Children with ADHD, or other self-regulation challenges can sometimes struggle over the holidays. The changes in structure and routine of being out of school, attending holiday parties and events, and sleeping and eating habits can contribute to emotional dysregulation.
There are several things you, as a parent or care-giver, can do to help keep your children on a schedule which will help their self-regulation.
Limit Sweets, Sugary Baked Goods & Beverages
Limit the amount of cakes, cookies, and other sugary sweets and treats over the holidays. We know this is tough, but it really can make a big difference for your child. Offer fruits and other healthy treats for dessert options such as yogurt and berries, smoothies, or granola. If you are going somewhere where food is provided, don’t be afraid to bring healthy alternatives or options for your child.
Ignore the social expectation to eat and drink a lot during the season. It is great opportunity to teach children about moderation and developing healthy habits. If grandma allows free reign to all the goodies at her house, it may be worth talking with her about how the consumption of too much sugary foods effect your child’s mental and physical health. Setting limits isn’t an insult to the cook or the host.
Don’t keep sweets in the house. Or at least not within the reach of your children. That otherwise useless cabinet above your fridge is a perfect spot to hide goodies out of their reach. Stick with your regular eating habits during the holidays as much as possible. It seems small, but it really can make a big impact.
Create a Schedule and Keep It Posted
Create a weekly schedule, or post a calendar of holiday plans and events in a visible location where your child can plainly see it throughout the day. This can be a schedule the whole family sits down to work out or it can be something that has already been planned. Take the time to review the schedule with your child in advance an let them know of any changes. Keeping a family schedule is actually helpful all year long.
If you’re travelling for the holidays, give them a copy to put in a notebook or folder they can reference. If your child has a habit of losing things (like many do), keep a copy of the schedule on your person. If they ask about where or when something is happening, you can direct them to review it. Also, try not to get mad if your child loses the schedule, this will likely add to their anxiety and fear of negative reprimand. Anticipating the inevitable will keep your child calm and collected while you’re out.
Keep to The Schedule
Once you have that schedule, stick with it. There are bound to be some changes during the holidays, when possible, make those changes to the calendar and alert your child to them as soon as they are changed.
For the best results:
· Wake up at the same time every day during the week.
· Have meals at the same time every day, just like when your child is in school.
· If they had an after school or evening activity that has been cancelled over the holidays, attempt to simulate that with a similar activity if possible.
· Find time for outside play with them during holiday break.
Plan Activities to Keep Your Child Stimulated
Find activities to keep them busy during what would be normal school hours. Include learning activities in the structure of your holiday schedule. Check out the schedule at your local library, they are bound to have some fun activities planned for the kids during the break. If not, a trip to the kids section of the library is a wonderful supplement to any day. Save up recyclable household objects (plastic lids, bottles, card-board boxes, paper tubes, ribbons and bows) with which they can create objects and play things.
Remember to schedule breaks in between for meals and snack. If you are ambitious, have them help out with the meal prep which will teach them healthy habits. Don’t forget to schedule in chore time during the day. For tips on making chore time fun for you and your kids, check out this podcast on Kids A to Z radio http://www.blogtalkradio.com/kidsatoz/2015/06/22/fostering-meaningful-relationships-with-children-by-making-chores-fun
Limit Overwhelming Social Situations
Do they really need that picture with Santa? Moreover, do you really need the stress of that? Check out options for times with Santa specifically for special needs children where lines and other stressors may be limited. Or plan to arrive slightly before they open to get in line early in hopes of a shorter wait period. Take a bag of tricks with you so that they can entertain themselves while waiting. While we are not big proponents of screen time, this may be the most opportune time for their use.
You could also get creative and take your own holiday photos in the backyard to avoid crowds altogether. Don't have a backyard? If you are local, head to the beach and make a sand snowman with your kids and take a photo with your sand sculpture instead.
Most of all, make time for fun memories with your kiddos!
Have you tried anything over the holiday season to keep your child regulated that has worked for you? We’d love to hear them, so let us know in the comments below!