Holidays & celebrations

Common Thanksgiving Challenges for Kids With Attention Issues

By Lexi Walters Wright

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As delicious a holiday as Thanksgiving is, it can be difficult for kids with attention issues like ADHD. Read about typical Turkey Day trouble spots and find out what you can do to help.

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Close-up of Thanksgiving dinner being dished up to a teen girl
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Interrupted Routines

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 he eats and sleeps when he usually does. And prepare your child in advance for any disruptions you foresee. Give him an overview of what will be happening beforehand, and then remind him at each stage what’s coming next.

Close-up of kids playing soccer outdoors with an adult
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Waiting for the Big Meal

The problem: When the whole holiday is centered on a single meal, the hours beforehand can feel like eternity for children with attention issues. The anticipation may make them bored or cranky, which can lead to squabbles—or tantrums.

What to do: Before Thanksgiving, enlist relatives’ help to line up some morning activities. Could a grandparent or uncle take your child to the park? Might some older cousins set up a family game for the younger kids? Let the kids know in advance what’ll be happening when. This way dinner won’t be the only thing for them to look forward to.

Teenager and young boy taking a time out from the dinner table to look at an iphone
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Company Commotion

The problem: If your Thanksgiving involves a lot of people, your child may feel 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. Agree on a place where he can go for a set period of time to be alone and listen to headphones, play a game on his phone, or read.

Multi-generational family in the kitchen preparing for the Thanksgiving Day meal
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Preoccupied Parents

The problem: Young kids with attention issues often need constant direction from adults. That’s hard when you’re trying to finish making Thanksgiving dinner and can’t stop to play with your child.

What to do: First, try to get as much as possible done before Thanksgiving Day. Make what you can in advance, buy the pies, go potluck for side dishes. That way, you can set aside time to check in periodically with your child. And delegate. Is there a relative who’d be happy to oversee your child for the morning? Give him coloring books, art supplies, puzzles or a new DVD so he can keep your child occupied while you’re busy.

Two children having a conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table
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Taking Turns Talking

The problem: Kids with attention issues may talk nonstop before, during and after dinner, annoying guests. If your child is impulsive, he may interrupt family members’ stories to tell his own. If a grandparent challenges him, he might say something rude.

What to do: Before Thanksgiving, role-play appropriate ways your child might start, join and end conversations with guests. Consider coming up with a code phrase or signal you can use to clue him in if he starts taking over the conversation.

Close-up of kids eating dinner at a “kids” table
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Sitting Still Through the Long Dinner

The problem: Lengthy holiday meals are especially tricky for children with attention issues, who may find it hard to sit through “grace,” let alone a multi-course meal. Add unfamiliar foods and grown-up discussions, and you’ve got the makings for a meltdown.

What to do: Relax your expectations. Thanksgiving isn’t the day to expect perfect behavior, so seat him at the kids’ table. He’ll do best with some parameters, such as not interrupting the adults. But let him wander between courses. If he’s a teen, see if he wants to be “in charge” of keeping dinner fun for the younger guests.

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About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright

A veteran writer and editor for parenting magazines and websites, Lexi Walters Wright has a master’s degree in library and information science and is proud to serve families at

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Reviewed by Donna Volpitta, Ed.D. Oct 26, 2014 Oct 26, 2014

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