5 Tips to Survive the Holidays Parenting an ADHD Child

Going over the river and through the woods to be with relatives during the holiday season isn’t always easy if you have a child who struggles with an invisible disability like ADHD. You may experience being besieged by unwanted and unhelpful advice, which may leave you feeling alone.

Many of us, as we spend more time with our child inside classrooms, at holiday parties, school recitals, and theater performances, experience being the parent of “that kid.”  You know, the parent of the kid who fidgets throughout the entire performance, tells his choir director he is bored and blurts out what he is feeling at that given moment. Maybe you are the one with the child who has the beautiful voice, but she has chosen to sing her own words. Or maybe you are working with other parents inside the classroom to play the “chosen” holiday game, and your child has a meltdown because his classmate is winning and he’s not. And here comes the advice. You’ve heard it before, “Why can’t your child just behave, maybe you need to put him in time out more, take a privilege away, be a better parent, etc.” It’s always something you can be doing better. And there you are again feeling like you are not doing enough.

You are not alone.  Sometimes it feels as if people have little room to be compassionate and kind to kids with ADHD. Many times other parents just don’t understand what it is and how it affects a child’s brain. It is important to know that blurting out, lashing out and hitting, driving too fast, failing a test due to too much emotion or jumping off a playmates couch and breaking it are all typical examples of self-regulation issues the ADHD child faces. 

Self-regulating behavior is a challenge and when the child experiences incidents of poor self-regulation it shows up in his or her body and mind. And every action results in an emotion. A trigger, circumstance, or desire emerges for the child, which produces an automatic emotional reaction. These emotions often impact the child’s ability to self-regulate and ultimately affect behavior.

It’s hard to remember all this when faced with relatives who intervene and have something to say about your child’s every behavior.    It’s heartbreaking to think children with ADHD grow up believing they are “bad” or “not smart.” We all need to work together to change their narrative. So in the spirit of the holiday season, let’s make a goal to be less judgmental and have more awareness of others’ differences.

Think about that critical thought you are having and how it might feel if someone said it to you. Filter what you are saying online or in text messages. Let’s make a promise to look for the good in everyone’s child and try to model understanding even when we cannot relate to the behavior. Children do try, and parents are doing their best.

So as you embark on this season of perpetual parties and family gatherings, think about some things you as a parent need to help you support your child to be his best self. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to change the plan to do what your ADHD child needs to thrive. If you need to stay at an event for a short time, alter or reduce the planned activities for the day, or even stay at a hotel instead of a family’s guest room, it’s okay. Remember environment has a profound effect on the child’s symptoms, and you want to set the child up for success.

  2. Have a place or a pre-arranged strategy to allow for some space and escape advice.  Give yourself a break when relatives and friends become too intense and have a ready network of support to reinforce that you are doing your best and you are working to help the child long term. Rome was not built in a day.

  3. Don’t be afraid to educate your family. Maybe they need a copy of Driven to Distraction in their stocking?  Don’t be shy about asking relatives and grandparents to try to understand or call them in advance to ask for support, not advice.

  4. Have a ready response to unwanted advice such as, “I understand where you are coming from, but we are working on it.” Or, “I appreciate your feedback, and I’ll consider if that is right for my son.” You could also try, “That’s an interesting opinion, but I prefer to do it this way.” Or even just say, “I’m really not looking for advice right now, thank you.”  

  5. Try to focus on the good the child is doing and remind others to do so.  Praise the child for the things he did well, for example, is he kind to younger children, did he shovel grandma’s driveway, is he helpful carrying bags, did he use strategies you have worked on? Remember everyone is working on something—even the child who may not have danced down the aisle of the school pageant to his own tune. Maybe he needs to work on kindness and compassion, you never know.