Holidays are coming, holidays are coming! Yay! Or Nay?! Does this time of year fill you with joy or fear? Be honest. I’ll be honest. I always thought I would love Xmas with children. It’s a magical time when they believe in Santa. Putting out reindeer food, preparing the mince pie and milk or whisky.. Their excitement as they try to sleep convinced they’ve heard bells coming so they are squeezing their eyes tight in the hope they will sleep quicker. Even being woken up early by your kids isn’t bad when they are so excited to see if Santa has been! It truly is magical.
However, when all is said and done. When you have a child/children with ADHD, Xmas can be anything but magical for you at times. Mine are getting that little bit older now but I am going to reflect on how bad it used to be!
It wasn’t so much Christmas Eve for me or Christmas morning, just more the whole holiday time. The time off school. The time out of routine. As we know children with ADHD need structure and routine. They’re not the best for surprises! So, the festive season is literally a nightmare of obstacles for them, and us as parents.
The level of excitement can cause absolute emotional rollercoasters from highs and hyperactivity and meltdowns to real lows. Should you plan to do stuff or should you stay home and contain? Going to the shops is a nightmare of flashing lights and Christmas songs, too much sensory overload. Staying home can be so boring and frustrating! ARGH!
Let me just say, my daughter was the first child not to be allowed to perform in her mainstream primary school nativity. As sad as I was, I did kind of feel relief because who knew what she might do? I mean she’d managed to get kicked out of Rainbows for lobbing a bottle at Brown Owls’ daughter. What next, maiming of Rudolf? A knee to a wise man? I got to watch her twin perform without going bug-eyed keeping an eye on what she was doing! And to be honest, she preferred not to perform too. Way too stressful for her.
People don’t realise it, but even a simple thing like Christmas jumper day can pose a problem. I always prepared for this by getting a soft Xmas jumper with no tags and non-itchy but sometimes on the morning of wearing it, it would just be a No, and a meltdown would ensue. This all occurred before they had even broken up from school!
I do still struggle, but here are my top 8 tips for staying sane at Christmas.
Don’t wait till the kids have broken up to start shopping! For the love of your sanity do it early and store them in the garage, at neighbours’ or grandparents. Do not, I repeat, do not think about taking your child with ADHD anywhere near the shops at this time of year. Do as much of it online as is humanly possible so that you are also not stressed. Our children sense stress like animals sense fear! If you are heightened, they too will become heightened. Our children, not animals, although they could in theory, then I’ve never seen a heightened tortoise…I digress.
This also includes booking food shopping. Even if it’s a click and collect it is better than walking around the over-noisy, over-bright shops with ridiculous queues at this time of year. Plan. Book those slots. Get that food in early! Oh and write lists to keep track of where you have hidden everything on your phone. Many a July I have found a present in the garage in a brilliant hiding spot.
Try! Where possible maintain some sort of routine. Again, this is hard because you may be staying over at someone else’s house or guests may be at yours and their kids go to bed later. But where possible stick to your ‘holiday time’ routine. Lack of sleep can really add to emotional fallouts. Everyone gets ratty when they are tired. Continuing with mealtimes and bath times at usual points can really help them. Also, if your child is on medication make sure they are still taking it at the same time.
I’m not going to write about watching their diet. We all know that everyone overeats, there are far too many chocolates consumed at breakfast and snacks before lunches. Do what you can. Pick your battles.
If like me you have more than one child, and more than one child with ADHD, and a single parent, be realistic about what you are buying them. You do not want to have three kids asking you to assemble, construct, set up and insert batteries into things at the same time.
Always add batteries to all toys before wrapping is my top tip. If they do all like lego, and not lego that we had as kids where you were impressed with opening and closing windows, I mean the ones like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, let them know when you will be able to make it with them. Don’t let them open it and all the pieces come tumbling out into the screwed-up wrapping paper with the instructions lost forever. Double seal all lego boxes with Sellotape, these can be for boxing day!
If you are buying things that need construction, consider constructing them before you wrap them and put them in a different box. Oh, on that note, it’s good to have some extra storage boxes handy. When they do manage to rip into lego boxes, they are never then useable again!
Believe me, I have learnt all these tricks the hard way.
If possible, try to have Christmas at your home. Yes, I know this is more stressful for you re hosting but our children with ADHD will feel safe. They feel safe knowing they can go to their haven, their own bedroom and have quiet time if needed.
Often children with ADHD can hold it all in, mask, when they are at others’ houses. Many of us have heard how wonderfully behaved our child is and how they would ‘never have known they had ADHD’. Yes, but we know, because the second they walk into our house, all their pent-up emotions come flooding out now they are safe to do so, and we bear the brunt of it. Imagine how tiring that is for our children? To hold it all in. I know my kids would not dream of swearing in someone else’s house. But as soon as they walk in, they get the mouth of a sailor spewing every profanity imaginable as if they have been holding their breath the entire time.
If you are going to someone else’s house perhaps consider going for a set time that you think your child can manage.
No.5 LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
I don’t mean don’t expect to have a great Christmas. Of course, you deserve to have a great Christmas! Just don’t expect it to look like the ones in the movies! No one does. Know that there will be meltdowns, in fact, plan for them and prepare how you will deal with them, depending on where you are. Talk to your children before you head out to some relative’s house. You are still allowed to tell them how you expect them to behave, but don’t be unrealistic! If they cannot sit down for an entire meal, don’t envisage that just because it is Christmas today they will. Instead, tell the others present that this is ok. This works for your child and you.
I know it’s hard when you get those looks of, ‘she really is too soft on him’, ‘it’s nothing a little more discipline wouldn’t fix’, YAWN. Honestly, we all know how we are judged. But you know what, judge them for being ignorant. Do what you need to do. If that means your son or daughter needs to move around during the mealtimes let them in between courses. I’m not saying give them free rein to do what they want, just be realistic. My son will suddenly announce he has to run. He goes outside and runs up and down the road a few times, we live on a quiet road thankfully, and then he comes in fine!
Try not to have relatives etc booked every day. Give yourself and your child a break or there will be an explosion of emotions. Let them have some quiet days during the holidays. Duvet day and a Christmas movie, quiet time in their room, and sleep! Just going for a walk to get out rather than meeting people constantly can be so calming for them. Again, if you are stressed with all the cooking, cleaning, guests coming and going, and places you have to be, then inevitably your child will pick up on this and feel stressed too. Remember to enjoy Christmas with them. Learn to say no to certain invites and people.
Make sure when they’ve been amazing you tell them. Positive reinforcement works wonders! Whether it’s completing that Millennium Falcon or just tidying their room, give them praise! Making good choices? Give them praise. When they have tried super hard in other people’s houses and or when you have had guests over, let them know how much you appreciate them.
Even give them chores to do over the festive season, like taking out the recycling or vacuuming and praise away! Keep boosting their self-esteem.
No.8 FINAL TOP TIP
Have a permanent saucepan or slow cooker full of mulled wine on the go. Not only does it give your house an amazing aroma, but it is also on standby for emergencies and totally acceptable to drink after 11 am.
So, those are my top tips. I have a very ‘quiet’ Christmas now’. Not in the noise level, that’s always up there with the sound of a Boeing 747, no quiet in the sense that it’s often just me and the kids. And to be honest, after hearing some of the nightmare stories about large family gatherings and children with ADHD, I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself and started to feel a wee bit grateful!
I don’t like not being at home on Xmas day because the children want to be with the gifts they have just received. But I totally understand that for larger families that is not always viable. Everyone needs to do the turn-taking of who is hosting.
Just try not to put yourself in a position with guests or relatives who don’t understand our children. Or learn to let it go over your head. You know what is best for your child. You know what they can and can’t deal with. Try not to let someone who doesn’t ‘get it’ get under your skin.
And if your child does have a meltdown, so what?! We probably all feel like it. Don’t feel like you have to be a ‘show’ parent. No one else quite understands what you are going through. Stay strong. You got this. And remember, this is your Christmas too! Enjoy and go pour that mulled wine.
I have started a private support group on Facebook for parents and carers who need support with their child with ADHD. It’s a friendly place to chat with others. Please do click this link ADHDinchildren to join. And for anyone on Instagram, I’m there too ADHD Mum.