Directing the festive season saga: Structure the school holidays to have drama-free days
Eleven months at the grind and school is out! Whether you’re going away for the festive season or having a staycation, the kids are going to be “at home” for a full four weeks! Keeping neurotypical children busy for the holidays is already challenging; keeping your ADHD-diagnosed child entertained requires a bit more planning.
Here’s how you can make this summer the coup de théâtre of your year.
Children with ADHD need structure. If they don’t have a structured day or week, they will create stimulation for themselves, and with their impulsivity and lack of focus, this may not work out quite how they, or you, imagined! They may also end up being hooked to their screens for most of the day! When drawing up a schedule, consider your child’s input, schedule one activity a day (a day trip or arts and crafts), as well as some quiet time and regulate their screen time.
Sleep is a contentious issue in an ADHD household! While it may be tempting to loosen the reigns and let your child sleep at any time over the festive season, lack of sleep exacerbates ADHD symptoms. Due to the prevalence of sleep problems amongst adults and children living with ADHD [some say up to 50% experience sleep problems], there is a theory that links ADHD symptoms to disruptions in normal circadian rhythm function. Therefore, to ensure that your child gets the rest he needs:
• Keep the sleep-awake times as consistent as possible, which will reinforce circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
• Watch their intake of sugar and coffee.
• Let your child wind down an hour before bedtime: take a bath, dim the lights, do a quiet activity like reading or gentle yoga, and shut off screens.
If they sleep better, you sleep better!
To make the most of the holiday, help your child set a few specific goals. Perhaps there’s a skill that they would want to work on that they haven’t had time for during the school year, such as reading all the books in a particular series or riding a bike without training wheels; or a behavioural skill that they want to master, such as not interrupting when someone is talking. Encourage them to pursue their own interests. Praise and reward them for the effort they make, as well as their achievements. Use small incentives for a short-term goal, such as getting an ice-cream, stickers or a trip to the local theme park; these often work better for ADHD children who have a problem with delayed gratification.
Children with ADHD need plenty of daytime exercise to burn off all that energy! Physical activity can help reduce hyperactivity, and other behavioral symptoms. It also protects brain function, and plays a role in regulating circadian rhythm function, hence boosting sleep.
We, South Africans, are spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful outdoor spaces and a variety of activities; mountain hikes, nature walk and swimming in the ocean are great weekday activities for the whole family. Let your child go barefoot for a bit. Grounding or earthing by walking barefoot with your feet on the ground transfers energy from the ground into your body, inducing multiple physiological changes, including better sleep.
Sunshine is our best source of Vitamin D, which is vital for brain function, mental and physical health, and sleep. By exposing your child to the morning sun, not only will he be getting Vitamin D, but the morning sunlight also serves as light therapy, which is used to treat circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Research has shown, that in adults, morning light therapy improves ADHD symptoms and shifts sleep toward an earlier circadian timing.
While it may be tempting to want to take your child off medication for the holidays, whether to give them respite from the side effects or to see how they will fare without it, weigh the pros and cons and consult with your doctor first.
When the kids are home, they bicker, all the time. Neurotypical siblings may perceive that their ADHD-diagnosed sibling receives “special care,” or “special attention.” As a result, they can feel left out, fostering resentment towards the sibling and the parents. The school holiday is the perfect time to help nurture the bond and mediate conflict
between your children. When mediating, be empathetic, practice fairness and inclusivity and spend quality time alone with each child. Also, teach your children how to negotiate their problems and deal with their conflict.
As much as we set out to put structure to the holidays, your child’s hyperactivity and impulsivity will debut, possibly in front of an audience! Or you may see some regression, or bad behaviour. Breathe, be calm, firm and consistent. Help your child to apologise if necessary, and speak to them privately about their behaviour.
In The Family ADHD Solution by Dr Martin Bertin, he says that parenting kids with disabilities is stressful, and when it comes to ADHD, there is evidence that parents are at a much greater risk for anxiety, depression and marital stress. So, while the days are long, and you can call on support, take time to do things that you enjoy. Try to cultivate a mindfulness practice that will assist with self-control and help you deal with stress on a day-to-day basis.
Many children and teens living with ADHD engage in negative self-talk and could be victims of bullying. Use this period to build their self-esteem with positive reinforcement. Applaud their effort and successes, so when the school year begins, they’re ready to take it on with confidence and resilience.