Stampede Tips for Children with ADHD

By Carola Tiltmann

Stampede is the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” but if you have a child with ADHD, you could be forgiven for conjuring up images of being helplessly pulled from one bright, noisy distraction to the next (acres of them!), long boring line-ups with a fidgety child and eventually, emotionally charged meltdowns.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With these tips, gathered from experienced Stampede parents in our Network, both you and your child can enjoy the grounds with a bit of planning and preparation.

Depending on the age of your child, decide to what degree you can involve them in these 4 main steps:


1. Planning

    • Manage your child’s expectations. You can’t see everything in one day so create a list of activities and events, together if possible, so your child can help to choose what they will experience. Narrow down the list to what is actually possible – this is also a good opportunity to model time-management which is difficult for children with ADHD. If you can squeeze in some extras when you’re on the Stampede grounds then that’s better than having to scratch activities off the list. With this schedule, your child knows what to look forward to and you can avoid disappointments. Check this schedule after every activity.


Stampede Tip: for younger children, create a schedule with simple pictures.


    • Plan the activities for variety to avoid overstimulation and allow for self-regulation. Alternate between higher intensity (like exhilarating rides or potentially frustrating Midway games) and lower intensity (petting animals or watching a show), indoor and outdoor, noisier and quieter.


Stampede Tip: go earlier in the day when it’s cooler, quieter and less crowded as line-ups are shorter and you can get around faster. Remember to plan bathroom breaks!


    • Discuss the behavioural expectations for each activity before you go to Stampede (a good time to discuss them is once you’ve finalized your schedule). How do you behave while waiting in line? While on a ride? Navigating the crowds? When you get jostled and your food falls on the ground? Remind your child of these expectations once you’re at Stampede, too.


Stampede Tip: if your child tends to be reactive, role-play what could happen at Stampede so they have already practiced the skill a few times. But don’t expect perfection – maybe just less of a big reaction.


    • Play games while standing in line. Patience (an aspect of time awareness) is often not a strength for children with ADHD, so have some simple games ready that they are familiar with. I Spy, Simon Says, Rock/Paper/Scissors, Would you Rather?, Alphabet Game, I’m Going on a Trip, 20 Questions, etc.


Stampede Tip: If you don’t know any of these games, choose a one or two and start playing them with your child now!


    • Budgets are life-savers. A day at the Stampede can get expensive so make a budget part of the discussion. Again, this helps to manage expectations because you are not going to be buying every shiny, cool thing that grabs their attention.


Stampede Tip: give older kids their own money to spend but talk about how much things are likely to cost before you go.


2. Preparation

  • Bring water, hats, sunscreen and nutritious snacks (there are a lot of fun Stampede treats to eat but it’s cheaper and easier to ‘snack as you go’). Involve your child in choosing all of these. It will take longer but these are excellent opportunities for modelling and teaching decision-making skills.


Stampede Tip: if they are wearing a cowboy hat, make sure it’s not scratchy, has a tie so it doesn’t blow off on rides or get lost.


  • Kids get lost. If your child is past the age of constantly holding your hand, it’s best to be prepared. Head straight to an ATCO Lost Kids kiosk, located at the park entrances, for your child to get a wristband tag, be introduced to the Lost Kids Patrollers and know there is help if they lose sight of you.


3. Experience

Once you’re at Stampede, expect the unexpected! You want to try and stick to your schedule as much as possible, but be realistic and adjust as necessary. Be sure to talk to your child about why it might be necessary to change the itinerary and get their input, if possible, but do what is best in the circumstances.

This models flexibility as children with ADHD can often be rigid in their thinking. They expect one outcome for a situation and if that doesn’t happen, they can get upset. Show them that you can be calm when something unforeseen happens, take a moment to think and talk about alternatives, choose one and carry on.


4. Debrief

An often overlooked opportunity of a big day out is doing a debrief of what was fun and exciting and what didn’t work out so well. Children with ADHD tend to reflect more emotionally on their experiences, and since they are less able to self-regulate, especially in highly-charged environments like Stampede, end up focusing on what was the ‘worst’. They zero in on what caused the most disappointment, frustration or overwhelm. Help your child to reflect on ALL aspects of their Stampede adventure but do this the next day or so once your child’s brain has had some time to process all of their experiences and feelings.

Celebrate the wonderful memories and how their behaviour made that possible, and what happened with those situations which turned out to be less than ideal. “The rides were awesome – you waited your turn in line while we played I Spy, you got to scream on the ride but you got out of your seat right away when it was over. OR, I know you really wanted to pet that big horse and the man wouldn’t let you. But he wasn’t being mean. Some horses don’t like to be petted so the next time when the man says you can’t, ask him which animals like it better and he will show you.”

Debrief conversations can go a long way to helping your child better understand/appreciate their own behaviour and that of others, continue to develop their executive functioning skills and create a more balanced view of their experiences.

With planning and preparation, you and your child with ADHD can have a great day at Stampede! Yahoo!!!

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