How to Make Holidays ADHD-Friendly: Easy Tips

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It’s not easy for neurodivergent kids and teens to navigate the holidays. A few years ago, we had a conversation with our kids about what they loved and didn’t love about our family holiday traditions. From that experience, we’ve gathered the following tips on how to make holidays ADHD-friendly (or really any other type of neurodivergence).

Full video transcript: Part 1 of How to make the holidays ADHD-friendly

Some lessons I’ve had to learn along the way.

First one, ask lots of questions! Ask your ADHD kids, your autistic child, maybe others who are neurodivergent (if they are able to remember previous holidays).

Ask them what they liked. Ask them what they didn’t like. Ask them what things were hard. Ask them what their best memories were.

Kids at the table for Christmas Day breakfast. How to make the holidays ADHD friendly
Christmas Day breakfast

Our teen’s experience with holidays

I guarantee this is information you can find really helpful. We started doing this with our kids, and my oldest, who is just in her teens (or pre-teens at the time) shared with us that she didn’t like the holidays. She didn’t like Thanksgiving, she didn’t like Christmas.

And you know when you’re buying presents, and decorating and stuff, that could be unfathomable for some of us as adults, but it was totally true.

Not good and not happy

Our son with Christmas lights around his head. Making the holidays ADHD friendly.

So what we found out was, she didn’t like them because she always got in trouble. She couldn’t meet the expectations that the adults around her expected for those holidays. 

And that was hard for her, and it made it unpleasant. It made it a bad memory for her. So she didn’t have a lot of pleasant holiday memories because she was always getting in trouble.

How do we fix this?

Brian and some of our kids hugging by the piano. How to make the holidays ADHD friendly

And that isn’t fair to a kid! We felt really sad and heartbroken when we found that out, but it also made us really determined to figure out something that would work.

So we asked those questions, and we listened to the answers. And then we started thinking, “Okay, how can we change what we’re doing? How can we make our holiday season restful, happy — good memories for our kids, for ourselves?

Who is the holiday for, really?

Because we weren’t having great memories either, because we were already doing all the work. And then finding out that our kids weren’t even enjoying it…

Well, is it worth it if no one’s enjoying it? Not really! That’s the whole point of the holiday! So that’s what we had to do we had to start thinking about that. So we did. 

And I’ll tell you a little more about what we decided to do for holidays in the next video.


Full video transcript: Part 2 of how to make the holidays ADHD friendly

So what did we do to make our holidays more ADHD-friendly? More family-friendly? To make them work for our family and be a blessing and a great memory instead of misery?

First thing we did was ask questions and listen to the answers. I talked about that in my previous video.

Deciding what matters to your family

The second thing we did is we started thinking about what things mattered to us. What things are the most important? 

Does Mom have to do all the cooking?

Jenn and Brian in kitchen making chocolate chip pancakes.
Making chocolate chip pancakes

Now I do not love cooking. I love food. I love to eat. I do not love making it. So realistically, if I’m gonna have a great holiday, I don’t want to spend the whole day cooking. 

For years I was involved in the cooking process, or I was pregnant, or nursing a baby. So all I did was help cook my part and take care of the kids. Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas — all of them! 

That wasn’t relaxing for me, and then I came to find out my kids weren’t even enjoying it. So we nixed that plan!

What do we want to eat?

Cheese fondue in a red pot over a silver burner. How to make the holidays ADHD friendly
Cheese fondue

We talked about, what do we want to eat? We came up with fondue. It comes in a package most grocery stores this time of year. We cut up some bread, warmed that thing up.

@dinkumtribe Here’s our pairings for cheese fondue ( fondue and bread not shown). @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe #thanksgivingdinner #thanksgiving2022 #cheesefonduedinner #whattoservewithcheesefondue #cheesefondueeating #cheesefondue #adhdfamilylife #adhdholidays #neurodivergentparenting #neurodivergenttiktok #adhdthanksgiving #parentingadhd ♬ Cooking – Oleg Kirilkov

And for dessert, we nixed pumpkin pie —none of us liked it— and all the fancy baked desserts and we went with the chocolate fountain.

You know what? A chocolate fountain, you just melt a bunch of chocolate chips with a little oil, stick it in there. Cut up your fruit, or buy the fruit cut up at the grocery store even! Like, it’s that simple! And some cookies for dipping, and pretzel rods and stuff…

@dinkumtribe Here’s our chocolate fountain for Thanksgiving! Linked in DinkumTribe’s Amazon storefront. @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe #adhdholidayhack #adhdholidays #chocolatefountain #chocolatefountains #adhdfamilies #neurodivergenttiktok #parentingadhd #adhdthanksgiving #easydessertidea #easydessertsathome #morechocolate ♬ All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

Keeping it simple and stress-free

Easiest cooking ever (other than takeout)! Kids love it, cleanup is like, one pot! And okay, the fountain’s a little bit of a pain to clean up but that’s the only thing.

I’m not washing china. I get paper plates with cute Christmas or Thanksgiving prints on them. And we can schedule it whatever time of day we feel like. 

Where should we celebrate?

Brian and one of our daughters scrolling phones on our couch.
Introverting on phones is an acceptable way to unwind sometimes.

The holiday is at our house, because if my kids get overwhelmed and need to hide… I say “hide,” but you know what I mean… They need some quiet time with themselves, away from people. They have their bedrooms.

It’s at my house because if I need a nap, I put on a movie, so my kids can be entertained for a bit. And I can take a nap in my own bed, which is a high priority for me.

So we had to really rethink what mattered to us about our holidays. And then we had to plan things that would allow us to make happy memories. 

Making the changes

Kids and dog walking alongside a road at dusk. How to make the holidays ADHD friendly
Enjoying a walk on Christmas Eve day

The first year we changed everything, we decided to go out of town for Thanksgiving to really change our brains around what our thoughts of the holiday were supposed to be. 

You know what? That was a really good decision. Because if you’re in the same place, but you’ve done everything for a long time and you’re not doing the same things, it can really generate a lot of feelings of sadness and loneliness. 

And those will still be there when you go somewhere else, but it’s not going to be the same. It’s going to be a little bit different, because your brain doesn’t have as many physical reminders.

Final results of our ADHD-friendly holiday plans

Jenn and two of our boys working on a jigsaw puzzle.
With our new holiday plans, I have time to work a puzzle with the kids.

So that’s what we do now for holidays. We have simple, easy holidays. Nothing is really scheduled. We make breakfast when we feel like it. We do our cheese fondue when everybody’s kind of hungry. And then we do dessert an hour or two before bedtime. 

So that, you know, we have time to clean it up and put everybody to bed. But sometimes we’re eating at noon. Dessert’s at three, and we have light snacks for dinner.

Do what works for you, folks!


©️ Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2024

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Pinnable image for how to make the holidays ADHD friendly

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About the author

I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.