Thanksgiving is a time of family, togetherness, celebration, and food. But Thanksgiving holiday celebrations can be challenging for children and adolescents with ADHD. Changes in routine, overstimulation, boredom, and disruptive behavior are all common to kids with ADHD during big family get-togethers, which can make the holiday very stressful for parents and children. Here are some tips that can make the family get-togethers less stressful for families with ADHD:
1) Don't make your kids sit longer than they are capable of. Its a holiday, but that doesn't mean that kids' ADHD takes a holiday, Many children with ADHD have difficulty sitting in one place for too long, and fidgeting can be disruptive to those around them. Allowing kids with ADHD to get up from the table and take breaks when they need to can make family dinners more enjoyable for everyone.
2) Boredom is the enemy of ADHD. Make a plan with your kids for how to stay entertained through travel, waiting for meals to be prepared, long dinners, or any other parts of the holiday that can be challenging.
3) Kids with ADHD are often easily overwhelmed and overstimulated. Come up with a 'code word' and escape plan if your child needs some time away from the main gathering. Let them play in the backyard, take them for a walk around the block, or even put them in the car and go get something from the store. This can give them a chance to calm down and 'regroup'
4) Let your hosts or guests know if your kid with ADHD is going to need any extra help or accommodations. Accommodations aren't just for school, they can be necessary at home too. It is better if hosts/guests are aware in advance of what your child will need, it is less disruptive if you have to make unanticipated accommodations for your child.
5) Many kids with ADHD struggle with transitions, disruptions to routines, or changes in the schedule. Try to help plan out a schedule with your child in advance, but also make sure that you and your child are prepared if the schedule changes (i.e., have snacks in case dinner comes out late, give your child a 'heads up' if you will be early, etc.)
6) Kids with ADHD may not eat as much if they are distracted, even if it is a food they normally like. If this is common for your kid, make a plate and set it aside so they can eat later if needed.
7) Don't be afraid to parent your child with ADHD the way they need to be parented. Children and adolescents with ADHD often need different parenting approaches then other children. Parents may feel self-conscious about using ADHD-specific parenting techniques, and fanily and friends may be unfamiliar with these techniques.
8) At the same time, it is OK to 'take a break' from more rigid behavior management approaches if it will be more relaxing or fun for you and your child. One day of inconsistency is not going to undo any progress. And it is OK to allow relatives to 'spoil' them a bit even if it is not what you usually would do.
9) Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, so this is a great time to tell your child how you are thankful for them. ADHD is a challenge but can also be a gift, and it is always a good time to let your child know that you are thankful for them just the way they are!
Kids with ADHD hear this every day – often many times a day. But have you ever stopped to think about what we are really asking them to do? Or why they have so much trouble doing it? Paying attention actually requires kids to do 3 things – 1) Know what they are supposed to pay attention to, 2) NOT pay attention to anything else, and 3) Keep paying attention. Kids with ADHD have trouble in all 3 areas:
1) Knowing what to pay attention to requires an ability to distinguish between important and unimportant details (like reading the instructions instead of just looking at the questions). Kids with ADHD have a lot of trouble with this because it requires working memory – the ability to hold multiple types of information in your head at one time. Kids with ADHD often have delayed development of working memory.
2) Kids with ADHD also have attentional impulsivity – essentially, they are impulsive in where their attention goes. Our attention is naturally drawn to strong stimuli – like loud noises, bright lights, and other people. We have to actively try to ignore these things. But kids with ADHD have much more trouble ignoring these things because they have less control of their attention. This is part of why they are so distracted by other kids and things like video games. In fact, kids with ADHD have a hard time drawing their attention AWAY from video games. This is why many kids with ADHD have trouble paying attention to most things, but ‘hyperfocus’ on video games. Its because they cant stop paying attention to video games.
3) Finally, kids with ADHD have a hard time keeping their attention on things. It takes a lot of energy to ignore distraction and keep focusing on something else. Kids with ADHD have to work much harder to do this. Think of the attention system as a muscle. If a typical kid is lifting 25 lbs to pay attention, a kids with ADHD is lifting 100 lbs. So their attention system burns out much quicker, and they lose the ability to keep paying attention.
So what can you do? a) Make sure to direct their attention to the important parts of a task, don’t assume they will be able to figure it out. b) Use a cue to bring their attention back – like tapping them on the shoulder or tapping their desk. Use something that draws their attention to you, and then direct it back to where it needs to be. c) Give them shorter assignments and more frequent breaks. Instead of asking them to do 30 problems, have them do 3 sets of 10 problems with a break in between. That way they don’t have to pay attention for as long.
These are just a few simple suggestions, there are many more strategies that can help kids with ADHD do their best to concentrate and stay on task. Hopefully, knowing a little more about why this is a problem can help you come up with some of your own tricks and strategies!