Plan Vacations Everyone Will Enjoy

 ADHD Weekly, May 23, 2019

Will you head to the beach, the mountains, or a national park this summer? Or maybe a local day trip to nearby historic sites or a theme park? Summer is a great time for getaways, but with ADHD in the family you’ll want to tackle a couple details before you head out the door.

Packing up for the trip

When planning a vacation, most people think about the fun they’ll have and not about the structure of trip, says Margaret Sibley, PhD. She is an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral health at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and a member of the CHADD’s professional advisory board.

“If you know your child has issues, and has ADHD, planning ahead will pay off for you in the long run, and allow you to relax more once you’re on vacation. It’s definitely a worthwhile step to take,” Dr. Sibley says.

Are there certain activities or types of vacations your child particularly enjoys? Keep in mind the triggers that could cause your child to meltdown—being hungry, thirsty, tired, overwhelmed or bored—and lead to poor behaviors. For example, playing at the beach in the sand and surf may be a better choice for your family, rather than waiting in long lines at an amusement park. A hike in the woods could make for a great afternoon if a child would be bored or unable to contain herself at a museum. But if your child is more comfortable in a structured environment, then a tour at a historic location could be the best option.

Many children with ADHD have difficulty with impulsivity and low frustration levels. Some are easily bored and have trouble following directions. Distraction in large crowds can be a problem. Keeping symptoms in mind can help with planning your trip and while traveling.

If possible, involve your child in the planning, says family therapist Janette Patterson, MSW. Talking together about the details of your travel plans gives your child a chance to be part of the process and to share his thoughts about the trip. Discuss what’s involved in reaching different destinations, whether by car or by plane, and decide on the best option for your family.

“Allow for enough time to not just travel but to allow your child with ADHD to self-regulate—meaning pacing yourself, taking breaks,” Ms. Patterson says. “Many people with ADHD don’t do well with having to sit at the airport or in the car. If they have to sit still, that’s a real challenge for most people with ADHD.”

If your vacation involves spending time with family, it’s important that your child knows who will be around, what kinds of behaviors are expected of him, and what he should do if he’s feeling uncomfortable in any way.

Head off some of the triggers for a meltdown or misbehavior by packing plenty of snacks and diversions. Depending on your child’s age and interests, that might include cards, coloring books, video games, or movies. Pack enough of everything for all of your children to minimize squabbling.

On your vacation or day trip

You may decide your expectations will be different when you’re on vacation, and that’s fine, says Dr. Sibley. Consider possible behavior issues your children could experience while on your trip and consider how you might address them. Having a plan ahead of the trip can save time and stress while there.

“Different people value certain aspects of good behavior more than others,” Dr. Sibley says. “Of course, you have to think about the impact of the behavior on the siblings and other people in the family.”

It’s important that you and your spouse or partner agree on what the behavior management plans will be. Before you even leave home, share it with all of your children—not just the one who has been diagnosed with ADHD. It’s best to set similar, age-appropriate expectations for everyone, says Dr. Sibley, rather than singling one out. With older children, you can take a more collaborative approach to negotiating expectations and consequences.

Other things to think about:

  • You might have considered a break from medication. That’s an individual choice—you just have to be prepared to accept whatever behaviors may arise, says Dr. Sibley.
  • Does the hotel or resort offer childcare? If you use such a service, be sure to communicate all important information, as you would at home.
  • Keep what contributes to good or poor behavior for your child. If your child gets cranky when hungry, keep snacks on hand and follow a fairly normal meal schedule. That’s true of sleep as well.

“Vacation is one of those things where bedtime can become looser, but if you know your child needs a good night’s sleep to be able to function well, stick to the same routine you have at home,” says Dr. Sibley.

As with any good trip, taking a vacation when ADHD is part of the picture all comes down to preparation.

“It’s about good planning and good decision-making, putting your child in situations that are going to be enjoyable, and being thoughtful about not putting them at a higher risk for misbehavior,” says Dr. Sibley.

Ready for a road trip?

Join the discussion: What has made for successful family trips in the past?