Monday, December 22, 2014

The Gift of Play

by Kirsten Milliken, PhD

The holidays can be stressful. How many articles have you read this month that begin like that? Are you convinced yet? Is this the story that you want to repeat to yourself as you are driving over the mountains and through the woods to your relative’s house for the holidays? If so, stop reading this article now, because it will just be a time waster for you.

For the rest of you: What story would you prefer to have about spending time with family for the holidays? Stories of fun? Playing? Twinkles in people’s eyes? Visions of sugar plums and happy Whoville kin? What can you do to make this the memory you are left with after the holidays?

I recently visited my family—and I pray that they do not read this. I had not seen many of them in several years. The day of the family dinner we arrived early, and as each family member arrived I spent about five minutes catching up, and then it was on to the next conversation or new arrival. After everyone gathered, I could just observe, have brief conversations, and mull about. I observed the same old family dynamics that have always been there. I won’t go into what I saw, just in case someone in my family does read this. After two hours I was ready to leave. Thankfully, so was my mother. The fun part was over; we had eaten, and I had seen the family show.

On the way home, my mother and I talked about what was fun, what was funny, who said what, and what we were going to do for the rest of the evening. We’d left before we got bored. We’d had just enough conversation with each person to last us a while. We got the most we could out of the event, and then we chose to leave. Now this is one way to leave with happy memories of spending time with family. You don’t have to hang out until everyone else is leaving. Observing the relationships and family antics rather than participating can leave you with better stories to tell—and fewer stories told about you.

There have been other times when I have chosen to have a playful approach no matter what. One year I announced that I had a problem with the elves I had hired and was looking for some replacements. I made this comment out of the blue and no one knew what it was about. But it derailed an emotionally charged situation, transforming it into one in which I was having fun.

Playing with the kids instead of the “grown-ups” is an easy way to improve the family fun factor. Sit at the kids’ table. Their conversations are so much less serious—and you might even learn what a Pokemon really is!

Spending the holidays with family can be fun. This is what I know to be true—and so it is. Happy holidays!

Got a story about your family holidays to share? Suggestions to make? Start or join a conversation on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Kirsten Milliken, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, a certified ADHD coach, and the founder of PlayDHD. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her two amazing children and two really freaky dogs. Dr. Milliken is passionate about helping those with ADHD communicate about the ways that ADHD affects them and coaches them to develop skill sets that build on their strengths in order to manage the day-to-day challenges of ADHD. She created PLAYDHD to create a specific awareness of the connection between ADHD and the value of play. Her website,, is dedicated to the art of using play in managing symptoms of ADHD, achieving goals, and enjoying life. She is an active member in the ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO), CHADD, Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), International Coaches Federation (ICF), and a graduate of the ADD Coaches Academy (ADDCA). She regularly presents at ADHD conferences on the subject of play. She also hosts the PlayDHD podcast, is a frequent guest and former co-host on Attention Talk Radio, and contributes to various other websites serving the ADHD community.

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