Christmas is one of those times of year that should be great, but in reality, is a source of great stress for many people. For families of children with ADHD, the changes in routine, build-up of excitement and the interminable ‘waiting’ is sometimes just too much. Here are 12 tips to support ADHD families through the festive period:
Add Christmas decorations gradually and keep them minimal
It’s fun decorating the house for Christmas but it can be really overstimulating for an ADHD child. One way to do it is very slowly, little by little so that a child can adjust to it. You might put up the tree but not decorate it for a week. You could try holding back a final decoration such as the Christmas tree star or not turning on lights until Christmas Eve to signal that it isn’t Christmas yet. Once Christmas is over, you may want to remove decorations over a period of time to allow your child to get used to it again. Another tip is to only add decorations in one or two areas of the house so that the rest of the house appears normal
As tempting as it is to fill the calendar with festive events and family visits, try to leave a few gaps. Doing something exciting every day can cause overstimulation for kids with ADHD that in turn causes them to misbehave. You must also consider carefully what might cause them anxiety. Something that might not seem very significant to you, might cause a child substantial stress. For example, a child may not like it if they don’t eat at home for a number of days. So be aware when you are busy that it’s best not to have something planned for every minute of every single day. Overplanning can be exhausting and lead to burnout for both children and adults. While most children love being active, they also find comfort in their home environment and they need time to recharge.
Find sensory-friendly events
Look out for events that are sensory-friendly to support children with sensory processing issues. You’ll find that there is an increasing number of Christmas activities such as visits to Santa that put on autism-friendly sessions or sessions at quiet times just for children with special needs. If you have booked any special Christmas events, it’s worth calling in advance to see if there are any adjustments that can be made to make them more inclusive and accessible for children with ADHD and/or other additional needs.
Stick to your routine as much as possible
A routine is really important for an ADHD brain. When you combine a change in routine with being somewhere new and the general excitement caused by Christmas, it can be overwhelming for some ADHD children. Where possible, make key events such as bedtimes and mealtimes as normal as possible. People often stay with other family members over Christmas but if this is too much for your child, discuss it with your family. Hopefully, people will understand and you can come up with an alternative plan.
Schedule quiet time
Christmas can be extremely tiring and sometimes we really feel the pressure especially if we are already tired. Remember that schools have a lot going on in the run-up to Christmas too with parties, plays and other special events. Children may need some recovery time at the end of the long term. Make sure you and your child schedule some quiet time as you will both need it. Plan some time to just relax and watch some Christmas TV. Children with ADHD can be ‘always on the go’ and there are times when parenting them is simply exhausting. It’s a good idea to take time out for yourselves; parents need downtime too, especially during long school breaks.
Ask your child
If your child is mature enough, make sure you ask them if there are festive occasions or situations that they think they will find difficult and plan together how you can make things a little easier for them. Remember you don’t need to focus solely on Christmas; plan activities around your child’s interests too. They will be engaged in what they’re doing and may welcome a distraction from the festive theme. It’s good to give up a little control sometimes and allow your child to make a few decisions about what they’re doing.
Don’t give too many presents at once
As much as children love ripping into a roomful of presents, it can overstimulate an ADHD child and cause them to be overwhelmed. You might want to give out gifts gradually over a few hours or even days. Just keep any you are holding back out of sight so your child is not constantly asking about them.
Being flexible is so important when your children are unpredictable. It’s hard when you’ve made plans that you know aren’t going to work and you’ve got to change them, but it’s worth it. Remember, the main goal should be to enjoy yourselves so don’t fret when things don’t turn out exactly as you imagined.
Reflect on the past
Think back to previous celebrations. If your child had a meltdown or found themselves in a situation they couldn’t handle, do you know what caused it? Is there any way you think you can avoid a repetition of a difficult situation? What tends to trigger your child? Once you know their triggers, you can work on avoiding them and be better prepared to deal with issues when they arise.
Prepare your child
Make sure your child knows in advance what they will be doing and where they will be going so you can manage their expectations and they can get their heads around what is happening. If you’re going somewhere new, show them photographs (if possible) so they know what it will look like. It’s key to prepare them but don’t do it too far in advance, especially if they are prone to anxiety.
Find your people
A great way to learn more about what works for children with ADHD is to ask other parents of ADHD kids. The UK ADHD Partnership has a list of national and local support groups that you might find useful. There are also online support groups you can find on Facebook. These are useful if you’d like to ask for advice from people who are in similar situations and will understand what you are going through.
Accept it won’t be perfect
Even the most perfectly perfect family is not perfect and neither will yours be. You won’t be able to avoid disruption and for many children meltdowns at this time of year are, unfortunately, inevitable. What you can do is try to de-escalate situations as quickly and smoothly as possible. Think of ideas to de-stimulate your child. They may respond to you sitting calmly with them and talking to them quietly. They may simply need time or a change of environment. Once they are calm again, reassure them that you understand and that you are not cross with them.
The overall message here really is to do Christmas your way and in your own time. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by friends or family members into doing activities or maintaining traditions that you know aren’t suitable for your family. Christmas won’t always be smooth and it might take you a number of years to work out what works best in your home. There will be hiccups and when your ADHD child is bouncing off the walls, remaining calm is much easier in theory than in practice! Everyone does Christmas differently anyway; you’ve just got to find your own way and do what you know is best for your family.
If you have found these tips useful, you might like our blog about 7 Strategies for Parents of Children with ADHD.
If you’d like to find out more about our child ADHD assessment and ADHD treatment options, then please contact us at the ADHD Centre on 0800 061 4276 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.