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Cope with Holiday Stress When You Have ADD


Updated December 14, 2010

Cope with Holiday Stress When You Have ADD

Holidays can create feelings of stress in both children and adults with ADHD.

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How to Cope with Holiday Stress When You Have ADHD

What is it about holiday season that can be so much fun, yet so disruptive at the same time? Holidays are filled with family, love, and celebration, but holidays can also create stress. This time of year can be particularly disruptive for children and adults with ADHD.

“The main problem with the holidays is the change in routine. People with ADHD need structure and routines in order to function at their best,” says Patricia Quinn, M.D., developmental pediatrician from Washington, D.C. “They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them.” In addition, any activity that involves waiting can be particularly difficult for those with ADHD. Shopping, waiting for a play or service to begin, waiting to open gifts, waiting for family meals -– all these activities can create stressful feelings.

Holiday Tips

Preparing for the unexpected is key. “Parents can help children by preparing them ahead of time for visits to unfamiliar settings and avoiding long waits. Sending someone else in ahead of time to save seats for performances or services and having the child with ADHD arrive closer to the opening can prevent a melt down and make the activity more enjoyable for all involved.”

It is also helpful for parents to create a schedule of events and post it for the family to view. This helps a child know what to expect and helps the family keep to a predictable schedule...it just might not be the same one as on school days.

Getting enough rest is also important, as is adjusting medication to fit the holiday routines. “This is not the time to go on a 'drug holiday.' Parents should discuss with their child's physician how to adjust dosing schedules so that medication is in effect and can control symptoms for late night festivities, religious services or when traveling,” recommends Dr. Quinn. Parents might want to consider some of the newer longer-acting medications that give symptom coverage for 12 hours.

Adults should also be focused on getting enough rest and making sure that their medication is in effect for all activities including last-minute, late-night shopping.

“Planning ahead, keeping things simple and prioritizing are the best ways to avoid stress,” notes Dr. Quinn. “Celebrating at home with your own traditions rather than traveling to other locations may allow for quieter and more enjoyable holidays for parents and children alike.” In these familiar settings the rules and boundaries are clearer and so children are typically better able to control their behaviors.

Dr. Quinn sums it up, “Decide on what is important to you and your family and make decisions that are ADHD-friendly.”

Read Interview With Debbie Phelps to learn additional tips for handling the holidays and vacations.


Patricia Quinn, M.D. Email correspondence/interview. 20 Dec. 2007.

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