The holidays are stressful for everyone. For kids with ADHD, the change in schedule and increased social interaction can be enough to trigger a serious meltdown — one that can leave both the child and parent feeling disappointed and embarrassed.
“Meltdowns always seem to happen around social events,” says Kelly Biltz, a Pinehurst ADHD Life Coach, who helps clients with ADHD through her coaching business, Loving GrADDitude. “You’ll have your holiday table set, everyone settles in, and your child is either acting out or locked in their room. It happens all the time.”
As a mom to a son with ADHD, Kelly knows that those with the diagnosis often have trouble processing sensory information and handling transitions, both of which are prevalent during the holiday season. So how can caregivers help set their children up for success? Here are some of Kelly’s favorite tips:
1. Front load as much as possible.
A week prior to the event, start telling your child exactly what is going to happen. When and where will you be traveling, or who will be visiting? What’s the schedule?
“When you take all the noise, all the cousins playing together, the sights and the smells of it all, that can lead to a massive meltdown. If it does, you’re going to feel disappointed with your child and they’re going to be disappointed with themselves, because they haven’t been set up to succeed.”
Be as thorough and specific as possible, so your child can prepare for what’s expected of them and the situation/environment they will be involved in. Their brain requires more time to process a change in plan and routine. The more they know, the better!
2. Maintain some sense of normalcy.
During the holidays, both kids and adults often stay up later, get up later, and forget to eat regularly — then crash because they’re hungry and tired. Most kids who have ADHD melt down before mealtimes and bedtime, which can really alter how you feel about the day. Even if everything else goes by the wayside, keeping those two things on as close to a normal schedule as possible will help your family maintain their sanity.
3. Give them a space to decompress.
This is a space to which your child can retreat when they are feeling overwhelmed; a space that’s just for them, whether it’s in your home or one you’re visiting. “You figure out what that space is and what it means to you and your child,” Kelly says. “It’s about you being their champion, and knowing that they have someone in their corner who is going to help them succeed.”
Need more tips for navigating the holidays? Kelly has put together a Holiday Survival Guide — Jingle all the Way with ADHD — that covers everything from travel to family gatherings to helping students stay focused during this busy time. To receive tips as they're released, sign up on her website at https://lovinggradditude.com/elf/. The first email will be sent out November 18th.