Surviving the Holidays

Koru Family Psychology, Holidays


Holidays are meant to be the best time of the year. While we daydream about what the holidays should look like, we all know this can be the most stressful time of year. We often wear ourselves down by overbooking our days, spending too much, and forgetting to take care of ourselves. To top it off, kids behaviours seem to explode because their routines are disrupted.

As a result, we shut down and go into survival mode. Before we know it, the holidays are over and we are left exhausted, broke, disappointed, and disconnected from our kids.

In this special article, we provide tips to help you and your child not only survive the holidays, but to delight in them.

Stick to routines and structure

Kids with ADHD have difficulty managing new routines (e.g., busy malls and loud family events) and lack of structure. The easiest thing to do is keep them on their normal routine. If they take meds, continue taking them. If they have a behaviour plan, stick with it. Try to keep the same morning and bedtime routines, as well as snack and mealtimes, as much as possible.

Keep a calendar posted where kids can see what they are doing each day. Be proactive and talk about any out-of-routine situations that might stress them. Have them brainstorm ways that you can help support them.

Have structured activities planned, such as holiday crafts, family movie, baking, decorating cookies, sleigh rides, skating, building snowmen, games, tobogganing, or going to the holiday market. Have them help decide on a new family tradition!

Ensure their needs are met

Whenever you leave the house, be sure that your kids are rested and have had enough to eat. You know what happens with a hungry and tired kid in public.

If they are easily overwhelmed by loud noises and crowds (who isnt!), do all of your errands during off-peak hours.

Make and review clear expectations

Rather than hoping for the best, clearly review any rules that need to be followed at Auntie Barbaras house or when company visits. Don’t assume they know. Also remember: telling them once isn’t enough. You will have to review frequently and check-in regularly to help them be successful.

Be active

Although the thought of snuggling under a warm blanket, vegging in front of holiday classics, and pretty much hibernating from the world seems like an awesome idea, it can wreak havoc for kids with ADHD. Exercise and being active are critical to helping them regulate their mood and behaviours. (Fresh air outdoors helps too!)

Give them control

School can be very stressful for kids so having a break can be rejuvenating. Use thistime to allow them to do things they enjoy and feel successful with. Follow their lead.

They might like coming up with an idea to create one memory of doing something special with the family.

Presence over presents

They’ll always remember one over the other.

Slow down and BE

Holidays often means go-go-go as we rush from one mall to the next and one relatives house to the other. To enjoy the holidays, we need to slow down long enough to notice them in the first place!

Every day, pick one thing to do to help you focus on the present moment. Perhaps sitting in front of a fire with a warm mug of cocoa, savouring the warmth and comfort. Perhaps writing a list of all the things you look forward to in your day or a gratitude list of all the great things you experienced through your day. Perhaps going for a walk outside and taking in all the sights and sounds around you. Perhaps smiling as you watch your kids joyfully build a snowman, completely involved in the bliss of childhood.

Stay Calm

Remember, there are no such things as bad kids. Kids want to be good and do the best they can, so if things go sideways its because the situation is too much for them to handle. Maybe they have been out too late or had to sit through social functions with unfamiliar people too long. Remember, they are just kids and can only tolerate so much. By staying calm, you can figure out their needs and how to best support them. An easy way to regroup after a stressful day with your child?

Watch your child sleep.

There is nothing more peaceful.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

When we’re stressed, we have little patience and cant really support our kids. Find ways to reduce stress by simplifying. Identify the things you do over the holidays that makes things stressful and adjust.

  • Try only one new recipe instead of 26.
  • Avoid the mall and order gifts online.
  • Say no to things that aren’t important to you.
  • Make easy meals in the slow cooker.
  • Ask for help.
  • Store bought cakes can be delicious.
  • Do people even read cards anymore?

Have Fun!


Expect the best

Sometimes we head into the holidays with dread or worry about how our kids will behave at the in-laws. When we do, we perpetuate that fear and only see the negative. With a little shift of mindset, we are more apt to see the awesomeness of our day.


Above all, nurture your relationships to bring you the most joy in the holiday season. It takes time and dedication to foster nurturing relationships, but it can be done. The following are some tools to enhance your relationships with everyone in your life (though I focus on your child here).

  • Listen. Listening and validating others helps foster connection and harmony. If confronted with conflict, say things like, I can see how that would upset you or good point instead of responding defensively to reduce tension.
  • Connect. Enhance your friendship to connect. Learn something new about your child every day. We may think we might know everything, but you may be surprised! Ask about favorites: hobby, relative, food, tree, holiday, song, or animal. Come up with your own creative ideas. If you could be the principal for one day, what would you do? Who do you admire and why? If you can only bring 5 items to a deserted island, what would you bring? If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Become well known to each other.
  • Choose the right place and time to bring up an issue. Hashing through a problem in the heat of the moment never brings positive results. If you absolutely need to talk about a situation, invite your child to chat when everyone is calm; otherwise, let it go.
  • Start softly. How you raise an issue in the first three minutes of a conversation affects the outcome of the interaction. Instead of criticizing, state how you feel, the facts about the situation, and what you need to correct the situation.
  • Support. We all seek support and your kids need it often. If you make a promise, keep it. If your child is having a bad day, listen non-judgmentally, ask questions (i.e., show interest), empathize, and always take his or her side. Don’t side with the enemy or say things like, Gee, I can see why your friends didn’t want to play with you. Thats not supportive and will only cause disconnection.
  • Appreciation. Sincerely show appreciation for your child every opportunity you get.
  • Create shared meaning. Intentionally create rituals of emotional connection. You can ask one thing they are looking forward to in their day or debrief their day over dessert.
  • Stay in the present. Dwelling on the past tends to create regret, anger, and guilt. Thinking of the future is predominated by stress and fear. Being mindful in the present moment brings a greater sense of peacefulness and joy.
  • Love is a verb. What can you do to show love? Maybe a special note under the door at night, a gentle back rub, extra cuddles at bed, or having a yes day (where you say yes to all they want to do.

Feel free to email Dr. Caroline Buzanko with any questions you have related to this article or ADHD.