Staying on Track During the Holidays

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

It’s December and your family has finally settled into the rhythm of the school-year. Homework time is firm, and work is getting done (most nights). Your child is getting to bed at a reasonable time, and waking up without too much difficulty in the morning. Finally! But just when you and your child have hit your stride, the winter holidays come around and you start to worry that the time off from school will send you and your child back to square one.

While having a break from school gives your child an opportunity to recharge and spend quality time with family, it presents a real challenge for families of kids with ADHD. Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid backsliding completely over the holidays: 

  1. Modify Your Routine. Start by creating a modified routine that is custom tailored for the holiday break. Set a bedtime and morning wake-up schedule that is realistic for this time of year, and stick to it. Avoid deviating too far from regular sleep and wake times, since this will make it much harder to get back on track when the holidays are over. As always, be as consistent as possible. Consistency helps your child regulate their sleep, appetite, attention, energy level, and mood – all of which contribute to making the holiday season enjoyable for you and your child!
  2. Schedule Fun Activities. While it may seem like the winter break should simply be fun by default, too much downtime can lead to meltdowns and the post-holiday blues. On top of this, the busyness of the season tends to detract from the quality family time that your child craves this time of year. So, plan a fun, special activity each day with your child. These don’t have to be elaborate activities. In fact, it’s often the simple things that go a long way over winter break (e.g., watching a special movie together, driving around town to see holiday lights, going out for hot chocolate, baking cookies, going out for a pancake breakfast, etc.). Take a few minutes to sit down with your child and brainstorm activities that you’d like to do together. Then schedule them at specific days and times during the break. Let your child decorate the list, and then post it someplace where you can see it each day.
  3. Keep Learning. Let your child know that breaks from school don’t have to mean a break from learning. Kids with ADHD who struggle in school start to feel like learning is a chore, and something is they suffer through each day until they become adults. In reality, kids love to learn, they just don’t like doing routine schoolwork or sitting too much during the day. So, help your child remember that learning can be fun. When you’re planning activities for your child, or looking for ways to keep him or her busy while you get things done around thing house, aim for projects that combine learning and fun. There are some terrific websites out there with countless ideas to get you started: com, or
  4. Limit Screen Time. Too much screen time over the holidays will make it harder for your child to adjust once school starts back up again, and can lead to meltdowns and arguments. Set a clear plan for screen time, and stick to it. If your child argues or melts down when screen time is over, then don’t allow screen time the next day. Remember, iPads, phones, computers, and television are all privileges, and these privileges can be taken away if your child isn’t able to handle them.

Take care of yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the holidays, and as a parent of a child with ADHD, you have even more to manage than most families. At some point, you’ll find yourself wishing the holidays were over already and your child was back in school just so you can have a break. Try to find at least a few minutes each day when you can do something for yourself, even if it’s simply sitting and enjoying a good cup of coffee or taking a relaxing bath after the kids go to bed. These small activities can go a long way in giving you the energy and patience you need to enjoy your child and the holiday season.



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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