Set rules for when the presents are going to be opened at home and explain to them what to expect if this is going to happen at grandma’s house.

There is more information available on toys and activities that are appropriate for ADHD children. A very good source of information is at the CHADD website. If you have not yet joined CHADD, I highly recommend you do this.

Finally, there is a “No grounding rule” for the day of the specific Holiday. Thanksgiving and Christmas only comes once a year. Unless your child “burns the house”, try your best not to ground them on those days. A shorter time measure, like restricting the use of one of the toys for as short as half an hour, longer for an older child, may help the child regain composure and help you all have Happy Holidays!!!

• Dr. Jose Zaglul, M.D, is Medical Director at Florida Clinical Research Center,

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