Helping kids with AD/HD behave during the holidays
A two-part strategy of preparing your child and preparing the situation will make your family vacation fun for all.
By Kristin Stanberry
If your child has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), you probably know how difficult it can be for him to transition from one situation to another. He feels most secure and behaves best when life follows a regular schedule. Just as he's settled into his regular routine, along comes the holidays or vacation — turning his schedule upside down! How can you prepare him for such challenges? Can you help him manage his behavior so he has a fun and successful season?
Planning makes (almost) perfect
Rick Lavoie, a nationally recognized authority on learning disabilities, often quotes the adage, "Prepare the child for the situation, and prepare the situation for the child." This two-part strategy is effective and well worth the time you'll invest. Let's break the strategy into its key components:
- If you tell a child with AD/HD what to expect in a new situation, he'll feel less anxious and better prepared for it. Once he's in the situation, he'll probably behave better because there won't be many surprises. You may want to warn him that sometimes plans change unexpectedly but that you'll help him cope with any changes that arise.
- Preparing the situation for the child is equally important. First, anticipate situations that might trigger your child's worst behavior. Then make arrangements and backup plans to support his appropriate behavior.
While preparing ahead is key, so is giving your child gentle reminders throughout your vacation or holiday season. As always, be prepared to reward your child's patience, efforts, and flexibility - wherever you happen to be.
Holidays and vacations at home
If you plan to spend your holidays or vacation at home, be aware that your child's moods may swing from periods of boredom to bouts of over-excitement. Help him anticipate special events by marking them on a calendar and reminding him as they draw near. Even though your child will be in his own home, prepare the scenario for him.
For example, if you plan to cook a holiday dinner for your extended family, arrange for one of your child's favorite relatives to "buddy" with him while you're busy. Decide which family activities (like religious services) your child is expected to participate in. Be sure to build in "escape routes" for him, so he has a quiet place to go when situations or his feelings overwhelm him. Work with him to decide how and where he can retreat. Gently remind him of this coping strategy throughout the holiday season.
Taking trains, planes, and automobiles
If you plan to travel as a family, there are several ways to prepare your child:
- Show him a map of the route you'll take.
- Mention the interesting sites and scenery you'll see along the way.
- Talk about how many miles you'll travel and how long the trip will take.
If he's never traveled by plane, bus, or train before, spend extra time telling him what to expect at the airport or station, as well as on board or in flight. And be sure to warn him about "travel transitions" such as connecting flights.
Before your trip, let your child choose toys, games, and books to take along. This ensures he'll be entertained during travel. It also gives him a sense of security and choice. For his sake (and your sanity!) be sure to include items such as:
- Books, puzzle books, and hand-held games.
- Audio-cassette or CD player (with individual headphones) for listening to music or books on tape.
- A small ball or Frisbee for on-the-road exercise breaks.
Like many kids with AD/HD, he may chatter non-stop about sights and scenery he sees along the way. Dictating his comments into a tape recorder will keep him busy while you concentrate on driving or navigating.
On road trips, take frequent exercise breaks. Help your child transition from "play" time to "driving" time by telling him, "You have 10 more minutes to play. Then we have to drive some more." In airports and train stations let him walk and explore as much as is safely possible.