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Holiday Gift Shopping with a Child with ADHD


The holidays can be a very joyous time, especially for children. For kids with ADHD, there are so many opportunities to teach important values such as gratitude, empathy, compassion and the joy of giving. This small window of time can be used to spend time with our children and even do something fun, like holiday gift shopping together. 

Some schools participate in holiday gift shopping in-house for kids and their families. These programs allow children to pick out pre-purchased gifts for their loved ones and, in the meantime, teach children budgeting with the funds their parents have allotted for them. These events are particularly special for children as they’re able to give back to the people in their life that they love and respect so much. 

However, gift shopping can be particularly stressful for a child with ADHD. There are so many gift options to choose from and the pressure to select the perfect gift can be overbearing. Further, they may be torn by a budget constraint or feel as though the gift they choose would not be worthy enough. Meltdowns may occur with children who aren’t able to sort through the multifaceted challenges of the holiday season, including those associated with gift shopping. 

Helping a child with ADHD shop for the holidays

Understanding the hyperactivity and/or impulsivity that occur in a child with ADHD is central to finding a reasonable way to gift shop with them. Without a set game plan for holiday shopping, be prepared for an overstimulated nightmare, complete with anxiety and possibly tantrums. Simply giving a child some money and saying “go shop for x” isn’t realistic for a child whose mind never stops running and gets overstimulated quickly. Children with ADHD often act impulsively, which may lead to them to grab the first gift option they see without putting thought into it and possibly regret it later. 

A hyperactive ADHD child whilst gift shopping can be a challenge for a host of reasons. So many bright lights, sounds, people, and TOYS! It would be incredibly easy for a child who has ADHD to completely forget their “mission” and get lost in the overstimulating business of the store, instead. Our best advice is to keep everything simple but planned out so the child knows what to expect throughout the whole event. Try to plan for hurdles that might cause frustration and have solutions ready to cause the least disruption. 

Preparation for a child with ADHD

Let’s talk more about how to make holiday gift shopping with a child who has ADHD productive, efficient, and memorable:

  • Have your child make a list of everyone they would like to give a gift to, making sure to not leave anyone out!
  • Brainstorm two to three ideas for each gift recipient. This will avoid feelings of being overwhelmed, angry, or frustrated if the desired gift isn’t available on the shopping day or if something is outside of the set budget
  • Choose a shopping day and try to stick to it! Children with ADHD are dependent on schedules and plans, so having the day they’re going to Christmas shop all planned out will help them stay grounded and focused on the task
  • Make your budget! As we discuss in more detail below, finances are especially important to teach to children. Try to outline how much will be spent on each person on the shopping list and add everything up to ensure there will be enough money for each gift. Children with ADHD can feel more at ease when there are black-and-white plans to follow since there is already so much else running through their minds.

It is highly suggested that every child gets to plan one or several Christmas gifts, either for each other or someone else that is important in their lives. There are so many life lessons to be taught throughout this whole process. It can be argued that these life lessons are even more important to a child with an ADHD diagnosis. Since children with ADHD often struggle with impulsivity, hyperactivity, low self-esteem, focus, and other significant challenges, giving them a hands-on way to learn these important life values might help them more than just simply telling them verbally. 

Holiday geift shopping teaches generosity

Gift shopping during the holiday season with a child with ADHD can help develop selflessness and generosity. Children can think deeply about what their loved one might enjoy and take pride in being able to provide that for them. 

However, it might be difficult for a child with ADHD to not become focused on a gift they want for themselves instead of finding a gift for someone they love. They’ll need constant reminders of what they are there to accomplish and how they’ll feel when they see the happiness they’ve created through a holiday gift. It is an important life lesson when a child first learns that making others happy is more important than just thinking of themselves. At its most basic, children with ADHD learn how to be generous by gifting something they might want for themselves, to someone else. 

Child with ADHD holiday shopping

How gift shopping fosters compassion for others 

Holiday shopping with a child who has ADHD aids in the development of compassion for others, simply by the thought exercise of choosing a gift for someone else. Whether the child is choosing something for someone close to them, for a charity or for a child less fortunate than themselves, this small gesture lays the groundwork for compassion.

Compassion also comes in the form of each unique choice of a gift made for an individual during the holiday season. For example, a child knows their mother has been complaining when she does the dishes, saying her hands are cracked and painful. Thus, it could be suggested to him or her to get her a pair of hand-washing gloves. Just going through the motions with a child who has ADHD, regarding wants versus needs and how they can truly make an impact on someone’s life with a simple yet meaningful holiday gift, can help them to develop compassion and care for others.

An opportunity to promote good financial values 

The power of money in a child’s hands is unmeasurable. It gives every child the feeling of holding onto power, though they may only have a very basic understanding of monetary value and finances. 

To have a child with ADHD earn their own money for holiday gifts would be an amazing lesson for them if it is possible. The value of a dollar isn’t one to be taken lightly, especially in today’s economy and in a time where most often both parents work, sometimes even multiple jobs, to put food on the table. Showing a child with ADHD the monetary inner workings of the world is a reality that will likely stay etched in their minds for life. 

If opportunities aren’t available for a child with ADHD to earn their own money to holiday shop, many life lessons can still be discussed and taught with regards to financial value. Budgeting is an important value for children of any age and so even just giving a child $5 and discussing how it will be divided up and planned out to afford gifts is perfect. These concrete lessons are essential for a child with ADHD, who typically sees the world in a black-or-white manner. 

Giving them money and making a plan for holiday gift shopping will allow them to see exactly how their money will be spent and reduce anxiety or frustration at not having enough to afford a desired gift (or overspending by accident). It can be further discussed, if applicable, how to earn more money if they’d like to spend additional funds on gifts or how to redistribute the allocated funds towards gifts to make their budget work. All of these finite details are helpful to a child who has ADHD and might otherwise be overwhelmed if a shortage of money develops and/or they cannot get a gift they have chosen. 

A teachable moment: gratitude

One of the best lessons a child can learn, during the holiday season or any other time of the year, is to be grateful. The concept that someone did not have to buy them "x" gift or do "y" for them might be difficult for a child to understand. Reiterating this to a child with ADHD may have its challenges, but if done repeatedly and early-on, teaching gratitude can be done successfully. 

Walking down the aisles while holiday gift shopping, children are bombarded with many toys, electronics, and other items of value. They see prices and begin to make the connection between what they have enough money to afford to buy and what gifts might be out of their price range. Now is a great time to open up dialogue about children less fortunate than themselves. As children roam the aisles and see toys they have at home and would like to own one day, discuss with them that some children aren’t able to get toys like the ones they have. Let them know that they are fortunate enough to receive gifts during the holidays since many children go without. The concept doesn’t have to be driven home right then and there, but having a child start thinking about this reality may spark the light for developing gratitude for their own lives. 

Holiday gift shopping promotes self-confidence and love 

Children with ADHD are sometimes known for low self-esteem and self-image. Many times they can plainly see while in a school setting that they are different from their peers. They might get into trouble more than their friends or have challenges with their behavior and academic skills that others do not. ADHD also typically has comorbidity with anxiety, another condition that could hinder their self-esteem. Working with children who have ADHD early on in life will give the best chances to stave off feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and depression. 

When we go holiday gift shopping with a child with ADHD, we can promote self-confidence and self-worth by discussing what good comes from their gift choices and giving. We can ask them how it makes them feel to see and make someone else happy. We can teach them about the feelings of joy when watching someone else open gifts. All these good, positive feelings can help a child with ADHD take pride in their selflessness and ability to bring glee to someone important to them. 

When we teach a child with ADHD how to be generous, compassionate, self-confident, and financially responsible by helping with holiday gift shopping, we are instilling key life values they might not otherwise receive. We recommend parents or caregivers take the time, if possible, to share some of their holiday shopping events with their ADHD children.

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Ashley Lavoie is a mom of 3 and manages both child and adult ADHD and Neonatal Diabetes. She is advocating for awareness and loves writing and connecting with other families like hers.

Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.

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