Parenting a child who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder comes with a unique set of issues that multiply the challenges of parenthood exponentially. It can be like playing a video game that you’re still getting a feel for, on expert mode; things can get confusing, and chaotic. And it can be challenging at times to find the fun in it. Finding the fun in life can be difficult for kids who have ADHD too. ADHD symptoms include impulsivity, hyperactivity, and distractibility, which can make even an enjoyable activity difficult for a child with ADHD to manage and complete.
The key to successfully reaching the end of a difficult level in a video game, or day parenting a child with ADHD, is patience, perspective, and strategy. Although it can be tempting to park your child in front of a television or tablet for some much-needed quiet time, investing the energy and effort into planning appropriate activities is essential to supporting your child’s emotional and behavioral growth and helps build confidence, self-esteem, and social skills. Here are a few enriching and engaging activities for kids and ADHD that can help you develop a strategy for family fun where everyone wins.
A Parents’ Guide to ADHD-Friendly Activities
Structured movement activities
Children with ADHD often have a lot of energy to burn, but difficulty following directions or working cooperatively can make team sports a challenge. Help kids fulfill social and fitness goals by helping them find access to fun activities like tae kwon do, yoga, or tennis. These types of structured movement activities allow them to work independently alongside others, for the benefits of being part of a team without the pressure involved with teamwork.
Getting involved with martial arts provides an opportunity for self-discipline while offering the incentive of being rewarded for progress by graduating to the next belt level. Yoga can help instill strength, patience, and peace, and does not necessarily have to move at the slow, zen-like pace many people imagine when they think of yoga– look into power yoga or vinyasa for more movement. Tennis is competitive and skill-based in a healthy way and can offer opportunities to learn about winning, losing, and sportsmanship.
For at-home activities, try games like Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, and Four Square to incorporate physical activity with important concepts like listening, self-control, and taking turns.
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Card games and board games have exploded in popularity lately. They can and offer fun, engaging, and visually-compelling options for a broad range of interests, ages, and abilities, at a reasonable price point.
Card games and board games are a great way to practice following rules, waiting your turn, and being a good sport, but are sometimes so long or involved that even adults have difficulty getting to the finish line. Monopoly, anyone? But there are also plenty of games that follow simple rules and that can be played fairly quickly. Look into games that have a time limit or move quickly, like Uno, Skip-Bo, Pictionary, Twister, or Pick Up Sticks.
Keep a few options on hand for some rainy-day family fun.
Art and imagination
Creativity is good for the soul and requires a degree of focus. Children with ADHD often think outside of the box and have an interesting perspective that is valuable to the creative process. It can be helpful to offer them activities that encourage concentration while being open-ended enough to inspire playfulness.
Experiment with providing different art supplies and asking your child to come up with a plan for using them, or by suggesting a specific project that allows them the freedom to make decisions within a defined parameter. Art projects are great activities to help practice executive function, or the ability to plan ahead, stay organized, and finish an intended task.
Dress up clothes, Lego, building blocks, and toys that encourage free play are also beneficial. Consider keeping items like this in storage and offering one activity at a time on a rotating basis, to help your child focus on the task at hand and to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed with options or sensory overload.
Fresh air, sunshine, and exercise are all important elements of good physical and mental health. Help break up the monotony of being indoors – for you and your child both – by giving them room to run and roam.
Activities like a nature-based scavenger hunt can help kids improve their observation skills and attention spans, while still allowing space to play. Jumping rope, hula hooping, biking, or playing a game of catch or hopscotch can build motor skills while burning calories, and are particularly helpful for children with a sensory processing disorder. Even lying on a blanket while watching the clouds can become a lesson in mindfulness.
Planning Activities for Children
One of the most important parts of planning activities for children is preparing for what could go wrong and having a plan for that, too. Set your child up for success by making sure their basic needs are met; that they’re not hungry, tired, hot or cold, that they’re wearing comfortable clothes, and that they understand the plan and expectations for the outing or activity.
Make sure your own expectations are reasonable, as well — your child will probably fidget, they may not follow directions, and there’s a chance that they will reject your suggestions entirely. Meltdowns may also happen, so have an exit strategy in place, whether it’s going home, changing activities, or offering incentives or reasonable consequences. If your child gets dysregulated during your planned activity, try to maintain your own emotional balance. This is easier said than done, but a dramatic reaction often just adds fuel to the fire. Be firm but stay calm, and remain in control without being overly controlling.
Last, but not least, occasional quiet time in front of a television or a tablet has its merits too. There are benefits to screen time, particularly for older children like tweens and teens. Offer television and media options which have value, whether it’s for educational purposes or just for relaxing after a long day of doing schoolwork.
The attention issues, challenges with impulse control and other symptoms of ADHD often feel like insurmountable obstacles as a parent, but by having a strategy and being proactive about problem-solving, you can enjoy more fun days as a family while watching your child thrive as a result of your efforts.