When her son Eddy was five, Karen Ryan popped into a small grocery store with him. As they passed by a tower of neatly stacked cans of tomatoes, Eddy took a swipe at the display and sent the tins flying. The embarrassed mother and son were promptly told to leave the store.
It wasn’t the only time they were kicked out of a public space.
“We regularly would be asked to leave restaurants because Eddy would go and visit people at different tables and also throw things like spoons at other tables,” Karen says.
For parents of kids with ADHD, activities that fall outside the routine can be a challenge. Whether eating in a restaurant, participating in organized sports or spending time with extended family, your child may be wrestling with impulsivity, overstimulation and dysregulation of emotions.
Here are some tips for dealing with outings to restaurants and other public places.
1. Brief your child ahead of time
Make sure they know what to expect and what’s expected of them. For example, at home you may let your child get up from the table and walk around, but at a restaurant, make it clear you have different expectations.
2. Bring entertainment
Carry crayons and a colouring book for younger kids to help keep them busy and prevent wandering or attention-seeking behaviours. Many parents turn to electronic devices when they need older kids to be on their best behaviour. It’s all about finding the right balance between teaching appropriate social conduct and keeping your kids occupied to avoid an ADHD-fuelled outburst. For example, you could allow your child to use a tablet between the time the food is ordered and it arrives, but not while they’re eating.
3. Pick safe places
If your kid is stimulated by loud sounds or bright lights, pick quiet restaurants or go shopping when the mall is less busy. Some theatres and restaurants have designated times when accommodations are made for kids with sensory challenges. For example, several Canadian Chuck E. Cheese locations ensure their restaurants are less crowded, noisy and bright on the first Sunday of each month. And every four to six weeks, Cineplex shows a new-release film at dozens of theatres with the sound turned down and the theatre lights up.
4. Don’t arrive hungry
Since an empty stomach can worsen ADHD symptoms, try to eat restaurant meals at regular times, and make sure your child has a snack that will keep them satisfied during the long wait at the restaurant.