For those of us planning to host a child with ADHD over the holidays, we need to go a little above and beyond to make things easier for them and their families. We need to think a little harder and plan a little longer to make sure these kids feel safe outside their usual comfort zones.
Obviously, we can’t duplicate their home environment (circumstances will never be perfect), but we can help.
For anyone who’s unsure of what to do, here are a few practical ways to make life easier for an ADHD child coming into your home:
1. Reduce the noise in the house.
Kids with ADHD notice everything. They notice every little movement, every little sound, every little object. Imagine how overwhelming that must be for them!
It might not bother you, but for them it can be overwhelming. It can lead to a meltdown later on, especially for younger kids. Do them a favor by reducing the amount of noise and distraction in the house.
2. Put away breakable items.
ADHD children are not disrespectful of other people’s property. At least, not any more so than the average child learning right from wrong. Putting away breakables is simply a good idea for any child coming over.
It’s even more helpful to ADHD kids, however, because it removes the temptation for them to investigate something they’ve never seen before. They’re some of the most curious little minds I’ve ever met. Most of them love to take things apart and see how they work.
Save yourself the stress by putting your valuables away. Save the child the temptation, the disappointment, and the potential reprimanding when they break something that doesn’t belong to them.
3. Do the “important” stuff early in the day.
Save the milling around and the small talk for after dinner, or after presents, or after whatever else it is you “need” to accomplish as a family.
If you spend the first hour of your time together standing around talking, the child with ADHD will be bored and need a break for play time before you ever get to the important stuff. Obviously, sometimes scheduling mistakes happen and you have to wait three hours for Aunt Milly and her French poodle to show up before you can open gifts, but if it’s avoidable… try to make it happen.
For everyone’s sanity.
4. Don’t make an itinerary.
ADHD kids need blocks of free time throughout the day, especially when they’re asked to stay in one place all day long on their best behavior.
If you’ve planned a full itinerary for the day, the ADHD kid(s) won’t have time to decompress between activities. They won’t get those important moments of chill time before being asked to live inside the lines again. That’s a way to set yourself (and them) up for disaster.
If you need to make plans, make them loosely. Expect things to go differently than you planned, and be prepared to be okay with that.
5. Advocate for the family.
If people around you start muttering about “how annoying that kid is,” or say the child’s parents are “too overbearing” or “too structured,” or start grumbling about how ADHD is “just a label they give kids who aren’t disciplined” (yes, people really say these things), be an advocate for the child you welcomed into your home.
Be the one who explains how awesome that kid is. Be the one to commend the parents for loving their child so well. Be the one to speak up and remind people how ADHD brains really do look different on imaging scans than other brains.
You don’t have to start arguments, but you can gently advocate. Be a voice of kindness and encouragement.
6. Set aside a quiet space for the ADHD child.
It doesn’t have to be a huge area, just find a space that is quiet and secluded. Make it off-limits for anyone but the ADHD child.
Obviously, don’t announce to everyone who walks in the door that the space is reserved (seriously, don’t do that). Just know in your mind that the space has been saved, and keep an eye on it if you’re able.
Let the parents (or the child, if they’re older) know that the space is available if necessary. If you don’t feel comfortable being that forward, then set the space aside and only mention it if the need arises.
Either way, have it ready.
7. Be a source of acceptance and love for the parents.
These parents love their kid. They don’t see their ADHD child as a walking diagnosis. They don’t view him/her as an inconvenience or an exhaustion.
They are, however, a lot of times exhausted because being a parent in general is really tiring. I’m an advocate of encouraging parents whenever you can, but parents of special needs kids need to be uplifted by their even more so than usual.
On average, they endure more meltdowns, more stares, more rude comments, and more nights without proper sleep. By inviting an ADHD family into your home, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to reach out to them and show them how accepted they truly are.
You don’t need to be their savior, you just need to accept them, accommodate them, and encourage them.
8. Be mentally prepared.
ADHD comes with a lot of really awesome moments, but it also comes with a lot of frustration.
Put on your most patient hat before the day even begins. Be prepared for a meltdown to happen at some point or another. Be okay with imperfection, both from the child and from yourself. Know that you’ll be really tired when the day is over.
But more than that, prepare yourself to love that child amidst the potential chaos. Seek out times when you can show them kindness. Embrace the quick, little hugs you get from them.
Watch them intently and marvel at all the wonder they find in life. Be prepared to not just “survive” the holidays with them, but to enjoy the holidays with them and be thankful for their presence.