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by Anne Teeter Ellison, EdD
THE HOLIDAYS ARE GENERALLY
FILLED with great expectations and dreams. We all have a
vision of what constitutes the perfect holiday, the perfect family, the
perfect child, or the perfect spouse. Sometimes these visions come close
to reality, other times they are way off.
When your hopes and expectations match your reality, it is generally
because you have come to embrace how AD/HD affects you and your family
during the holidays. This article offers some tips, strategies, and
reflections that might help you in the coming weeks.
First, you need to identify your stress points. What has shattered your
dreams for holidays in the past? Here are some classic examples.
Pain from holidays
Many adults and families affected by AD/HD have memories
of holidays that were painful, stressful, and anything but
cheerful. The time you drank too much and screamed at the kids. The time
your spouse was angry, yelled at you and the kids, and ruined
everyone’s day. The time your child with AD/HD was so wound up
that she broke your favorite serving dish, the one you inherited from
your grandmother. Or maybe your family was dysfunctional and holidays
were filled with anger, hostility, and/or chaos.
These memories may affect how we experience the holidays today—we
may dread them and not even know it. We may still be angry with
relatives for wrongs committed years ago, for hurt feelings that have
never been resolved.
Creating that “perfect”
The holidays were made for Martha Stewart (or maybe the holidays made
Martha Stewart)! She makes everything by hand: those lovely velvet
stockings that are filled with homemade candles, strawberry jams,
potpourri sachets, and bags of chocolate-dipped apricots wrapped in
silver tissue paper. She always looks great and always seems to have
more ideas, talent, and time than we could ever hope to possess.
The stress to create these perfect homemade goodies may be further
fueled by your mother, mother-in-law, or sister-in-law who always makes
at least five kinds of holiday cookies for all her dearest friends,
including the postman, the hairdresser, and the cashier at the local
grocery. Or these pressures may stem from your interactions with that
one friend at work who seems to have everything under control.
She’s already finished her shopping, wrapped and mailed everything
to out-of-town relatives and friends, and she’s also hosting the
office party! You are a mess and you haven’t even started shopping
for your immediate family.
Our dreams, visions, and fantasies about the perfect holiday include
those in which everyone is beautiful, happy, and fulfilled. Commercials
show families that can’t wait to see each other, and homes that
are filled with greenery, sparkling lights, and presents wrapped in gold
and red. Everyone is standing around a candlelit piano singing holiday
songs with eggnog drinks in colorful mugs. These fantasies have been
fashioned by savvy Fifth Avenue types who encourage us to buy their
products, but often leave us feeling sad or depressed because these
scenes simply do not exist in our homes—nor in most others
Buying everything on their wish
We want to give everyone what they want—like the expensive
computer game, CD, video, leather jacket, athletic shoes or other
popular item they’ve been dying to get. We run around at all hours
of the day and night trying to find the one toy or game that is
understocked at all the stores. Television ads have been running for
months, but of course no one in town has any left, and your child
can’t live without it.
Then there is the moment when you remember that one special gift your
son, daughter, or husband looks forward to every holiday. You get into
your car at 4 PM on the eve of the big day knowing that the mall closes
at 5. You are a good thirty minutes from the store that carries the
“must-have” item. You speed in and out of traffic. Your
heart is jumping out of your chest. Your head is pounding from all the
stress. You begin to swear at the little old man in front of you to move
out of the passing lane. You are never going to make it!
Been there. Done that.
How can you avoid these stressors this holiday season? Here are some
tips that might help.
1. Plan ahead.
Get your calendar out and make a schedule of important timelines and
activities. Give yourself some wiggle room. Even the best-laid plans
generally have to be revised.
2. Create gift-buying and other holiday traditions that
don’t bankrupt your future.
Make a gift budget and don’t spend a penny more than you set aside
for each member in your household.
3. Avoid excessive drinking.
Decide ahead of time how many alcoholic drinks you are going to
have and stick to your decision. Drink sparkling water with a twist of
lemon or lime before and after a glass of wine.
4. Avoid excessive eating.
Eat healthy snacks before a party to avoid filling up on sweets.
5. Do something nice for someone
Participate in a charitable holiday event in your community. This
is a perfect time to involve the whole family. Your church, temple,
mosque, office, or community may have a gift or clothing drive. Share
your good fortune with others who have less.
6. Seek out professional help if things
are really too overwhelming.
TRY SOME NEW
Don’t be afraid to try some new ideas either.
• Play hide-and-seek with small inexpensive
gifts. Hide a handful of holiday treats wrapped in tin foil or
• Create a holiday tree with the
• String popcorn or cranberries. Hang
them outside when the holidays are over. The birds love them.
• Glue things onto a Styrofoam
ball—cranberries, old costume jewelry, velvet
• Make a paper chain out of colored
• Create a holiday family album. If
you don’t have a great camera, buy a few of those disposable
cameras for each family member.
• Use the computer to make or download holiday
cards and pictures.
You might be thinking, “This woman must be kidding! Living with
AD/HD during the holidays is just too stressful. It’s too
exhausting. These ideas will never go over with my kids or my family.
Just reading this article stresses me out. My kids think doing things
together stinks. We argue about everything. The last time I planned a
family project, it was a total failure.”
TRY WHAT MAKES SENSE TO YOU AND YOUR
FAMILY. Try only one new thing at a time. If it
doesn’t work, have a good laugh! Remember the holidays don’t
have to be perfect, but shouldn’t they be fun?
Anne Teeter Ellison, EdD, is professor emeritus of
educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A
former member of CHADD’s professional advisory board, she is also
a past president of CHADD. She is a member of CHADD’s board of
directors and serves on the editorial advisory board of
An earlier version of this article appeared in the December 2001 issue
of Attention magazine. Copyright © 2001 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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