Embrace the Holidays with ADHD: Strategies for Finding Balance in the Joy
As the festive season approaches, excitement and challenges often walk hand in hand, particularly for those navigating life with ADHD. Today’s post is all about transforming holiday chaos into calm. Let’s explore some ADHD-friendly strategies tailored for both adults and children to make this holiday season not just manageable, but balanced and joyful.
Strategies for Adults
1. Create a Festive Roadmap: Visualize the season with a holiday calendar. Block out events and commitments along with time to work through your holiday to-do list. This can be a creative and engaging way to visualize your holiday plans. Think of it as your personal holiday adventure map.
2. Plan Your Pace: Adopt a leisurely pace when planning for timing around holiday events.
This means giving yourself permission to slow down, ensuring you’re not rushing through preparations and moments. This approach reduces stress and enhances the quality of the experience. One way to do this is to allow “buffer” time before and after events to ensure that getting out the door, travelling, and leaving don’t have to feel challenging.
3. Strategic Resting Points: Intentionally incorporate restful moments into your holiday routine. Think of these as ‘strategic resting points’ – short, deliberate periods of calm to recharge your mental batteries. Try creating a menu of holiday acts of rest and regulation such as holiday audiobooks, puzzles, or a favourite mindfulness act. Then in the moment you just need to choose what feels good.
4. Plan for Food Early: Consider the big events, but also the day-to-day. If you have an action-packed holiday, I recommend lots of easy snack foods to grab so that you are never heading out the door hungry. If you have a big meal to plan for this season, here is my simple prep flow that I recommend to clients:
- Print out all of the recipes you are using, or add a bookmark if you are using cookbooks, and gather them all together.
- Make a list of ALL ingredients and quantities including pantry items and staples.
- Put aside until you are ready to grocery shop.
- When it is shopping day, shop your pantry and fridge first. Visually confirm what you have already and cross those items off the list.
- Order the remaining groceries online or hit the store.
- Let all family members know what items are reserved for the event and what snacks are available for free eating.
5. Quality Time Over Curated Perfection: Perfectionism is a common ADHD pattern, an overscheduled holiday season with the focus on curating perfect moments for everyone else is a topic I have discussed often with clients. Set an intention early in the season to be present in the imperfect beauty that this year can bring. Prioritizing the things that you love the most, deep meaningful interactions, essentially quality over quantity is key.
Strategies for Children with ADHD
1. Interactive Holiday Countdown: Create a fun, interactive countdown to major events, using tools like advent calendars or homemade countdown chains. This visual and tactile method helps children grasp the concept of time and builds excitement in a structured way.
2. Create a Holiday Bucket List: To navigate cognitive flexibility challenges, have a list of achievable activities. By surveying your children at the beginning of the holidays you will get an accurate sense of what they are expecting and looking forward to. Setting clear expectations and boundaries around what can happen and what isn’t a good fit from the start helps manage anticipations and potential disappointments.
This list should be a living document, adaptable as situations change, keeping in mind the child’s needs and interests. Think of it like a holiday quest for the whole family.
3. Predictable Holiday Patterns: Create a holiday rhythm and routine that kids can anticipate. This could include regular bedtime stories, morning walks, or craft time. Consistency in these activities provides comfort and structure. Make sure to prioritize time for the activities and things that help your child to feel their best including sleep, movement, and nutrition.
4. Pre-Set Expectations Before New Activities: Discuss expectations before new events. Outline the sequence, what to expect, safety concerns, and behavioural expectations before they are faced with a new environment. New environments and transitions can be tricky for children with ADHD. Photos, videos, and role-playing can help prepare a child with ADHD to feel more comfortable and confident.
If you are taking your child to a theatre show like a play or the Nutcracker for example, I recommend watching a video adaptation ahead of time so that the performance feels familiar.
5. Plan for Downtime: Avoid overcommitting to too many events, especially back-to-back events. Incorporate breaks like quiet reading, family walks, puzzling, free play, or couch snuggles to allow your child to regulate between events. If you are spending time at a new house, make sure to support your child in knowing where and when they can retreat for a quiet moment. Designating a comfy spot in a bedroom, a nest in a closet, or a downstairs couch as their retreat can feel incredibly reassuring.
The holiday season can be magical, but I also acknowledge the overwhelm and stress marathon that it can feel like. Hopefully a few of these strategies and ideas can help you and your family navigate this season.