Every year, at this time in December, my clients and my friends are usually very stressed. Some people have a long list of gifts to buy and wait until the last minute to do their shopping. Some people schedule back-to-back social plans and celebrate with gusto. Other folks dislike the holidays altogether and would prefer to hide in bed under the covers until January. In general, everyone seems to be in a state of perpetual motion, running from one thing to the next, trying to get things done and seeing family and friends. This pace is not only challenging to maintain but also especially hard for kids and adults with ADHD who get easily overwhelmed, even without the holiday fervor. How can you create experience that is fun, rewarding and calmer for you, your family and your ADHD child or teen?
Start with a mindset of “SIMPLIFY, not COMPLEX-IFY”. Usually the holiday overwhelm comes from two main sources: leaving things until the last minute and trying to do too much. Let’s face it—everything takes longer than we think it does. If you start planning your tasks with that mentality and give yourself more time to do things, the process will go more smoothly. Here are some suggestions for addressing this:
1. Make a master list and then break it down into shorter ones, with no more than 3-4 different places in one outing. Map out where you need to go and group places together than are near each other.
2. Teach your ADHD kids to do this too by explaining what, why and how you are doing things when you go out together to run errands.
3. Schedule in a break for hot chocolate or tea to break up the trip.
4. Be sure to cross things off your shorter and master lists when they are completed. You can do this yourself or ask your kids to assist you. It’s easier to see your accomplishments this way.
Secondly, reduce the number of social engagements. The holiday season is usually jammed packed with things to do, people to see and places to go. As parents, we have to take into consideration how much our ADHD children and teens can actually tolerate, process and enjoy. Sometimes you have to curb your own desire and capacity to do several things in a day in order to help regulate what your kids can really manage. Part of the holiday stress for ADHD kids and families comes from having too many of these activities in a row and not enough ‘down time’ to process them. When your ADHD daughter has a meltdown at 6 p.m. because she doesn’t like the macaroni and cheese, it probably has nothing to do with the food and everything to do with unloading steam from holding it together for so long throughout the day.
To cut down on the “squeeze it all in” mentality, you can:
1. Sit down with your family and decide how many things in a day people really can handle during the holiday season.
2. Talk about what constitutes ”down time” and make sure it includes something that is settling rather than stimulating. Limit individual technology use and encourage quiet activities including playing games, reading and listening to music. Maybe watch a family movie. Write down these ideas and post them on the refrigerator so people can refer to them when they are most needed.
Good luck and Happy Holidays to All!