Planning your vacation with your child with ADHD
By Valeria Vilar, MA, LMHC, BEd
We all look forward with great eagerness to our family vacation. Some families plan trips to new destinations, others choose a quiet destination to relax, or end up choosing to visit their family or home country. This eagerness associated to vacation time is generally linked to the desire of having a great time and storing happy memories of the time spent with the loved ones forever. We all know that every new situation, regardless of how pleasant, generates stress both in adults and children.
This is especially true for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I have often heard my patients or friends talking about their vacations with a hint of disappointment. Some said that their children had behaved worse than they usually do during the year. For instance, they complained about their children being much more anxious, annoying other members of the family, consistently disobeying, being disrespectful to their parents, being rude, etc. These behaviors caused conflicts, arguments and unpleasant situations among parents and siblings, and of course, generated a great deal of frustration and disappointment. I thought it would be useful to draw on these experiences to give you a couple of tips that would help prevent this kind of situations.
- Let your child know about the type of trip you are planning. It is not a good idea to surprise your child with the trip without having given him or her time to elaborate on it in advance. Mark the date of the trip on a calendar and daily check with your child the number of days left before the trip. Show your child the place you will be visiting on a map.
- Talk to him or her about the people you will meet, what the weather will be like there, the activities you are planning on doing, etc. In this way, you and your child can create a guidebook with drawings and pictures. This will make your child feel at ease since he won’t be dealing with surprises.
- Get children involved in planning the trip. Make them feel they are helping in the planning process. Encourage them to share ideas about activities and games
- Take their favorite objects or toys along on the trip. This helps them feel reassured and safe in unfamiliar places, and this will be extremely helpful at bedtime.
- Tell your child in advance that the same rules and consequences that apply during the year will also apply during the vacations. Children often assume that they don’t have to follow rules during vacations. Talking to them in advance will help prevent misunderstandings and unwanted behaviors.
- Encourage your child to behave at all times. Children with ADHD are often absent-minded or react impulsively and behave as if they had never been taught formal social habits.
- If your child is on any medication, ask your doctor about the need to adjust the medication schedule to your vacation schedule. You may be traveling into a different time zone, or sometimes families simply change their schedules while on vacations. Your doctor will give you all the information you need to adjust the medication to the new schedule.
- Finally, do not put too much strain on your child or allow him to become fatigued. If bedtime is extended more than usual, encourage him or her to take a nap during the afternoon to control the additional fatigue. Children with ADHD have more “episodes” of hyperactivity when they feel exhausted. Arranging and planning your vacation in advance will allow your child and the rest of the family members to relax and share some quality time together. I sincerely wish you enjoy your next vacation with your child with ADHD, and that these happy moments remain in your family’s memories forever.