Holiday cooking – it’s much more than just a fun parent/child bonding activity —
→ For your ADHD’er, it’s a great way to challenge some of their executive function “muscles” that need exercising.
→ For parents, it’s a great way to observe your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and build trust in a genuinely fun way.
The activity of cooking places demands on your child’s skills that are directly impacted by their ADHD:
- Time Management
- Working Memory
- Attention to Detail
- Delayed Gratification
- Managing Frustration / Challenge
But even thought it challenges your kiddo, it most often delivers a yummy treat at the end – which can make the challenges more tolerable!
When you are able to take a positive lead in the kitchen, this activity can give your child some amazing wins. And let’s face it, your child learns and feels best when he or she is winning!
Your child can feel proud, accomplished and capable… not to mention, more closely bonded to you.
So, this holiday season, take a break from the math worksheets and reading logs and spend time in the kitchen together.
Here are a few tips for making sure this activity is a success:
(1) Right-size your expectations.
Cooking will be – SHOULD BE – a challenge for your child. It doesn’t play to his strengths. So don’t expect an equal partner.
When we purposefully challenge a skill, we have to expect that we may push too hard to a place beyond your child’s current capability. When your child gets frustrated, remind them that it’s ok, that this is just for fun, and ask where you can help.
This step also includes being sure you’re choosing a recipe that isn’t too challenging both for you or for your child. The first time you do this, don’t try to make a souffle! Make sure it’s do-able so you can concentrate more on having fun together than making sure the recipe doesn’t fail.
(2) Be in a mindset to tolerate your child’s quirks.
When we engage in activities with our kids sometimes we get annoyed with their ADHD-fueled tendencies. It’s only natural. Their inability to focus, their need to constantly move or make noises, or their impulsive need to eat all the raw batter is part of their unique self.
Don’t let yourself get irritated with those things during this activity. And if you do find your own fuse shortening (which is totally normal and natural) build in a break. Take a breath and come back to it in a bit.
(3) Talk about your end-goal and your bite-sized goals along the way.
Our kids struggle to engage in goal-directed behavior for a lot of reasons. Cooking is a great activity because the end goal (the pie, cookies, or meal) is not too far out in time and yet there are a number of steps you can recognize and celebrate along the way.
Help your child create a picture in her mind of what you are creating. What is it going to taste like? Look like? Smell like? Do you have a picture?
What are the steps you get to take along the way to get to that yummy treat? Recognize each step, talk about why the recipe night calls for the order of events it does (for example, why do we bake the crust before we make the filling), and celebrate each step along the way.
(4) Reflect on your child’s strengths and opportunities.
As you engage in this activity, observe what your child does with ease and what he or she struggles with. For example:
→ How long can he sustain his goal-directed effort? Does he have great attention for the first 15 minutes and then peter out after that?
→ Does she struggle to keep track of where she is in the recipe, skipping steps?
→ Does he operate in utter chaos, moving too fast from one thing to another that he can’t keep his space or mind organized?
The reason you reflect on these skills is not to pass judgment or “fix” them in the present moment, but rather to understand why your child may be struggling in other areas of their day, and which skills you may want to prioritize working on at home, school, in therapy, or otherwise.
(5) Have Fun!
These activities WILL NOT go smoothly. They aren’t intended to. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy your child. Spend your time listening to music, sharing stories, or just standing side by side in the kitchen.
I’ve attached my favorite apple pie recipe. This is a favorite of my entire family over the years!
As you can see, I’ve broken the recipe into ADHD-friendly steps that help provide your child with the context for each action they take. If you decide to give this – or any other holiday recipe a try, I’d LOVE to get a picture of your process and end-result!
Shoot me your pics at firstname.lastname@example.org or add a picture in our Facebook Support Group!
Blue Ribbon Apple Pie
½ c sugar
¼ c firmly packed brown sugar
¼ c flour
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg, optional
6 c peeled Granny Smith apples
1 T butter
1 tsp sugar
½ c whipping cream
Get the Oven Ready:
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Make the Filling:
- Combine sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- Add apples. Toss lightly to coat.
Assemble the Pie:
- Spoon apple mixture into crust.
- Add the top crust and make 8 large slits in it.
- Brush the top crust with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar (I use lots!)
Bake… Wait, and wait, and wait!
- Cover the edge of the crust with aluminum and bake for 35 minutes.
- Remove the aluminum and back for 10-20 minutes longer until browned.
Add the Special, Secret Ingredient (shhhh….!)
- Remove from the oven.
- Run a knife through the slits you made earlier.
- Pour whipping cream through the slits.
Bake… Wait a little longer
- Return to the oven for 5 minutes.
- Cool for 30 minutes and serve warm.
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