The best toys for kids with ADHD inspire curiosity, stimulate imagination, offer new experiences, help kids develop life skills, and, most importantly, are just plain fun.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with symptoms that can make daily life more challenging. Being impulsive, hyperactive, or irritable, or having difficulty with focus, self-control, and executive function often leads to social conflict with peers, negative consequences in school, or discipline for problematic behaviors at home.
Engaging in play is a much needed escape that gives children with ADHD the freedom they need to relax, express themselves, and explore new situations, sensations, or ideas in a safe way that helps build self-confidence.
This article can help you learn how to choose the best toys for kids with ADHD, and add even more value to playtime. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Why toys are important
Children of all ages learn through play; they build fine motor skills by tinkering with small objects, develop gross motor skills by riding bikes or jumping rope, and practice new social roles or scenarios by dressing up, playing with puppets, or adventuring in the land of Make-Believe.
Toys are tools that help shape playtime. Anyone with children knows that kids are just as likely to be entertained by an empty cardboard box as they are by the newest gadget––and that’s great! That is an example of imagination in action, which is a foundational element of play. So, remember that it is not necessarily the toy you choose that matters, it is the activity the toy inspires. Buying appropriate toys for your child with ADHD can turn the free play into an educational opportunity.
Consider the following types of toys to guide your future playtime purchases:
High energy toys
Children with ADHD often have a lot of excess energy to burn, and playing with toys that encourage physical activity is a safe and healthy way to indulge the need to run, jump, and move:
- Razor Scooters are good, old-fashioned fun for a wide range of ages. Riding on a scooter helps your child learn to safely distribute their weight from one foot to the other while also building the coordination necessary to gain momentum, stop, and balance while riding. Scooters can also be easily transported to the park or to a grandparent’s house for an on-the-go activity.
- Monster Feet Stompers are simple and silly, which is an ideal combination for encouraging imagination and activity all at once. These durable plastic “stilts” are shaped like monster feet; children place their own feet on the platform of each ghastly green foot, hold onto the looped cords, and stomp around as scarily as they please.
- Pogo Balance Boards resemble a skateboard with a rubber ball embedded in the center and are designed to engage core muscles as kids shift their weight to rock back and forth. Working on coordination and balance also helps improve focus, which means this toy offers a double dose of benefits for the brain and body.
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Almost any toy can be a skill-building toy depending on how it is used, but the following toys promote play in a way that is particularly valuable for children managing the symptoms of ADHD:
- Lego building blocks are the ideal example of an open-ended toy that offers a wide range of activities and benefits. The colorful components can be constructed into a predetermined project to work on focus and commitment, can be stacked and snapped together randomly to practice fine motor skills, and can be used as learning aids to work on math concepts like addition or subtraction.
- Twister is a fun way to work on gross motor skills involving movement and coordination while also emphasizing the importance of taking turns and good sportsmanship. Experiment with different board games to help your child work on social skills in a playful but structured format. For instance, “Guess Who?” is a great game to practice language, communication, and deductive reasoning.
- DIY art kits allow your child to explore their artistic interests while also requiring patience and concentration. A quick Amazon search reveals options for every age range and activity, from making super bouncy balls to growing your own crystals. Art also introduces opportunities to work on problem-solving and executive function as your child decides how to organize the steps and supplies involved with their creation.
Trying to stop a child with ADHD from fidgeting is an exercise in futility and will only frustrate you both. Manipulating fidget spinners, a squishy stress ball or one of the fidget toys listed below can help relieve the anxiety of wanting to wiggle while actually helping your child focus:
- Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty may look like high quality Play-doh to the untrained eye, but squishing, squeezing, rolling, bouncing, and poking this safe, non-toxic, and mess-free substance improves dexterity and has a calming effect for children with ADHD. Occupational therapists often suggest embedding small objects such as chunky beads into the putty, so that children can work on fine motor skills as they stay busy finding and removing the hidden pieces.
- Toysmith Wacky Tracks is a durable, articulated plastic chain that can be bent and twisted into shapes, symbols, or bracelets. Inexpensive and highly portable, Wacky Tracks can turn long car rides or waiting rooms into an opportunity for quiet yet active imaginative play.
- Appash Fidget Cube is a discreet and inexpensive stress reliever that can easily fit into a pocket or the palm of a small hand. Children with ADHD, anxiety, or autism enjoy the mindless-but-busy sensation of the different activities offered, which include clicking, gliding, flipping, rolling, and spinning the silicone buttons, dials, and toggles.
Quiet time toys
Learning to quietly entertain yourself is essential to being able to find contentment in almost any situation, and benefits parents as much as it does their children. Introduce quiet time as an opportunity to independently explore new experiences:
- The Air Fort is an inflatable tent that blows up effortlessly and comes in designs that are sure to spark the imagination, such as a barn, tiki hut, or spaceship. Combine its use with a calm activity like reading or coloring for all of the fun of a blanket fort minus the mess of raiding the linen closet.
- Melissa & Doug Standing Easel is an all-in-one art station that helps younger children get in touch with their creative side. With a dry erase board, chalkboard, paper roll, and supply tray, kids have a range of options for easily contained art projects.
- Kinetic Sand is a creative outlet, a building material, and a sensory toy all-in-one. This “sticky” sand can be shaped, cut, molded, sculpted, and moved without making a mess. Its unique properties and unusual texture make it an ideal option for introducing your child to new forms of sensory input.
Parenting a child with special needs comes with its own set of challenges, and raising a child with ADHD can make any given day feel like you’re running a marathon. Pace yourself, adjust your technique as necessary, and keep your eye on the finish line––or bedtime, in this case. However, don’t forget that asking your child to go play can be an educational opportunity and a critical ingredient of personal development. Play is important, and toys are tools for learning; even video games allow your child to practice persistence, dexterity, self-control, and patience.
Choose ADHD-friendly toys that offer your child an escape from the rigors of daily existence while also teaching them important life skills, and enjoy a little quiet time for yourself as your child plays and learns.