3 Deeply Meaningful Holiday Traditions That Work For All Sorts Of Families

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grandmother and granddaughter hug at the Christmas table

Being apart for so long o the holidays helped many of us realize the importance of spending time and celebrating important moments with people we love.

Initially, family gatherings may feel a bit awkward after a long gap. This may be particularly true if you or members of your family have ADHD. 

But reviving established family traditions will not only help rebuild connections and memories for years to come. It will also help create new traditions for your family and friends. 

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Three meaningful and inclusive ways you can create new ADHD-friendly family fun traditions.

1. Take a break & focus on family.

Start this process by focusing on the whole family. Include them in the planning process and see what lights people up about the holidays. What does everybody imagine would make this time special and fun?

Using collaborative brainstorming techniques works most effectively for kids and teens with ADHD because you can balance activity with recovery time in whatever you set up. You also want to keep things interesting with a variety of new and familiar activities. Celebrating and creating family traditions is sure to put more sparkle into the holiday season.

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2. Celebrate your family traditions.

During the end-of-year holiday season, it’s nice to reflect on customs and traditions which make your family unique. This creates bonds and gives the younger members of the family a deeper sense of identity and connection to their heritage. It’s also just a nice way to mark the season.

When you have a family tradition, you have something to plan and look forward to each year. This is very helpful for kids and teens with ADHD who tend to be concrete thinkers. The traditions offer a foothold in a holiday season that can otherwise feel overwhelming. Whether you take a trip, volunteer, bake, play games, or have a movie marathon, the family has something special to focus on and contribute to year after year.

You can also use this time of year as an opportunity to learn about other family customs and traditions. Do you have friends or neighbors whose holiday celebrations are different from your own? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to share their experience, and invite them to see how your family celebrates.

This can be an enriching and rewarding experience for everyone, but especially for children. The value of learning about other people’s traditions is immense and teaches everyone to not only accept but to also appreciate our differences and uniqueness.

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3. Create new ADHD-friendly family traditions.

Time to roll up your sleeves and get creative! Discuss as a family what types of activities or particular celebrations might be fun, meaningful, and doable. Remember to accommodate the needs of members of your family with ADHD. Discuss their capacity for participation and address specific challenges related to impulse control, hyperactivity, or inattention.

They may get bored more easily or struggle to disengage from something fun when it’s time to leave. Together, make a plan in advance for coping with these issues when they arise, so you aren’t scrambling in the midst of a meltdown. Write these down and remind your kids about them beforehand.

This is also a time to give back to others. See if you can incorporate helping or volunteering within your family, community, and beyond. Giving to others helps nurture both gratitude and empathy. When you think outside of the box about the holidays, you can combine the traditions people love with the opportunity to apply their creative brains. This helps avoid the “same old, same old” mentality that can make some folks with ADHD dread the holiday season.

Here are some ideas for fun and meaningful ADHD-friendly holiday traditions for you to consider:

Food-related traditions:

  • Transform one of your family’s favorite holiday dishes by making it in a new way.
  • Make a beloved recipe that brings people together to prepare, cook and enjoy it.
  • Assemble small gift packages with delectable treats (cookies, homemade bread, spiced nuts, or dried fruits) for relatives, neighbors, or guests.
  • Hold a light-hearted gingerbread house assembly contest with prizes for different categories, such as the most colorful, the most unusual, the most delectable, etc.
  • Use foods like pasta, popcorn, or candy to make crafts and decorations.
  • Organize a food-related scavenger hunt around your house (candy, nuts, brownies, etc.)
  • Cook and freeze a few beloved dishes that your college-age kids or emerging adults can carry home with them.

Social Traditions

  • Organize a family sing-along or a sing-down.
  • Play charades, the salad bowl, a game, or a family talent show.
  • Gather friends or family and drive around your neighborhood looking at the holiday lights, picking your favorites, and then coming home for hot cocoa (This was a favorite for my gang!)
  • Have an ugly sweater or funky hat contest.
  • Go sledding, ice skating, skiing, or do other outdoor activities together.
  • Take a family photo with a theme
  • Host a game night or movie evening

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Gifting Traditions

  • Organize a gift exchange for family and friends with new rules for the gift exchange (e.g., nothing store-bought, must be a specific color, should be eco-friendly, etc.)
  • Make your own digital or snail mail cards or calendar for the year using photos, original designs, or valued poems.
  • Consider homemade gifts such as potted plants, a knitted cap, collages, tie-dye tee-shirts, etc.
  • Brainstorm ideas for experience gifts (museum passes, guitar lessons, day trips, etc.)
  • Create a coupon book for activities that somebody might really like, such as getting a free pass from doing certain chores (clearing the table, making dinner, folding the laundry, etc.) or for doing desired activities (going out to a movie, ordering take-out of their choice, sleeping in on a Saturday, etc.)

Giving Back Traditions

  • As a family, talk about and choose one charity that you wish to support through a donation or volunteer opportunity
  • Find a way to include a relative or friend who could not join your festivities in person.
  • Give your services at a food pantry, senior, center, or soup kitchen
  • With the help of a few friends, organize a gently used clothing/toy/book swap with leftovers going to a homeless shelter, immigrant family, or hospital charity.

It’s really important to think ahead rather than flying by the seat of your pants and feeling anxious or guilty or not good enough. When you set up activities in advance, name the new ones perceived as something special. This increases anticipation, buy-in, and participation.

Shaking things up with something new while simultaneously repeating lovely traditions is what keeps kids and adults with ADHD engaged in the holiday celebrations because there is variety.

Collaborate on creative, interesting, and practical ideas that will work for your family and enjoy time with friends, coworkers, and loved ones. Most importantly, make sure to slow down and take a break from the day-to-day stress in your life if you can. Kick back and take that well-deserved break, whatever it may look like.

During this holiday season, I wish you peace, good health, and joy! We will return with our next blog in January 2023. 

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Sharon Saline, Psy. D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator. For over 30 years, she has focused on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on the school and family dynamics.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.