10 Tips for surviving a 3-day chag with your ADHD child

In Israel, with a 6 day school week, we have just one full day per week when we’re left alone to tackle the joys of parenting. For many, Shabbat represents a day to relax, play games, eat great food and catch up with family and friends. For families affected by ADHD, things are rarely that simple!

We all want our children to have a healthy circle of friends and Shabbat brings multiple opportunities for fun, relaxed peer interactions that enable friendships to form, develop and thrive. In many households, shabbat is the most looked-forward-to day of the week, but for families dealing with ADHD, it can be a day filled with dread…

  • Dread that their child will disrupt the synagogue service.

  • Dread that no one will want to play with their child.

  • Dread that their child will hurt another child.

  • Dread that their child will be paralysed by an anxiety that will cause them to alienate themselves from other children.

  • Dread that when they see another child crying, it’ll be because of something their child did.

  • Dread that their child will be rude, or break something, at somebody else’s house.

  • Dread that no one will ever want to invite their family back because of their child’s behaviour.

These feelings of dread are real, they hurt and they can be exhausting. As a parent of a child with ADHD myself, I decided that there had to be another way and made it my mission to develop strategies to make shabbatot more bearable for our family and others like us. What I found was that, through gaining an understanding of the working of our child’s ADHD brain, and adapting our approach accordingly, we were able to create a shabbat environment that was not only bearable but, dare I say it, enjoyable!

As you all know, this year, Rosh Hashanah runs straight into Shabbat, creating a rare 3-day triple-whammy! With the fun and festivities just a few days away, I thought there was no better time to share what I’ve learnt and see if it can be of use to anyone else.

So, here are my top 10 tips for surviving the 3-day chag (or any Shabbat) with your ADHD child…

1 Preparation, preparation, preparation!

Children with ADHD are impulsive and do not always react well to unexpected situations. Each morning, make time to go through the schedule of the day with your child so that there are no nasty surprises for them. If there is a part of the day that they are not looking forward to, help them prepare a plan for how they’ll get through it smoothly and discuss exactly what you will do if things start to go off course.

2 Motivation, motivation, motivation!

A key difference in the brains of children with ADHD, when compared with other children, is their significantly reduced capacity for self-motivation. As parents, we can compensate for our children's lack of internal motivation by introducing external motivators.

All too often, those motivators come after the child has displayed unwanted behaviours, in the form of punishments, which are not enjoyable for the child or the parent, and only serve to perpetuate a cycle of failure and disappointment.

You don’t have wait for a breakdown to occur to start introducing motivational strategies! Instead of reacting to your child's undesired behaviours, create a plan that actively motivates your child to display desired behaviours. Set them behavioural targets to achieve throughout the day and incentivise them with regular small rewards, such as smiley face tokens, that can be saved up to earn real prizes, such as a movie night with a parent or pancakes for breakfast. Keep pointing out and praising met targets, however small, and you’ll see how quickly a cycle of failures can be transformed into a cycle of successes.

3 Be clear about what you want, not what you don’t want

It’s not enough to tell children to ‘stop causing trouble’ or to ‘behave’. They may not understand what it means to ‘behave’, leaving them in an impossible situation where they want to do the right thing but don't know how and are doomed to fail. We n