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Interview with Debbie Phelps

Handling Holidays and Vacations


Updated December 16, 2008

Interview with Debbie Phelps

Debbie Phelps with her son record breaking Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps.

Photo © SwimRoom.com

Debbie Phelps, mother of record breaking Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, remembers how it was always a pleasure having her three children out of school for holidays, family vacations, or summer breaks, but was also sometimes difficult. These times were often challenging for Michael, who was diagnosed with ADHD at 9. Since he was away from his normally structured school environment, those days and weeks at home where a challenge.

Ms. Phelps explains that it is the inconsistency that often comes along with these breaks that creates such problems. Mornings and bedtimes often get off kilter during vacations. Meal times can become erratic. Activities can go on and on and on until a child is worn out or over stimulated and ready for a more quiet and calm environment. Even good nutrition and healthy eating habits can fly out the door. When a child’s regular schedule and daily routines are disrupted, life can become much more difficult.

Luckily, there are ways to put the fun back into vacations. The key is building in a predictable schedule and keeping your child focused and busy to help him manage his ADHD symptoms while on breaks from the normal routine.

Preparation and Planning

This takes preparation and planning and Ms. Phelps -- who in addition to being a famous mom has also worked in the education field for more than three decades -- says that children can be a part of this planning. “I tell this to my teachers, too. Don’t say here are the house (class) rules and expectations. Get the students and/or your children to sit down and be a part of the planning.” Make it a collaborative process, include your child’s ideas and point of view, make modifications together, and come to an agreement on the plan.

Ms. Phelps reminds parents that it is also important to think ahead when traveling. If you will be traveling by air, for example, what is the best time of day for your child to travel? Would first thing in the morning be best for him or her? Is it better to wait until later in the day? And don’t forget to plan activities to keep him/her busy on the plane or in the car. Ms. Phelp’s suggestion –- goody/activity bags with games, puzzles, pads and pencils or whatever activities would interest and occupy your child during the commute.

Make a Schedule and Predictable Routine

A day of vacation at the beach may involve a simple schedule such as wake up, breakfast, to the beach for swimming, break for lunch, collect shells, swim more, return to hotel for clean up before dinner, etc. You may even want to create a more detailed schedule with your child and other family members. Sit down together with a pad of paper or at the computer and write up the schedule for each day of vacation and include time slots for activities.

Teach Helpful Strategies Along the Way

Parents can also help their child think through what they will need for vacation activities. Provide support while your child makes a list of necessary items –- two swim suits, beach towel, three pair of shorts, three shirts, three pair of underwear, pajamas, toothbrush and tooth paste, etc. –- and give them the responsibility of getting their things packed. For most ADHD children, however, you often just can’t give them the responsibility and walk away or you are sure to end up with something left back at home. Use the time to help teach little tips, like making a list and checking items off as they go into the suitcase. Provide oversight and support.

Don’t Forget You

Though holidays and vacations are supposed to be times of fun and family, they can also be times of stress and fatigue for any parent. Add to the mix a child with ADHD and feeling overwhelmed can quickly multiply. Be sure to schedule in some downtime for yourself, as well as for your child. Take this time to do something you enjoy –- an activity that helps you relax and rejuvenate and rebound from the hectic vacation activities around you.

Ms. Phelps is a national spokesperson of the ADHD Moms online on Facebook (www.facebook.com/adhdmoms) where she shares her thoughts for better managing the condition in every aspect of a child’s life.

Debbie Phelps. Phone interview/email correspondence. December 9 and 12, 2008.

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