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Tips for Traveling with Kids with ADHD

Written by Jacqueline Nguyen, a licensed clinical psychologist at CHC.

familyaquariumvisit555Summer is in full swing! So much fun to be had: sunshine, relaxation, and family vacations. But if your time off involves traveling with a child with ADHD, you know it’s not always smooth sailing. As you prepare to set off on your summer adventure, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Create a Schedule

We know from research and experience that kids with ADHD benefit from routines and schedules. While vacation may be a break from your child’s typical daily routine, you can still help them anticipate what’s next by making a schedule of planned activities. Review the next day’s plans the evening before, and be sure to have a visual schedule handy. Don’t forget to give transition warnings!

Sleep Well

While it may be tempting to let kids stay up as a special treat while on vacation, this can really put a damper on the trip. Not enough sleep can contribute to irritability and tantrums. It’s important to maintain sleep schedules and bedtime routines as much as possible.

Bon Appetit

Make time for regular meals and snacks. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement of a vacation day, but things can quickly go south when kids are hungry. Set aside time in your schedule for family meals and snacks. When possible, opt for fresh fruits and veggies or nuts, and try to avoid packaged food items with preservatives and additives. Don’t forget to stay hydrated!

Make Time for Downtime

Include time each day for your kids to have some downtime. Quiet activities in the hotel room like games, puzzles, or arts and crafts can provide a welcome break from the stimulation of a jam-packed vacation day. This can be a good opportunity to let your child exercise independence and choose an appropriate activity.

Be thoughtful about whether screen time should be an option to unwind. Transitioning away from screen time to what’s next may be a trigger for your child. Clarify in advance how much screen time is allowed, and use a visual timer to help kids anticipate how many minutes remain. You can find apps for visual timers through the app store for your smart phone or device. For younger children, provide multiple transition warnings (e.g., when half the time is up, 5 minutes are left, 2 minutes are left, and 1 minute is left). Try and have the next activity lined up for a smoother transition.

Let’s Move

There are so many benefits of physical exercise, and that seems to be especially true for kids with ADHD. On travel days, you and your family may find yourselves sitting for long stretches of time, spending many hours in a car or on a plane. Take movement breaks when possible. If you’re taking a road trip, plan ahead for multiple stops along the way. This will decrease the stress of “being late” to your destination.

Movement breaks can include standing, stretching, walking/running, throwing a ball back and forth, and doing pushups. Fidget toys and resistance bands can be helpful when there are space constraints.

Follow the Rules

Even when you’re on vacation, rules are rules! A vacation is a break from school, work, and everyday obligations. A vacation is not a break from house rules, or from being a kind person and helpful member of the family. Be consistent about your expectations for your child’s behavior, and be sure to reward positive behaviors too, just like you would at home. Keep in mind that you are a model for your child; be consistent about expectations for your own behavior as well.

Home Sweet Home

Be sure to leave time for your family to readjust to your typical daily routine once you return home from vacation. For example, plan on spending a few low-key days back at home before restarting summer camp, school, and other obligations.

Safe travels!


To schedule an evaluation or to get advice about your child’s challenges, call or email a CHC Care Manager at 650.688.3625 or caremanager@chconline.org

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