My child with ADHD disrupts holiday dinners. What can I do?

By Kristin J. Carothers, PhD

Updated October 30, 2023

Q. My child with ADHD often disrupts holiday dinners. I don’t want to make a scene. And I don’t want my own stress to make things worse. What can I do? 

A. You’re not alone. The holidays can be a stressful time for families. You may feel pressure to perform for your family members — or have your best parenting practices on display. And you probably want your child to be on their best behavior. That can be hard for kids with ADHD. 

The key is to set up your child for success before holiday events begin. That way you’ll be preventing in-the-moment disruptions.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for holiday dinners so that you and your child can both stay calm.

Make a game plan. Jot down examples of good behavior. Then talk them over with your child. Include important details like how long dinner will be and who will be there.

Have an exit strategy. A holiday gathering may be four hours long — or even last all day. That doesn’t mean that you and your child have to stay the entire time. Decide how long you should stay. Sometimes a shorter stay is best. 

Role-play dinnertime. Schedule time to help your child practice. Start by having your child sit at the dinner table for at least 15 minutes. And act out dinner time etiquette like eating quietly. Practice can help your child feel more at ease about holiday gatherings.

Consider where your child will sit. Seating your child next to another child or adult with nice mealtime manners can make all the difference. For example, if your child eats loudly, have them sit near a family member who eats quietly. Positive influences can help keep your child on track. 

Create a rewards system. It’s important to praise kids when they stay on-task during the holiday dinner. Let your child choose a reward for on-task behavior. Have those items ready for after dinner. 

Get support. Let family members know how they can help. If dinner is being held at another home, ask if there will be an area where kids can sit and play. Ask about other kids who may be at the gathering. Your child may feel more at ease about attending holiday events knowing other kids will be there. 

Be patient and try to remain calm. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by your child’s behavior, take a moment to calm down. The way you look and sound can impact your child’s behavior. Plus, if you’re stressed, you’re less likely to enjoy the holidays — and more likely to have heated interactions with your child.

Find out how to look calm during challenging moments — even if you don’t feel calm. Get more tips to help make the season easier to manage. And learn ways to make the holidays more fun for your child

Share

Explore related topics