Family vacations can be the best time for bonding with your kids and making memories. But those family vacations can also be stressful, especially if you’re traveling with a child who struggles with ADHD.
If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, planning a family trip might cause you more stress than joy. Don’t get me wrong, traveling with children can be a stressful challenge regardless of age, gender or special needs. But throwing ADHD into your travel plans, can make it a different experience.
ADHD moms, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In a recent 2011-2012 report, the CDC stated that approximately 11% of children aged 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. That’s a lot of parents trying to figure out how to travel with their energetic, impulsive, inattentive bundles of joy!
The fact that my family lives on opposite ends of the country means I got a lot of experience traveling with my ADHD son, even before he was officially diagnosed with ADHD. Here are a few of the lessons I learned along the way.
1. Let Your Child be Part of the Planning
Kids with ADHD thrive on routine and travel takes away that comfort. Explain to them where you are going, how they are traveling and any other important details you can share.
Let your child feel like they are part of the planning by encouraging them to look into things they would like to do while on vacation, or make suggestions of things you know will get them excited about the trip. Like anyone, the more prepared they are the better they will be able to adjust to the change in routine.
2. Set Out Clear Rules
For parents of kids with ADHD, the thought of a fancy restaurant, crowded airport or amusement park, can be terrifying. Set out clear rules for what is expected of your child and more importantly what they can and cannot do. Often this is more of a safety thing.
When my son was smaller he knew he had to stay within sight of me everywhere we went. As he got older and we went out to more restaurants, I would help offer suggestions of things he could do while fidgeting like calming techniques or activities that would not get him too excited and out of control.
3. Plan Your Trip with Timing in Mind
Younger children find it more difficult to sit still and behave when they are tired, so try to plan longer parts of the trip during naps. Take advantage of any things like pre-boarding or stops for gas as an opportunity to get yourself settled or stretch their legs.
When we take long road trips, my husband gases up the car and I get my kids doing jumping jacks, squats and race back and forth before we got back in the car.
4. Be Prepared
If your child takes ADHD medication, make sure it is in your purse and not in your suitcase! I always take a few extra pills just in case any get dropped, or flights get delayed. Other things that will help the travel time pass with your little one in a car or plane is distractions.
Distractions are key! Children with ADHD find it hard to focus on things that do not interest them, so if you can find something you know they enjoy (games, coloring books, movies, books, etc.) bring it with you.
My son loves small figurines and Legos, so I always carry a bag of them in my purse when we go anywhere (including restaurants). While talking about purse items, don’t forget SNACKS! Gum and lollipops have saved many of our trips on planes.
5. Plan Downtime
With so much to see and do on vacation, many times we forget that this can be overwhelming for a child.
As parents we often want to make the most out of every vacation, but sometimes the best thing for a vacation is doing nothing.
Try to find them some quiet time where they can get away with fewer distractions. Noise canceling headphones are great for allowing your little one a calm escape from all the stimulation.
In The End, Remember To Be Realistic
Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean your child will act different than they do at home.
I remember thinking because my son spent the day on the beach he would surely fall asleep quickly at night… but that never happened.
Remember you cannot do everything and be everything and neither can your child. The stress of traveling affects them too and they are trying their best to deal with the changes as best they can.
When someone offers helps, accept it! If no one offers, ask your partner, family or friend for support and take a 10 min mommy break (mine are usually locked in the bathroom).
Above everything else have patience with your child. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your child’s ADHD won’t all of a sudden go away just because you are away from home.
Take a deep breath, take a step back and enjoy every trip with your child.
Written by Paige McEachren.
Paige spent over 20 years working in corporate communications for world-leading technology, health care and pharmaceutical companies. In 2015, she decided to leave the professional workplace to stay home and help her young kids navigate life with ADHD and dyslexia. When not taking care of her kids (3 including her husband), she loves to plan family vacations, struggles with the love of baking and wanting to be healthy, challenges herself to try new things and if lucky, finds a bit of quiet time. She shares her tales of a disordered life on her blog www.pieceofpie.ca.
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