Truly Happy Holidays (Even with ADD/ADHD) – Part 3

In the previous article we focussed on ways in which nutrition related challenges that are thrown up by the holiday season can be overcome in ways that will not leave you looking like a sad cross between the Grinch and the Scrooge. It is, however, the case that the challenges posed to people dealing with ADD/ADHD by this happy time of the year range far beyond issues of food and drink. Many parents will tell you that they experience a definite spike in the severity of symptoms that cannot necessarily be attributed to the excess so often associated with the season. Very often the reasons for this can be traced back to: 1) Lack of sleep 2) Overstimulation and 3) Lack of physical activity. This article will discuss ways in which you can effectively address these issues so that your holidays can indeed be truly happy.

Compensate for late nights. In the previous article I noted that you should work towards making your home a safe nutritional haven during the excess that comes with the holidays. The same principle applies when it comes to sleep and getting enough rest. Your child will probably have many opportunities to stay up late (Christmas parties, sleepovers, visits to friends etc.). Completely denying him/her these opportunities is not an option. You should, therefore, make sure that you make the most of evenings when no events are planned. Try to stick as closely as possible to your normal routine and get your child to bed at the same time as normal (or preferably even earlier). In this way at least some of the sleep debt will be ‘paid off’. I realise that it is very difficult to maintain this kind of discipline during the holidays but it is well worth doing so.

Develop active holiday traditions: I have often called attention to the way in which inactive and sedentary lifestyles can contribute to the severity of ADD/ADHD symptoms. This problem is compounded during the Christmas season when most of us seem to be especially sedentary. Vast amounts of food and the cold outside obviously only makes this worse. Addressing this lack of activity will obviously not be easy. I do, however, know of several families who took steps to incorporate ‘active activities’ into their holiday traditions. Why don’t you do the same this year and begin a new tradition in your family? It can be anything: Tenpin bowling, ice skating or a brisk walk after the Christmas lunch. Working of all that food cannot be a bad thing and can even contribute to some cherished holiday memories!

Make the most of the opportunity to give: The gift giving associated with Christmas can often feel like hard work but it can also be a great opportunity if you are dealing with ADD/ADHD in your family. You can, for example, give a gift designed to improve family ties, concentration and cooperation (cleverly designed as a board game). Another possibility is audiobooks for those with a non-visual ADD/ADHD influenced learning style. The options are endless. Ask yourself the simple question ‘What kind of gift would be most helpful in this situation’ and then have fun to get the right gift in such a way that it is not perceived as obviously ‘educational’!

Manage sensory inputs: Many kids with ADD/ADHD are also extremely sensitive when it comes to sensory inputs. This means that a variety of unregulated inputs can tip them over into a kind of meltdown. There is obviously a very real danger of this happening during the holiday period, what with the loud music, bright lights, new experiences and new toys swirling around? It would obviously be very difficult to minimise or regulate these inputs but be careful to do what you can. Turn the volume of your music system down, turn holiday lights from flashing to solid every now and then and also follow the advice on nutrition listed in the previous paragraph. Another tip that might be very difficult to follow is to stagger the times when your kids are allowed to play with their new presents. I am convinced that the lights, sounds and textures of so many new playthings can be enough to tip an already unfocussed brain over the edge. Convincing the owner of that brain that it might be a good idea to spend time enjoying one plaything to the full before moving on to the next might be a massive challenge however. If your children are mature and understanding I would certainly recommend that you follow this strategy.

I really hope that you do not regard ME as a relative of the Grinch for raising all of these issues that can make the holidays a challenged for those dealing with ADD/ADHD. My purpose is certainly not to spoil Christmas but to help you and your family to enjoy it to the full as you meet these challenges head-on. I trust that you will read these tips in this light and that you will have a fantastic and fulfilling time with your loved ones. Happy holidays!