As delicious a holiday as Thanksgiving is, it can often be a difficult time for kids with attention issues like ADHD. Here are some typical Turkey Day trouble spots and what you can do to help.
The problem: If your family is traveling for Thanksgiving, your child may be sleeping in a strange place and following an unfamiliar schedule. Even if you’re hosting, your family’s routines may be disrupted. That’s rough for kids with ADHD.
What to do: Stick to your child’s routines as much as possible. Try to arrange travel or guest schedules so that your child eats and sleeps at the usual times. And prepare your child in advance for any disruptions you foresee. Give an overview of what will be happening beforehand. Then remind your child at each stage what’s coming next.
The problem: When the whole holiday is centered on a single meal, the hours beforehand can feel like a literal eternity for kids with attention issues. The anticipation may make them bored or cranky, which can lead to grouchy feelings, arguments, or tantrums.
What to do: Before Thanksgiving, ask relatives to help line up some morning activities. Maybe a grandparent or uncle can take your child to the park. Older cousins can set up a family game for the younger kids. Let the kids know in advance what will be happening when. This way, dinner won’t be the only thing to look forward to.
The problem: If your Thanksgiving involves a lot of people, your child may be upset by the noise and activity. And kids with attention issues may get frustrated if they’ve settled down to read or work on a project and the hustle and bustle distracts them.
What to do: Whether you’re home or away, find your child an “out” spot from the chaos. Agree on a place where your child can go for a set period of time to be alone and listen to headphones, play a game on the phone/iPad, or read.
The problem: Young kids with attention issues often need constant direction from adults. That’s hard when you’re trying to make the whole Thanksgiving dinner and coordinate guests.
What to do: First, try to get as much as possible done before Thanksgiving Day. Make what you can in advance, buy the pies, and go potluck for side dishes. That way, you can set aside time to check in periodically with your child. And don’t forget to delegate. Is there a relative who’d be happy to oversee your child for the morning? Bring out some coloring books, art supplies, puzzles, or a new DVD so your child stays occupied while you’re busy.
The problem: Kids with attention issues may talk nonstop before, during, and after dinner. This can annoy some guests. Kids who are impulsive, reacting quickly without thinking, may interrupt family members’ stories to tell their own. Or they may suddenly yell if they get excited about something. If a guest challenges your child, your child might reply in a way that seems rude.
What to do: Before Thanksgiving, role-play appropriate ways your child might start, join, and end conversations with guests. Come up with a code phrase or signal that you can use to remind your child that it’s time to let someone else talk.
Sitting still for the long dinner
The problem: Lengthy holiday meals are especially tricky for kids with attention issues. They may find it hard to sit through Grandpa saying grace, let alone a multi-course meal. Add all those unfamiliar foods and grown-up discussions, and you’ve got the makings for a meltdown.
What to do: Remember that your child will do best with some parameters, like not interrupting the adults. But relax your expectations. Thanksgiving isn’t the day to expect perfect behavior. If there are several kids there, consider having a kids’ table. But it’s also OK to let kids wander away from the table between courses. Teens can also be in charge of keeping dinner fun for the younger guests.