Ask The Expert: Acceptance, Communication and Boundaries - Breathing your Way through the Holidays
By Elizabeth Corsale, MFT, Director at Pathways Institute
Parents of kids with learning and attention differences can often feel stress about the prospect of long dinners, evenings, travel and many other logistics as the holidays draw near. One parent told me, "My husband and I take turns when our son gets up and down during Thanksgiving dinner at my mother house. We do this so we get a little bit of time with the extended family. My mother sometimes gets upset and feels like we are pushover parents by not punishing my son for leaving the table."
What should a parent do to prepare for a situation like this? For parents of kids with learning and attention differences, the work of preparing for and getting through the holidays is inside of ourselves as much as it is logistical.
The big question is this: "What can I realistically expect of my child during holiday events? What can I expect of myself?"
To answer this question, you should start with some mental mapping. This means: think, visualize, and get a feel for the events, including timelines and activities.
After mapping out the holiday, take a deep breath. Exhale. Think about your child and how s/he usually behaves under these type of circumstances. What is the reality of the situation, versus the fantasy? Time for another deep breath and another deep exhale. Now ask yourself, "What's in my control and what's not in my control?"
For example, if the longest your ADHD child is able to sit at a table is 6 minutes (as opposed to an hour) then you need to really think about how you want to approach a holiday meal. Is there anything you can do to encourage your child to stay longer? Is there a reward they might get if they stay for 15 minutes? And how about if they then take break and come back for dessert? If they are older could they be given a job of serving the food, moving around the table filling the water glasses? Or do you want to just accept your child's current table time limit and not work on skill building this particular holiday?
You need to find the courage to communicate your needs and your child's needs honestly with the host or guests about what they can expect. Remember, your child's ADHD isn't a parenting issue, it's a neurological issue and it requires understanding, compassion, patience, creative solution solving and non-judgment. You may need to ask your family and friends for any suggestions or thoughts about what could help them understand and what they might need or want during the meal. Rehearse and practice what you need to communicate, if you need to. And don't wait for the day of the holiday; have these conversations a few weeks before.
Now inhale and exhale. Let's talk about boundaries. Boundaries are not meant to shut others out or close down connection; they keep us psychologically, emotionally, physically safe, and secure. Boundaries create safety for everyone and invite communication and facilitate understanding. One of your jobs this holiday is to keep your boundaries. If you know that your
child can't wait until 9pm to eat dinner, can't stay up until midnight to go to mass, can't wait for everyone to open one gift at a time, then you need to accept this reality, thoughtfully explain it to family and friends so they can understand and find a solution. Then you need to stick with the solution - that is your boundary and your child's boundary to keep.
One last deep breath. You have thought through the holidays and mentally mapped them, you have rehearsed your communication, you have spoken to the hosts, you have come up with some creative solutions and now you have to let go, detach, surrender and try to stay present with yourself, your family and friends. Okay, now exhale…..