When my daughter was five years old I told her father and my ex mother-in-law (we had been divorced for nearly a year) that I believed my daughter was ADD. She wasn’t bounce off the walls hyper, destructive, or aggressive. She just couldn’t concentrate. Ever. She could not remember from point A to point B what she was doing. Getting her to brush her teeth was a litany of “Go brush your teeth. Please go brush your teeth. Why don’t you go brush your teeth? Brush your teeth. Brush your teeth. Brush. Your. Teeth. Now. Have you brushed your teeth?” There were times she would even make it as far as the bathroom, only to come wandering out, dry toothbrush in hand, on the trail of a new idea. Teeth no cleaner than half an hour ago.
At age seven, our world screeched to a halt when it seemed that every fear, every anxiety you could imagine, came to surface in her small heart. She wanted to die. She talked about ways to make it happen. No other way to say it, my sweet, beautiful, loving seven year old had a nervous breakdown. I’ll get into that another time, but for the years between seven and ten, ADD was forgotten as I battled her anxiety, fear and depression. Reminding her over and over again of what she was supposed to be doing, or dealing with her forgetfulness just became second nature. I no longer even noticed it. I was too busy with a child that cried often, was afraid of leaving my side (not even to go to the bathroom), who was clingy, moody, unable to sleep and at the same time one of the sweetest children I’d had the privilege to know. Thankfully with the help of counseling and by later adding anxiety medication, she is doing much better. With everything else that was going on, the diagnosis of ADHD was delayed to just this summer. She struggled through fifth grade like she was swimming in taffy. I pushed, pulled, talked, yelled, and threatened. She managed to just keep afloat, but the struggle took it’s toll. We sought help and she was diagnosed with ADHD. She started medication, and I’ve read anything I can about the care and treatment of children with ADHD. Medication is a tool, but it is up to me to equip her with tips and tricks she can use throughout her life.
As a parent with a newly diagnosed child with ADHD and anxiety, I knew going away from home might be a challenge. I’m going to share now those tips and ideas I mentioned.
1. I planned our itinerary carefully. We knew what we HAD to see and what we WANTED to see. I planned each day in advance making sure we would get to see all of what was on the HAD to list and time permitting the WANT to list. DD does best when she can follow an exact plan. She knows things can come up, or plans can go awry, but she craves order. A plan helps her to feel in control, while a back up plan reminds her that sometimes we still need to be flexible.
2. I made sure to have all DD’s medications as well as Tylenol for any headaches and melatonin in case she had trouble sleeping.
3. I stocked the car with a few small toys, books, magazines, pens, colored pencils and sketch pads. I had a cooler with bottled water, cheese sticks, fruit and yogurt. I also had crackers and granola bars. Medicine tends to affect her appetite, so I wanted to have something available for when she was hungry. Also, mid afternoon when ADHD meds are wearing off a snack with protein and complex carbs is essential!
4. Don’t rush!!! My daughter gets frustrated and agitated when she feels rushed. Simply using the words “hurry up” can send her into a nose-dive. I tried to get her up early enough in the morning for her to get ready at her own pace. It also helps if I tell her the night before what time we need to walk out the door and let her have input on what time she thinks she needs to wake up in order to be ready on time. Also allowing time between sight seeing attractions to sit a moment or two helped her not feel like she was rushing from one place to the next.
5. Leave expectations and limitations behind. We should do this every day! Realize that traveling with an ADHD child (or adult) has its challenges. What seems easy to do or simplistic to you may be far from logical or simple for them. Allow for their differences in the way they see things. Allow them to choose how to complete tasks when possible. I let my DD unpack her suitcase putting items where they made the most sense to her. I could have done it faster, but then every day she would have struggled to remember where things were. Just because it makes sense to me to put socks and underwear in the same drawer does not mean it makes sense to her. You don’t have to understand their way – they do. Be patient, even when it’s hard. When your patience is tested and you snap, never be afraid to apologize to your kid. They need to know you value them and can own mistakes. I remember saying something like, “I’m sorry I became impatient and frustrated. I don’t always understand the way you need to do things, but I promise to try to let you do them on your own.” She knows I’m human. She knows I love her.
6. Since my child is older I let her have a say in almost everything. She helped with itinerary planning, packing, and when driving she read road signs (okay, so she read every SINGLE one, not just the ones I needed, but that’s okay). She kept an eye on the GPS, letting me know when turns were coming up and what the street names were. She chose restaurants and helped navigate the metro system. She carried and read the city map. She felt valued and appreciated. It was truly her trip too.
7. I left my own insecurities at home (as best I could!). I know how my negative thoughts and self esteem affect my daughter and I was not going to let it get in the way. If I want her to be strong and confident I have to set that example.
8. On a long trip stop often to stretch your legs. Take back roads for a bit and enjoy the scenery. Stop at farmer’s markets, general stores, or whatever strikes your fancy. Plan enough time to reach your destination (or return home) while still enjoying the trip itself.
9. Breathe and have fun. This could go along with number five I suppose. If anyone (including adults), starts getting cranky or frustrated, take a break. Relax. Smile. Take some goofy pictures. Sit on a park bench and people watch. Divert attention by changing the subject. Ask specific questions about a topic you know your child enjoys. Ask what their favorite item in a museum was and why. Any topic interesting to your child works. Sometimes DD gets frustrated and doesn’t know why. Frustration leads to agitation which leads to misery. If I respond to her agitated mood by showing agitation in return, there is no hope of turning that mood around any time soon. Diversion techniques work wonders. Maybe her answers are short at first, so drawing her into the conversation soon has her talking and the agitation subsides.
10. There is no such thing as a perfect vacation. Things happen. Plans get derailed. It rains. Some impatient woman will push your kid causing her to lose her balance and almost send everyone crashing down the escalator like dominoes. You might even have a teeny tiny disagreement. Your pre-teen might roll her eyes once or twice. Relax and enjoy the ride. Take things with a grain of salt and be flexible. Punch the old bat that pushed your kid (okay, don’t really do that). Breathe. You cannot control everything. Even I cannot control everything and I am quite possibly the biggest control freak on the planet.
Again, I’m not an expert on anything. I’m not “qualified” to give advice. I”m just a long winded mom that has her own ideas of how to raise her own child. I’ll share ideas I’ve had or what works for me in the hopes that someone else might find something useful in it, or at least a couple anecdotes they can identify with – or feel good knowing that you have it WAY more together than I do!
So, what did you do special with your kids this summer?