All kids meltdown from time to time, but it seems like my ADHD children melt down more often and more dramatically than normal children do. Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks to prevent meltdowns and deal with disappointed kids when we’re out and about.
1. Set expectations before you leave home. Children tend to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with their own ideas about the world. Since ADHD kids miss many major details, their gap-filling exercises are often incredibly unrealistic. Help them develop realistic expectations before you leave the house.
For instance, before we go to the zoo, I check the website and see what kind of animals we’ll see. I talk with the kids about our plans, and make sure they know in advance if a favorite animal is not in the zoo’s collection. We also have a talk about how we will not be getting treats and souvenirs at the zoo. With carefully controlled expectations, we avoid meltdowns.
2. Leave time for dawdling. Outings with ADHD kids just take longer than normal trips. Plan for dawdling so that you don’t find yourself yelling at your kids to hurry them along. If you’re headed somewhere particularly enthralling like a zoo, science museum, or amusement park, plan to close the place down. That way you can avoid the ‘forced to leave early’ tantrum.
3. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks. Most ADHD melt-downs are triggered by a combination of over-stimulation, disappointment, and physical adversity. Keep your kids well-fed and well-hydrated when you’re out of the house. You’ll avoid 99% of ADHD meltdowns.
4. Give warnings before you leave. Don’t just tell your children that it’s time to go and then drag them away from a fascinating place. Give warnings every 5 minutes starting about 20 minutes before you leave. Then, give one minute warnings from 5 minutes down to your departure. The multiple warnings will help your children slowly disengage and prepare for the next activity.
5. On the car ride home, talk about favorites. As you drive home, ask each child what his favorite part of the day was. You’ll get some interesting answers and reinforce the idea that family outings are fun!