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ADD/ADHD and Birthday Parties

The TV crew was waiting with their cameras ready to roll. Twenty children at a birthday party; most of them medically diagnosed as hyperactive, promised to be an exciting afternoon’s filming. The crew had already taken footage of the table groaning under the weight of cakes, biscuits, sweets and cool drinks and now, all they wanted were the children!

Party disasters

Many mothers hate sending children to birthday parties because they just cannot cope with their behaviour during the party and afterwards. Not only is there the party excitement, but all that food! Or maybe we should say all that stuff resembling food!!! Please note that ADHD refers to Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity.

If invited, children with ADHD go to the birthday well warned and determined to be on their best behaviour… but that’s not so easy especially when they’re invited to help themselves to the with sweets, jellies, brightly coloured cordial drinks, fizzy drinks, biscuits, cakes and crisps. As the children fills up on additive laden food, mums see the dramatic loss of self-control as their children go into a state of increased impulsiveness, aggressiveness and becoming less able to cope. The child becomes more rude and impudent, and everyone wonders why the mother doesn’t discipline or teach the child some manners.

The mothers will have to cope with the symptoms for the next 72 hours!

Sometimes there are other complications which few parents understand, and this may also apply to children who don’t normally avoid certain food additives as per our food list. Birthday parties can be frightening things for children with auditory defensiveness simply because they cannot handle all that noise. Their solution may be to find the quietest corner and hide away hoping no one will come near; or else they rush around making more noise than anyone else in an effort to drown all other sounds. Whatever they do, they invariably end up in trouble. But it helps to have a parent who understands their difficulty and how it affects them. The child doesn’t have to attend every party if he really doesn’t want to go. Should you recognise these symptoms read up about Inappropriate Sensory Modulation, or speak to an occupational therapist who should be able to assist. You can also get further information from ADHASA, or read the resource book Hyperactivity and ADHD – caring and coping that comes with your ADHASA membership package. For further information contact ADHASA on 011-888-7655 or email info@ADHASA.co.za).

But far worse can happen in the life of a child… and that is not being invited at all!!!! This is a most painful situation for a child because he knows he is not wanted. He needs support. If there is a birthday party and he has not been invited, suggest that a special friend comes over to play on the day of the party, or take him to see a movie. Do something with him that he really enjoys and make him feel important and loved.

Children not invited to birthday parties often struggle with social skills and might need assistance. Giving them the encouragement and emotional support that they need will stand them in good stead throughout their school career and beyond. You may also consider taking them to a psychologist who assists children with social and emotional development.

Preparing for the party

If your child has been invited to a birthday party, let him know that he will be going, but don’t whip him into a frenzy. Especially avoid making kids with ADHD over-excited during the build-up period – often they can’t handle the excitement and only end up getting into trouble, which is unfair to them.

Calmly discuss the present to be bought, or anything else relevant to the event. Make sure that he has a balanced, preferably protein meal such as a hamburger, or spaghetti bolognaise or lasagna before he leaves. Filling up on good wholesome food will reduce the amount of junk that he eats, and hopefully reduce the reaction normally experienced.

Some children happily go to the party armed with their own favourite party snacks but this doesn’t work for everyone. However, if the child has allergies, there may be no other option. The most important thing is that the child thoroughly enjoys the treats that he has, and does not feel deprived.

After the party

If ADHD kids come home from parties and are obviously in a state of reaction to what they’ve eaten – you’ll soon know from the mood – give them a dose of vitamin C or Phipps Milk of Magnesia. Keep this remedy for the odd occasion rather than trying to remedy poor eating habits on a daily basis. If they come home with that dreaded box of sweets and treats, don’t confiscate them but rather make a trade. Be sure that you have a few of their very favourite sweets or biscuits which they would rather have instead. Or make it a trip to the zoo or other special place. Give them treats that they value.

Back to that TV crew… they were expecting to film children up the trees and on the roof or attacking each other… but were disappointed. It was a real birthday party but one in which most of the children attending had ADHD. There were few and minor incidents. The Panda birthday cake, the brightly coloured crinoline ladies, the home made and iced biscuits, the ‘traffic light sandwiches’ savoury snacks, popcorn, meringues etc. were all made without synthetic colourants or flavourants – as was the almost psychedelic coloured birthday cake made for the producer after someone told us that it was her birthday. The children ate greedily until they could eat no more and quenched their thirst with diluted Wilde pure fruit juice. The cameras rolled and filmed children playing games, exploring and having a great time, but they didn’t manage to film any exciting spats or fighting, because there were none. ADHD children had feasted on the party food but there were no upheavals. This was a powerful testament to the importance of eliminating certain additives and junk foods from the diet.

Giving a party

It could be that you are holding the next birthday party. Take advantage of the fact that there is ever increasing knowledge about the role of healthier eating and that suitable treats are far more available; without too much fuss you can provide children with interesting but nutritious snacks. Of course they can still have their cakes, biscuits, popcorn and sweets, but stick to those that are free of the additives likely to affect children, and probably every child (with or without ADHD) at the party will feel better for it. Planning the event might initially take a little more time and effort, but it won’t be long before other mums are copying your example.

Serve chicken pieces and pretzels. Try small interesting sandwiches cut into triangles or pretty shapes. Add a bowl of fruit. Use prettily coloured table cloth, paper plates and cups. Some children love balloons while others don’t – you decide if you want them.

Keep the children occupied with a few party games. Hide electronic gadgets and remember those childhood games that today’s children don’t even know about (because they spend so much time in front of the TV or at therapy.) Teach the children how to play these games and join in with them – have fun as you relive your childhood parties, and the children enjoy a party to remember.

Heather Picton


Article Courtesy of:
ADHASA (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa)