Want to Have a Peaceful Winter Break?Try These ADHD-Friendly Strategies

Winter is right around the corner, and even though they just enjoyed first long respite from school that comes with Thanksgiving weekend, it’s highly likely that your kids are already counting down the days until winter break arrives. This time of year brings with it a mix of emotions. There’s no school! Need I say more? Kids, especially our high schoolers and college students look forward to sleeping in late. Younger students can’t wait to see grandparents or relatives from out of town. Maybe we will get lucky, and Mother Nature will gift us with snow, which will call for snowmen, sledding, and hot chocolate. There is so much to do; so many foods to be eaten; so much gaming time to make up for; and a whole lotta of unstructured time. (Screeching of wheels is being inserted here for dramatic effect.) Yep, that’s right, parents and guardians, we are marching toward a 10-14 day stretch of potentially hazardous terrain, during which your children could have absolutely nothing to do. For some families, this change is a welcome reprieve from daily schedules filled with carpool duty, commuting from one sporting event to another, play and dance rehearsals, Science Olympiad preparations, etc. You….can….breathe….now. In other households, the lack of structure is hazardous and requires a formal pivot to vacation mode, replete with an implementation of vacation mode activities. This is particularly true of families who live with ADHD.

Here’s the thing:

If you are a parent grappling with what to do to ensure your family enjoys this winter break, have no fear. Here are some suggestions to make your holiday wish come true!

Maintain Structure:

kids of all ages appreciate structure and predictability, as they afford the opportunity to remain grounded in routine. This may require you to tap into your inner Julie, the cruise director, and create a vacation routine, being mindful of the nuances required for different age groups. Set wake, sleep, and meal times. It won’t hurt to give some allowance for some extra sleep time, especially for your older kids. If you will be home, stick to a schedule of chores that still need to be addressed despite the full vacation mode your family is enjoying. Trash needs to be taken out on Thursdays; dogs need to be walked; pets need to be fed; instruments need to be practiced (or maybe you allow for a break this year?); laundry needs to be done; dishwashers need to be emptied, etc.

Even if you are away on vacation, you can still create an element of predictability, adhering to a sleep and wake schedule and regular mealtimes. Your kids can also be charged with making sure they keep their personal spaces in order and they account for their belongings. 

Plan activities:

Be your family’s activity director, and in the weeks leading up to winter break, talk with them about what they envision for the holiday break. If you are enjoying your staycation, plan some activities that everyone can look forward to. Local townships and the city of Philadelphia all offer plenty of winter events from ice skating, cookie decorating, ski trips, exhibits at local museums, art galleries, sporting events, concerts, movies, and events at places of worship, and they are all waiting to be discovered. Organize a toy or clothing drive for a local charity. Visit an elderly or sick relative you have not seen in a while.

If you’re going on vacation, investigate the activities to do on site at the hotel and in the surrounding areas. Be sure to make reservations if necessary, so no one will be disappointed when you arrive. If you will be staying with family or friends out of town, coordinate with them, so members of your party feel included in the decision-making process, and again, everyone knows what to expect from your time together.

Whether you will be at home or away, create a schedule, so your kids will know what to expect in the days ahead.

Allow for downtime:

While structure is important for kids, it’s equally critical that they have the opportunity to peel away from the crowds, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and the excitement associated with this time of year. For many kids who have ADHD, the stimulation from the lights, music, sugar, and energy can be overwhelming. Allowing for quiet time, during which they can retreat to their rooms, or a quiet location is important for their mental health. Even if you are away on vacation, a quiet hour in the hotel room, a peaceful drive along the coast, or a curving mountain road can be enough to bring about calm and an opportunity to reset. For older kids, agree to their requests to go for a walk alone or a hike or bike ride, making sure they take their phones with them. The down time is equally important for you. Tag team with your partner or spouse or ask a friend or relative if they wouldn’t mind watching your kids while you take some you time.

Keep It Together:

For those of you who are staying home, the same rules of order and organization you follow during the school year should still stay in play, even while you are in the mode of winter break.

For all of you who are planning to go away on vacation this year, here are some organizational suggestions. For kids, especially those who struggle with organizational skills, setting up their personal space is important. Granted, when you’re in a tight hotel room or Airbnb, it’s hard to accommodate this necessity. In close hotel quarters, each child can place their suitcase on a section of the wall. Define the property line by placing a towel on the floor. This is their space in which to keep their belongings. For the youngest members of your family (ie pre-school-elementary school), don’t have the expectation their suitcase will remain full of folded clothing. As long as they keep their personal effects in the boundaries of the towel, they are good to go. Of course, you can also utilize the drawers, with one drawer (or more if you are staying in an Airbnb) assigned to each family member. Jackets and coats can be hung in the room’s closet. Wet bathing suites can be hung in the bathroom on a hanger. Each member of the family gets their own towel, and they are responsible for hanging it up after each use. Bring extra kitchen trash bags with you to your destination so each child has a dirty clothes bag they can place next to their bag. And bring a large gallon Ziploc bag for each family member in which to bring any wet clothing home.

The loss of hotel room key cards can be avoided by using the hotel’s room key app. Barring that, designate a space for each person’s hotel or Airbnb key within their designated personal space. Write each person’s name or initials on their designated card so no one accidentally takes the wrong key.

Incorporate Movement:

In general, kids need to move, but this is particularly true for kids who have ADHD, especially the hyperactive type. If the weather permits, go outside and take a walk. Philadelphia has plenty of beautiful trails including Valley Green, Valley Forge, Haverford College, Chanticleer, and Kelly Drive, just to name a few. Ride bikes, ice skate on a frozen pond (Please make sure it is frozen through and through.). Ski, ice fish, or swim if you are in a warmer climate. Movement helps to work off extra energy, increases the flow of blood to the brain, which allows for increased focus, and emotional wellbeing. Get out there and move.

Chat It Up:

There is this misnomer that everything is great, and everything is perfect when we are in vacation mode. While this is something to aspire toward, the reality is that we are still humans when we go away on a trip or take a break from our daily routine. Our minds are freer to consider the feelings we haven’t taken the time to process during the hustle and bustle of the rest of the year. In the absence of distractions, those feelings suddenly come rushing to the forefront. The holidays are stressful for a lot of people for a wide range of reasons, and things will be said and heard in moments of frustration, and feelings will be hurt. Check in with one another. How is everyone feeling? How are you feeling? Give each other the chance to talk about what’s on your mind.

Thank You for Being a Friend:

Spending time with friends is enjoyable and therapeutic for everyone. Schedule playdates for your younger children-if you are friends with the parents, make it a double date, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and catch up. Encourage your teens and twenty-somethings to get together with a friend or two while they are on break. Spending time with friends can be just as, if not more so, enjoyable as spending time with family. Reach out and call someone. What are your family’s plans this year? Will you be enjoying a staycation from home, or does an adventure await you across state lines or in an exciting international destination? Are family members coming to visit you, or are you going to see them? Whatever the winter break may have in store for your family, do your due diligence, and take some preemptive steps to ensure this year’s vacation is enjoyable for one and all.