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Preparing ADD Kids for Change

If your child has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), you probably know how difficult it can be for him to transition from one situation to another. He feels most secure and behaves best when life follows a regular schedule. Just as he’s settled into his new school year routine, along comes the holiday season – turning his schedule upside down! How can you prepare him for holiday challenges? Can you help him manage his behavior so he has a fun and holiday and more success at school? 

Planning Makes (Almost) Perfect

Rick Lavoie, who is a nationally recognized authority on learning differences, suggests, “Prepare the child for the situation, and prepare the situation for the child.” This is an effective two-part strategy and well worth the time you’ll invest to follow. Let’s break the strategy into its key components:

If you tell a child with AD/HD what to expect in a new situation, he’ll feel less anxious and better prepared for it. Once he’s in the situation, he’ll probably behave better because there won’t be many surprises. (When discussing the holidays, you may want to warn him that sometimes plans change unexpectedly and that you’ll help him cope with any changes that arise.)
Preparing the situation for the child is equally important. You know your child best and by now understand his triggers. First, anticipate situations that might trigger your child’s worst behavior. Then make arrangements and backup plans to support his appropriate behavior.

While preparing ahead is key, so is giving your child gentle reminders throughout the holiday season. As always, be prepared to reward your child’s patience, efforts, and flexibility — wherever you happen to be.

Staying Home for the Holidays

If you plan to stay at home for the holidays, your child’s moods may swing from periods of boredom to bouts of over-excitement. Help him anticipate special events by marking them on a calendar and reminding him as they draw near. Even though your child will be in his own home, prepare the holiday scenario for him.

For example, if you plan to cook a holiday dinner for your extended family, arrange for one of your child’s favorite relatives to “buddy” with him while you’re busy or bring in a responsible baby sitter that understands your child’s needs and temperament. Decide which family activities (like religious services) your child is expected to participate in. Be sure to build in “escape routes” for him, so he has a quiet place to go when situations or his feelings overwhelm him. Work with him to decide how and where he can retreat. Gently remind him of this coping strategy throughout the holiday season. Providing periodic down time will help him to remain in balance.

Traveling During the Holidays

If you plan to travel during the holidays, there are several ways to prepare your child:

  • Show him a map of the route you’ll take.
  • Mention the interesting sites and scenery you’ll see along the way.
  • Talk about how many miles you’ll travel and how long the trip will take.
  • If your child has never traveled by plane, bus, or train before, spend extra time telling him what to expect at the airport or station, as well as on board or in flight. And be sure to warn him about “travel transitions” such as connecting flights.

Before your trip, let your child choose toys, games, and books to take along. This ensures he’ll be entertained during travel. It also gives him a sense of security and choice. For his sake (and your sanity!) be sure to include items such as:

  • Books, puzzle books, and hand-held games.
  • Audio-cassette or CD player (with individual headphones) for listening to music or books on tape.
  • A small ball or Frisbee™ for on-the-road exercise breaks.
  • Like many kids with AD/HD, he may chatter non-stop about sights and scenery he sees along the way. Dictating his comments into a tape recorder will keep him busy while you concentrate on driving or navigating. If you have a camcorder, let him play newsman and tape interviews about important events and people that are experienced along the way.

On road trips, take frequent exercise breaks. Help your child transition from “play” time to “driving” time by telling him, “You have 10 more minutes to play. Then we have to drive some more.” In airports and train stations let him walk and explore as much as is safely possible. On road trips travel games and songs can help time pass between rest stops. “I Spy” and challenging them to search for items that follow the alphabet on signs (first one to find items for A-Z wins), can keep them entertained.

Staying with Family

If you’ll spend the holidays at a relative’s home, be sure to prepare your child for the situation and the situation for the child. Do this even if you’ll be staying in a familiar place. Discuss the situation with your child and encourage him to ask questions. Typical questions include:

  • Who else will be there?
  • Who else will stay overnight?
  • Where will I sleep?
  • If I need a break, where can I go?
  • If you’re busy, which family members can I go to for help or advice?

If you don’t know all the answers, talk to your relatives right away. Remind them of your child’s special needs (such as having a designated “quiet room” for hectic times). Be firm but polite when asking for special arrangements. Remember this will assure your relatives comfort as well. Once the plans are made, thank your host and share the plan with your child.

Making a Memory Book/edited travel film

After the holidays, help your child create a scrapbook of holiday photos, souvenirs, and other memories of the season. If you filmed the trips go through the tapes and edit and fill in events in order to have a memory film to replay. Remind your child of his successes — his help, cooperation, and contributions to a happy time together. Review this memory book and or film with him from time to time — especially when planning for next year’s holidays!

If your child has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), you probably know how difficult it can be for him to transition from one situation to another. He feels most secure and behaves best when life follows a regular schedule. Just as he’s settled into his new school year routine, along comes the holiday season — turning his schedule upside down! How can you prepare him for holiday challenges? Can you help him manage his behavior so he has a fun and holiday and more success at school?

 

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