I love the Christmas holidays! I always have, and I always will. I love lots of family time, decorations, lights, food, baking, parties, presents, wrapping paper, and magic. It is also an extraordinary time where, as a Christian, I can reflect on and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
However, up until a couple of years ago, the mere thought of the Christmas holiday period used to leave me in a cold sweat. Now, I countdown to the holiday period where I get to spend time with my kids and celebrate Christmas. Now, I’m not going to lie; I still don’t enjoy every moment. Being a mum, particularly to children with ADHD, is downright stressful and challenging at times. Still, there are things that I can put in place that will lessen my load.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting ADHD Done Differently in the Christmas holidays.
- Expectations in alignment with children’s abilities
The most fundamental tip… We have to adjust our expectations of what children with ADHD can do and how they behave.
Research tells us that a child or adolescent with ADHD has at least a thirty percent delay in their executive function systems.
This includes the ability to regulate (control) their own emotions and behaviours, which is why there is so much misinformation out there that pegs ADHD as a behavioural disorder. My 11-year-old son with ADHD, has emotional regulation, attention and behavioural control similar to that of a 7-year-old. My 8-year-old daughter regulates her emotions, attention and behaviour, similar to that of a 5-year-old.
If I am expecting them to be able to regulate themselves as a typical 11- and 8-year-olds could, I am going to be constantly cranky, frustrated and overwhelmed. But, if I adjust my expectations to that of a 7- and 5-year-old, I can understand why they are not able to control their emotions when someone watches something on TV that they don’t like. (Or why they eat all of their Cadbury advent calendar in one night… true story!)
I used to go into every single Christmas holiday period imagining utter bliss. The tree was perfectly decorated with my purple and gold glass baubles, presents stay wrapped under the tree, treats for Christmas day stayed in the cupboard, we’d sing Christmas Carols in the backyard, with each child playing their own musical instrument, and singing along in a choir formation. Every Christmas party we were invited to, would end with smiles and happy children.
I always felt let down. The truth is here though, my kids never let me down, they just were unable to live up to the expectations that I set for Christmas. Why? Because I was placing expectations on them, that neurotypical children couldn’t even live up to, let alone children with ADHD. So, I adjusted my expectations going into Christmas. In my current version of Christmas, I am aware that the tree will probably be knocked over several times (so I now have cheap plastic baubles, my purple and gold glass baubles are safely tucked away in the roof, and my tree still looks amazing!), presents are hidden until Christmas eve so they can’t be opened, and Christmas treats aren’t bought until Christmas Eve. We still do sing Carols in the backyard, with electronic candles, while my children run around using all their energy and me smiling watching them. Christmas parties are still
attended, but we are very aware that we might need to leave early, and all pride aside, I tell the invitees that my children may be more active and disruptive than they are used to. I then leave it up to them if they want us to still come along or not.
That is now my perfect Christmas. And my kids most of the time surpass my expectations. My tree has remained standing to date this year, the advent calendars were all eaten by the 3rd of December, but I am happy with them being themselves and they are happy because their Mum is enjoying Christmas too!
What are your expectations going into the Christmas holiday period? Are they realistic and achievable? If not, what can you adjust?
I promise it will make your holiday period so much happier if your expectations are in alignment with your child’s abilities.
2. Activity First
Exercise and activity have again and again been shown to be beneficial for children with ADHD. It can improve focussed attention, motivation, and mood. It can also lessen ADHD symptoms! Why? It all comes down to neurotransmitters! If you want to read more, ADDitude, has a great article here.
The great news here, is that exercise first thing in the morning, particularly if it is green time (playing in open green spaces like fields, or parks) or blue time (playing near water, like the beach, river or pool) can positively impact your child’s ADHD symptoms all day.
I have a girlfriend who has a son with ADHD. She tells me that on the day he has early morning swimming training, that he is the more settled all day – even when going to bed that night. I have seen it time and time again with my own children as well.
And it can be done in your neighborhood! You don’t have to put them in swimming lessons, or drive to a field! If you have a backyard and a dog, go out with them each day, and chase the dog around, or play soccer. Go for a walk to a local park. Not only will you be improving your child’s ADHD symptoms, but you will also be doing something for your health, and it will also help with your stress levels and ability to cope.
3. Preparation is key
One of the best strategies for averting holiday chaos is preparation. I know what you are thinking: I already have so much to prepare for, I can’t add anything more! I get it. But I can also tell you from years of experience, when I don’t prepare properly for the holiday period with the kids, it ends up more stressful than putting some time aside to prepare for it.
Children with ADHD thrive with routines. This is one of many the reasons that children with ADHD often increase in their negative behaviours when they are on school holidays. Routine is completely out.
Every holiday period, my children, my husband, and I sit down together and plan our bucket list. There are a few stipulations: there has to be lots of free or cheap activities like having a picnic at a park, going to the beach or the pool or having playdates with friends. They can put a couple of expensive items on there too, such as going to the zoo, or the aquarium. I love doing bucket lists for many reasons:
- It allows the kids to be an active participant in the planning of their holidays.
- It teaches our children planning and organization, which children with ADHD often struggle with.
- More often than not for my children, I can see in advance the places they want to go, so we can put some money aside with a couple of weeks in advance.
- It allows me to teach budgeting and delayed gratification.
- It teaches siblings to problem solve and negotiate, particularly when they have completely different interests.
- It acts as a basis for our daily routines, so we are not stuck in the mornings trying to come up with things to do for the days.
From the bucket list, we then allocate home, free and super special days.
Our home days are so we can have lazy, pajama days. I might buy some popcorn and watch a movie together, or put a tent up in the backyard, or a blow-up pool on the trampoline (seriously you HAVE to try this on a hot day! It’s so much fun!) We also play board games. Traditional boardgames can be extremely challenging for children with ADHD, and more often than not, it can end in tears, the board being tipped over or damaged, or all of the above! But there are so many active boardgames too! My kids love twister, pie face, googly eyes, throw throw burrito and watch ya mouth. Give them a go – and let me know which boardgames your kids love.
Our free days are where we can get out of the house, but it doesn’t cost us anything (or as minimal as possible). The beach, parks, museums are always on the list here.
We did a challenge one holiday period where we tried out a different playground everyday and rated them out of 5. The ones we loved; we went back to. I also make a treasure hunt game where the kids had to collect items from the park (like leaves, rocks etc). When my kids got a bit older, we did a photo challenge. They each took their little camera and had to get photos of everything on the list. I have included it for you here.
We have free entry to all pools in our area as part of a gym membership I have, so we often make this a daily habit in the Summer holidays. It is such a refreshing and fun activity for the kids, and I find it always makes me happy just bobbing around in the water!
Of course, your holidays aren’t always going to go to plan! Old Aunt Mavis might pop in for tea, or a friend might call for a chat. This is a fantastic opportunity to show your children how to be flexible.
Super Special Days
Our super special days are days that cost money. We aim to do one a week to fortnight in the holidays. It is something that they kids can really look forward to, and, doesn’t send us bankrupt. We have 8 weeks of holidays this period, so have planned for this Summer, Christmas Lights at Hunter Valley Gardens, Taronga Zoo, the Australian Reptile Park and The Sydney Aquarium. We have said that we will do a Super Special day once a fortnight these holidays. A family of five, can be very expensive to get into places.
I’ve included a bucket list activity here for you to plan with your children too!
4. Inform your children of consequences before the event
Preparation does not only have to be in the form of activities, being prepared ahead of time, by setting rules and expectations, as well as consequences for poor choices, can save you a lot of headaches. I have always found that being proactive with my children is the best way to set them up for success.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when my children walk around all day asking, “Is it screen time yet?” My children would be on screens, 24/7 if I let them. This is extremely typical of children with ADHD. They are easily tranced by games and screens, due to them being highly motivating, usually reward based and due to time blindness, it is super simple to lose track of time when you are playing.
I outline when our screen time will be first thing in the morning, and ALWAYS get family responsibilities done first. This morning, for example, they had to clean their own bedroom, and then come and clean out storage room, feed the pets and write a shopping list for our week before we had a turn on screens. I was very clear with the expectations, and consequences before we started. If they chose not to clean up and do their responsibilities, they would miss out on the first block of screen time for the day. I did not need to get angry or cranky at them for reacting to me asking them to do their responsibilities (which of course they did, as they have done every single day since they were about two!) but when I was told, “I am NOT cleaning my room!” I can then answer, very calmly, “Ok, babe! That’s fine. I have told you what I expect. If it’s not done, you will have to sit out on the first block of screens. But as always, it is your choice.” Some tears and annoyance later, all rooms were clean, pets were fed, our storage room was cleaned and then we all sat down, relationships intact, to some screen time together under the air conditioner.
We always also do this when we are attending an event. We outline our expectations in simple terms. And we also always discuss what consequences for rule breaking or rudeness will be. Of course, we always follow up with consequences for rule breaking.
Years ago, we also made up a “CODE WORD” to use as a warning, for when we were out and about. When my son was little, it was “Superman.” It wasn’t ever supposed to be a punishment, but it would simply be said like “Hey Superman! Can you come here for a second?” and then he would be aware that what he was doing was not appropriate. It didn’t embarrass him, and it gave him a warning in a nice and gentle way.
5. Make it your own
And my last point, to leave you with, before you go and plan your holidays. Christmas should truly be such a special time for your family. No-one’s family is like yours, which means you get to make up the rules. I really do love Christmas traditions, but I love watching my children enjoy Christmas, just as they are, even more.
You will never get these summer holidays with your children again.
Let loose, adjust your expectations, be loud, active and you! Just the way you were made to be!
And let’s get ADHD Done Differently.