Family Vacations Worth Remembering

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Family vacations provide us with some of our fondest and most enduring childhood memories. As a parent, you want to create vacations that are full of fun, laughter, and family bonding. But, when one or more of your children has ADHD, making this vision a reality can seem daunting. Sibling conflicts, emotional outbursts, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can make road trips, flights, hotel stays, and activity-filled days especially challenging. With some planning and specific attention to the needs of your child, successful summer vacations are possible! Follow these tips to get started.

Have realistic expectations. Family vacations do not need to be perfect in order to be great. Often the pressure to make special memories and enjoy every moment of a hard-earned vacation makes families less tolerant of irritable moods and disruptive behavior. Remember that kids (and parents!) will have bad moments during vacation just like they do during the rest of the year. Try to remember that these moments will pass and will not derail the rest of your vacation. If bad moments are becoming too frequent, try to identify the underlying cause. It may be that your child is hungry, tired, or overscheduled. Small changes to any of these areas may make a big difference.  

Involve your child in the planning. Kids with ADHD tend to do best when they are engaged in activities that they find highly interesting. Encourage your child to select one or more activities that will be geared especially toward them. Make sure each sibling has an opportunity to choose at least one activity. If your vacation involves visits to historical sites, let your child act as the “family expert” for their favorite site. This will encourage them to learn about the history before you travel, and they’ll have fun sharing their knowledge during the trip.            

Create space for “alone” time. When tensions run high during family vacations, it is often due in part to the fact that everyone has had a little too much “together” time. Everyone needs some alone time to decompress and recharge, but how much alone time is needed will vary greatly from person to person. Think about your own family. Are there members who need more alone time than others? Create alone time breaks by allowing children to listen to music on headphones, read a book independently, or watch a video by themselves. After their break, they’ll be recharged and ready for the next family activity.

Allow for one-on-one parent-child time to reduce sibling conflict. During family vacations, it’s not uncommon for siblings to compete for their parents’ attention. Add into the mix the fact that kids with ADHD often require more attention to keep their behavior in check, and attention-seeking conflicts will inevitably pop up. Keep these conflicts to a minimum by scheduling one-on-one parent-child time with each of your children. These one-on-one breaks can be as short as 15 minutes, or longer if there are special activities that you would like to do individually with each of your children.

Set small goals and reward good behavior. Kids with ADHD thrive with structure and external motivators like praise and rewards. Build structure into your vacation by setting mini-behavior goals for your child, and by providing praise and rewards when they meet these goals. For example, if your child struggles to stay seated during meal times, set the goal of only getting out of their seat 2 times during the meal. If they meet their goal, then they can get a special treat when the meal is over.

Family vacations aren't without any stress, but with a few of these tips in place, you might just find that the stress level will stay down, the enjoyment will be up, and fond memories will be created.  Travel safely, and have a great vacation!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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