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by Clare B. Jones, PhD
PARTIES! RELATIVES! PRESENTS! NO
SCHOOL! Weather changes! New plans! Visitors!
Traditions! Social gatherings!
Remember last holiday season, when you vowed “never again!”?
When the pressure of the season and so many things to do really got to
you? Well, those days are back. The holidays are upon us and most
families have begun to feel the excitement and yet the pressure of too
many things to do and too little time.
Families coping with the challenges of ADHD may find the holiday season
even more stressful. The marked variability in behavior patterns of
individuals with attention disorders, from day to day and moment to
moment, seems to escalate during the celebration season when the
inconsistency of schedules becomes the status quo. Parents and relatives
can help children with ADHD by understanding that the frenzy of the
holiday season will affect their kids’ daily lives and by
expressing some empathy for what they are going through.
Many behavior problems with active children can often be improved by
explaining new situations before they occur. When there is to be a
change in the routine, children with ADHD need to have the change
described in detail and in advance. Tell children what is coming,
offering encouragement before and after the change. For example,
“We’re going to have to go back to the grocery store; you
will sit in the cart. I need you to carry this list for me, so I
don’t forget anything this time. If you do a good job, you can
pick out your own fruit from the counter.”
Model behaviors you expect from the child when you know a challenging
time is ahead. Example: “The guests will be coming around six
o'clock tonight. Let’s practice how you will greet them and how
you can help with their coats when they come in the door.” Act as
if a real guest has arrived. When you see the child exhibiting an
appropriate behavior, praise the child immediately. Example: “It
is so nice to see what a big helper you are. Thanks for being such a
You have some idea what is ahead for your family during the coming
season. Think ahead to social situations that may be difficult. Try to
plan in advance a variety of “cooling off” activities that
can help you gain control of your active child during these stressful
times and make it a more enjoyable experience.
Here are some suggested cooling-off children’s activities to
review and prepare before the chaos sets in.
With a small child, the
cooling-off activity could be as simple as “come and sit on my
lap.” Put on some seasonal music and sing along softly
stroking the child’s neck and shoulders.
Turn on some seasonal music and
encourage the child to dance or march. Provide colorful silk
scarves, fabric or crepe paper streamers to wave as part of the
Leave an extra bowl of cookie
batter (that you do not intend to cook) in the refrigerator and let the
child mix and work with it.
Give your child a special treat that he or
she particularly enjoys. You might make a game of giving
the treat and then sitting down and enjoying it with your child as a
cooling off activity.
The use of a massage or warm
bath can also be helpful. Let the child apply lotion or talcum
powder to his or her arms and shoulders.
Have a marshmallow
fight. Using small bite-size marshmallows. Clear a room of
breakables and allow kids to toss them at one another. Play music and
stop it sporadically. When the music stops, kids must sit down and eat
any marshmallows they have caught.
Plan one cooking event where
the child helps you prepare the item. Make it something
Most highly active children
love water play, so let them splash a bit with a bar of
floating soap in the kitchen sink.
Make a series of “busy
time” envelopes for anticipated difficult periods. For
example: The Office Pack—fill a large manila envelope with office
supplies, pens, stapler, tape, labels, colored dot stickers, paper
clips, stamp pad and date stamp; or The Sticker Pack—fill the
envelope with all types of stickers including mailing labels, scented
and animal stickers, story board stickers and a glue stick.
Have an audiotape of your child
when he or she was younger singing, reading or reciting a poem.
Let the child listen to what he sounded like as a younger child. Or have
your child record an audiotape for fun.
Let children “pack”
their lunches in a paper bag and take lunch to a different
spot. Example: park bench, bleacher seats in a high school
stadium, by a statue, across from a waterfall or water feature.
Use a special book or CD
that you borrow from the library or buy for the holiday season.
Bring it out as a distraction when behaviors are just beginning to
Purchase a master seasonal
calendar for the family and one for each child; hang the family calendar
on the refrigerator. Color code and highlight special events
and dates. Let each child cross off the day on his or her own calendar
nightly with a favorite color pen. Tape a favorite television program or
find an old video and replay it when necessary.
Introduce a unique, highly
visible timer to set limits and to enforce quiet times.
Try art. Let the child make a large mural with
butcher-block paper and colored markers. Let your child wet brush a
chalkboard. Or give your child a box of colored chalk and let him or her
color a square of sidewalk by the front door or in the garage. Provide
materials to make a paper or popcorn chain for the Christmas tree or
Make a grab bag of things to do
on a boring afternoon when you have lots to do and your kids are
underfoot. Fill a paper bag with small squares of paper. Each
paper has an activity to do for your youngsters. They reach in and do
the activity until they are bored, then choose another. Examples of
activities could include: call your grandma, sweep the front steps, take
a walk, count all the windows in the house, count all the doorknobs in
the house, line up all the cans in the pantry in alphabet order, clean
the mirror in the bathroom, make a snowman out of cotton balls.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, THINK ABOUT
YOURSELF. You will need quiet time to regroup and to
refresh yourself. Take care of yourself with small pleasures like a walk
by yourself, a call to a treasured friend or just quiet time with a
book. Mark these private times on your holiday calendar in advance. Your
positive attitude and your careful planning can make this holiday season
a success for your entire family. Enjoy the YULE!
Clare B. Jones, PhD, was a diagnostic specialist, author of
Practical Suggestions for AD/HD, and nationally known presenter
on the disorder. A past member of CHADD's professional
advisory board, Jones received the CHADD Hall of Fame Award in 2001.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the December 2005
issue of Attention magazine. Copyright © 2005 by
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
(CHADD). All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without
written permission from CHADD is prohibited.
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