- The Best Activities for Kids With ADHD
- Try Something Active
- Consider Individual Sports
- But Don’t Push if It Isn’t Working
- Pay Attention to Timing
- Avoid Chaotic Settings
- Let Your Child Guide You
- Great Activities for Kids with ADHD
- After-School Activities for Children With ADHD
- What are the best sports for kids with ADHD?
- Awesome Activities for Kids With ADHD
- Board Games
- Worried your child has ADHD: first steps
- Behaviour management plans for children with ADHD
- Behaviour strategies to help children with ADHD
- Social skills to help children with ADHD
- Strategies to manage energy and tiredness in children with ADHD
- Classroom strategies to help children with ADHD
- ADHD medications
- When your child has ADHD: looking after yourself
- ADHD and Exercise
- The importance of evidence
- A do-no-harm intervention
- Good habits, good health
- The “I” in team
- Many ways to get moving
The Best Activities for Kids With ADHD
Photograph by Kinzie & Riehm
The markers for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, include difficulty concentrating, trouble following directions, restlessness, and impulsivity — qualities that can make it hard for a child to participate in some activities. That doesn’t mean your child with ADHD can’t play sports or pick up an extracurricular, of course, but some choices will be better than others.
The activities that work best for your child will depend on the type of ADHD she has, or her primary symptoms. There are three types of ADHD: primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination of both. A child who is mostly inattentive might find the chaos of team sports too overwhelming and loud, while a child with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD may find activities that involve a lot of waiting around (softball or T-ball, for instance) are too tough to handle.
Try Something Active
“Physical activity in general is very beneficial to kids with ADHD,” says psychologist Mark Stein, Ph.D., director of the PEARL Clinic (Program to Enhance Attention, Regulation, and Learning) at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “I often recommend that they do an aerobic activity three to four times a week. Exercise helps attention, and it improves self-esteem.”
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Consider Individual Sports
Kids with the hyperactive part of ADHD are going to be drawn to team sports, but the child’s impulsivity and lack of focus don’t lend themselves to success. Individual sports such as martial arts, wrestling, tennis, and swimming are better choices. And when you’re checking out martial arts programs, avoid those that involve a lot of yelling, which can be a little overwhelming for kids, says Heidi Tringali, an occupational therapist with Tringali Occupational Therapy Services in Charlotte. Request a trial session or ask to observe a class before signing up, to make sure that the volume and pace are a good match for your child.
But Don’t Push if It Isn’t Working
“My son is small for his age, so he is not into sports,” says Katherine Slack, whose 9-year-old son has ADHD. “But he loves Cub Scouts. It keeps his attention when we have a den meeting, and he really gets into the activities they have throughout the whole year.”
Pay Attention to Timing
Many children with ADHD are about three years behind their peers, emotionally speaking, according to a study from the National Institute of Mental Health, so you may want to sign your child up with a younger group for some activities, if that’s an option. Think about medication, if that’s part of your routine. Avoid enrolling your child in an activity that happens before she typically takes her meds or as they’re wearing off.
- Learn more about ADHD with these books from Shop Parents.
Avoid Chaotic Settings
Your child stands a better chance of success if he can focus on what he’s doing — and crowds of other kids or a loud noise level can make that difficult. Stick to small groups in reasonably controlled settings when you can. “When you have a child with ADHD it’s tough, socially,” Tringali says. “The quick fix is to put them in something lots of other kids are doing, like baseball or soccer. But you really want to consciously pick the types of friends and the activities that will help your child develop the skills he’s working on.”
Let Your Child Guide You
After Tami Neumann’s 14-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago, she realized that cooking was a great activity for him. It involves organization and learning about foods in general, says Neumann, who lives in Griffith, Indiana. “Yes, the kitchen can be a mess, but this has helped him to be focused and learn how to streamline and organize.”
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- By Kate Ashford
At times preschoolers may have difficulty paying attention, following directions, and waiting or taking their turn. These behaviors can be common and age appropriate or they may indicate the need for an Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) evaluation. As a parent, you might wonder whether your preschooler has ADHD or is just being rambunctious and acting typical for his or her age. This fact sheet will tell you more about ADHD in preschoolers and what to do if you are concerned about your child.
Can preschoolers have or be diagnosed with ADHD
Yes. Children as young as age 4 can be diagnosed with ADHD. According to the 2010-2011 National Survey of Children’s Health, approximately 194,000 preschoolers (2-5 years of age) had a current ADHD diagnosis. Some children outgrow the symptoms, but others may not. Research shows that 3-year-olds who show symptoms of ADHD are much more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD by age 13.
How can I tell if my preschooler has ADHD
Preschoolers with ADHD are more likely to be suspended from school or daycare because of their disruptive behavior. These kids have more trouble learning concepts at school, and many get special education placements at a very young age when compared to children without ADHD.
As a parent, you will want to know where your child’s behaviors fit along a range of behaviors that are typical of kids the same age. Ask yourself, “When compared with other preschoolers of the same age, where does my child’s behavior fall” Talking with your preschooler’s teachers and/or childcare providers can let you know what are common behaviors in young children and not related to a disorder and what is of more serious concern.
What is involved in having my preschooler evaluated for ADHD
To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must have a specified number of symptoms for at least 6 months that show up in more than one area of life. For example, if your child has behaviors at home that may look like ADHD but does not have these behaviors in situations outside the home, there may be another explanation. If you suspect that your preschooler has ADHD, you will want to talk to a professional who is trained to diagnose and treat ADHD such as your child’s pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker or other qualified mental health clinician. It is also important to have your child checked for other conditions such as vision, hearing, or sleep problems because sometimes the symptoms look like ADHD.
Evaluations for preschoolers should be thorough and follow the guidelines outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). These guidelines recommend a detailed interview with you to determine how long the symptoms have been going on, how severe they are, how often they occur and in what settings. You and your child’s teachers or child care providers will be asked to complete questionnaires with rating scales to evaluate your child’s behavior. The ADHD professional will conduct a detailed review of your preschooler’s school and medical records, talk with and observe your child directly, and check for other conditions your child may have along with ADHD. The professional may also suggest other psychological tests to help understand your preschooler’s strengths and weaknesses in learning and thinking skills and screen for learning disabilities.
What are the symptoms of ADHD in children
A diagnosis of ADHD is based on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5). The manual lists three presentations of ADHD–Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined and the symptoms for each.
- Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Has difficulty sustaining attention
- Does not appear to listen
- Struggles to follow through on instructions
- Has difficulty with organization
- Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring a lot of thinking
- Loses things
- Is easily distracted
- Is forgetful in daily activities
- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair
- Has difficulty remaining seated
- Runs about or climbs excessively in children; extreme restlessness in adults
- Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
- Acts as if driven by a motor; adults will often feel inside like they were driven by a motor
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
- Difficulty waiting or taking turns
- Interrupts or intrudes upon others
Combined, Inattentive & Hyperactive-impulsive
- Has symptoms from both of the above lists
These symptoms can change over time, so children may fit different presentations as they age.
What are the causes of ADHD
Research has yet to determine the exact causes of ADHD. However, scientists have discovered a strong genetic link since ADHD can run in families. Other factors in the environment may increase the likelihood of having ADHD:
- mother smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol while pregnant
- exposure to lead or pesticides in early childhood
- premature birth or low birth weight
- brain injury
Scientists continue to study the exact relationship of ADHD to environmental factors, but point out that there is no single cause that explains all cases of ADHD and that many factors may play a part.
The following factors are NOT known causes, but can make ADHD symptoms worse for some children:
- watching too much television
- eating sugar
- family stress (poverty, family trauma)
Why is it important to address ADHD in my preschooler at an early age
Preschoolers with ADHD are more likely to have difficulties in daycare or school, including problems with peer relationships, learning, and a higher risk of injuries. An early diagnosis is important so that your child can get the needed help to minimize these problems.
Even for the preschooler who might have some symptoms but does not have ADHD, these early years are the time when significant brain development occurs. This is an optimal time for children to learn positive behaviors, and for you to know how to effectively help your child learn. It’s best to address problematic behaviors sooner rather than later.
How should ADHD be treated in preschoolers
When it comes to treatment for preschool and kindergarten-aged children, the AAP calls for behavioral treatments first and medication only when needed. Behavioral therapy from child and adolescent therapists who specialize in ADHD will provide both the parents and the children techniques to teach and reinforce positive behaviors and skills. This will help a preschooler with ADHD to successfully function at home and school.
When medication is prescribed, the AAP recommends starting children ages 4-5 on a methylphenidate medication trial beginning with a low dose. Because children respond differently to medication, what may work for one child may not work for another. The health care professional can adjust the dose to determine if it is helping, if a different medication is needed or if any side effects are present. Treating ADHD is complex, and it is important to continually monitor children to see if the treatment is working. This includes periodically repeating the rating scale assessments to make sure the medication and behavioral therapy are having the desired effect. Additionally, the AACAP Preschool Pharmacology Working Group recommends that preschoolers who are taking ADHD medication have their medication stopped (under the prescribing doctor’s direction) after 6 months to reassess the symptoms and to consider whether the medication should be continued.
What is parent behavioral training and how can it benefit me and my child
Children who have ADHD may not have the skills and behaviors that result in their receiving positive attention. Often they tend to misbehave and are in situations where they are punished more frequently than other children. This can have a negative effect on their self-image and cause them to increase their problem behaviors. Parents and caregivers (daycare providers, preschool teachers, and other caretakers) can learn to manage the behavior of preschoolers who have ADHD by becoming educated about the disorder and by receiving parent training in how to use behavioral techniques.
Parent training programs taught by trained therapists can give caretakers the tools and strategies to help children who have ADHD. A 2010 review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that effective programs:
- help parents develop a positive relationship with their child
- teach them about how children develop
- help them manage negative behavior and increase positive behavior with positive discipline
Parent behavioral training programs for parents of preschool-aged children that currently have enough research evidence to be described as effective:
- Triple P (Positive Parenting Program)
- Incredible Years Parenting Program
- Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
Other programs that focus on the same elements may also be helpful.
Parents and caregivers who wish to learn more about ADHD and ways to help their child may wish to enroll in Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD offered through CHADD.
Are preschoolers receiving the recommended treatments
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 2 preschoolers do not receive recommended behavioral treatment. The rates of preschool-aged children taking medication for ADHD has doubled in the last four years, and 1 in 4 receive only medication treatment, which should be the last resort.
There is a movement within the field of ADHD to increase access to behavior therapy for young children, particularly to behavioral parenting therapy that is considered evidence-based and effective. The hope is to decrease the rates of preschool and kindergarten-aged children taking medication for ADHD as a first line of treatment.
For More Information
Managing a schedule when you have a child or adolescent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can feel stressful. Simply dealing with challenges at home or school can feel like a full load, so adding extracurricular activities or sports can seem like taking on too much in a demanding schedule. But many doctors and mental health professionals frequently recommend active exercise as a valid intervention for the symptoms of ADHD, which can include hyperactivity and inattention.
Thirty minutes to a full hour of physical activity per day can make a huge difference in anyone’s mental and physical health, but especially for a child with ADHD. A child with ADHD who is regularly active may sleep better and experience fewer emotional outbursts at home and school. 1 They may see benefits from the structure and organization of being part of a team and learning the rules of a new game or activity. Kids can also learn communication and social skills, increase coordination skills, and build up their self-esteem by being part of a sport or other activity. And because people with ADHD are at increased risk for developing depression, activities that involve exercise can lower their risk for depressive symptoms. 2
If you’re thinking about getting your child involved in sports or other activities, you can start by considering the potential barriers or challenges your child may face on the field or the court. For example, many stimulant medications used to treat ADHD may wear off by the afternoon. You might want to consider talking to your child’s doctor about extended release medication options or finding a sports your child can participate in during mornings or weekends.
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Another potential challenge may be the nature of the sport your child chooses. For example, sometime fast-moving sports can work best to curb symptoms of inattention. These might include:
- cross country.
Sometimes slower sports that stop and start, like baseball, might not work, but never assume they won’t if your child expresses interest. If the pressure of competition or the required skill level is too much, then activities like martial arts, hiking, ice skating, or others might be a good starting point for your child.
If your child is not interested in sports, there are many extracurricular activities which can help your child exercise their mind and body. Some of these activities can include:
- Boy or Girl scouts
Where do we start?
Above all, it’s important to remember that it might take several tries before your child finds the right sport or activity for them. It may be too much to try multiple things at once, so consider trying different sports or activities in different seasons and then letting your child decide what they like best. Never underestimate your child’s abilities because they have ADHD. Many successful athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Michael Jordan, and Terry Bradshaw have shared their experiences with the disorder. Artists like actor Jim Carrey, musician Adam Levine, and writer Jenny Lawson have gone on to create inspiring things while living with an ADHD diagnosis.
When your child starts a sport or extracurricular activity, also consider having a conversation with the coach or leader. Talk to them about your child’s ADHD and ways of responding to symptoms that are positive, like acknowledging successful behavior and encouraging confidence. Also talk to the coach about the medication your child takes and whether increased heart rate or blood pressure are potential side effects.3 With 11% of American children diagnosed with ADHD, chances are another member of a team or activity can also relate and benefit from an informed leader. 4
When it comes to sports and extracurricular activities, there will be stops and starts along the way. Some sports may not work out, and your child may lose interest in an activity over time. But the benefits on your child’s health and confidence outweigh the costs of trying something new. Give your child the freedom to have fun, move their body, and see what can happen. You might be surprised by how quickly they adapt and excel at something new.
Article Sources Last Updated: Apr 30, 2019
Great Activities for Kids with ADHD
These after-school and weekend activities and sports are especially good for kids with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD or ADD.
After a long day in the classroom, after-school (or weekend) activities can give ADHD kids a chance to burn off extra energy and boost to their confidence. While martial arts are often touted as the go-to sport for kids struggling with this disorder, parents say they’ve found success with a variety of other activities too. It really depends on your kid—and what his passions are—but active and/or outdoor-based activities are a good place to start. We tapped CHADD (Child and Adults with ADHD) to get the scoop on the best activities to try.
Most kids, ADHD or not, love being outside. Outdoor exercises like biking and hiking are especially good for high-energy kids. Unlike with many team sports such as basketball, baseball and soccer, there is no standing around time. Your kid will be constantly moving and using large muscle groups, keeping him focused.
Unlike other activities that work either the right or left side of the brain, music exercises both sides at the same time, training your mind to multitask better. If your kid is in a band, orchestra or a choir, they are learning to work as part of a team—a key skill for kids with ADHD.
It worked wonders for Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps—who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 9—so it might just do the trick for your kid too. The constant movement keeps up with your kid’s energy level, and the self-discipline the sport requires is good for them too.
Girl Scouts/Cub Scouts
These organizations were founded before ADHD was even defined, and they’ve been incorporating activities that require focus, attention and organization forever. They’ve also perfected a system of rewards—super-effective for getting ADHD kids to work toward a goal—with activities like the pinewood derby, arts & crafts and of course, earning badges for a job well done.
Unlike school or travel teams, YMCA sports are much more about working as a team and sportsmanship than they are about competition. Check out your local Y for a huge range of sports that will place your kid on either a team or in a solo sport with other kids of varying athletic ability, most taught by a coach who cares more about team spirit than racking up the wins.
The line memorization, the regular practices, the rush of being on stage—all this provides routine, sharpens concentration and places ADHD kids in the center of a group effort. Bravo!
Debate team not only gets your child involved in a group with a common goal, but can provide a personal intellectual challenge. Communication skills are honed, while the battle of wits and the thrill of one-upmanship keeps kids coming back for more.
Whether it’s the track team or just a solo jog through the park, the constant movement and sense of accomplishment when your kid sees how much ground he’s covered makes running a crowd-pleaser for kids with ADHD. Also, the sport’s much-touted ability to calm the mind makes it a great way to wind down after school.
Before you judge—isn’t Bingo for grannies?—remember that simple games are great for shorter attention spans, and small, frequent wins can build self-esteem. Eventually, your kid will gain the confidence they need to play longer, more strategic games—and whup Mom’s butt.
An Activity Don’t: Television and Video Games
Of course most kids want some veg time every day. But TV and video games do little to channel energy, and can distract kids from responsibilities like schoolwork. Instead, encourage kids to get off the couch and outside, and limit the hours they sit in front of the screen. Make the time they do spend in front of the boob tube part of a reward system for when work is finished.
After-School Activities for Children With ADHD
It’s important to find out about the role adults and teachers will play. “Children with ADHD do benefit from supervision. They are likely to get off track if they are not supervised,” Gallagher says. “Depending on the mix of kids they can also get into a few more arguments and scuffles than other kids.”
Children With ADHD: Get Outside
Numerous studies have shown that the more “green” your ADHD child encounters in his activities, the better. In fact, children with ADHD can show a reduction in ADHD symptoms after outdoor activities.
Spending time in green environments — such as parks, gardens, farms, and backyards — improved ADHD symptoms regardless of the number of children involved. Some of the outdoor activities that a child can participate in (with supervision and structure) include:
- Walking (at least 20 minutes)
- Gardening or other yard work
- Hiking or backpacking
- Outdoor sports
- Working with animals
Going green can be a challenge if you live in a metropolis but your child will benefit from seeking out the greenest route to and from school, or heading to a park or after-school facility that has a lot of trees and grass for play.
If you’re looking for after-school activities to keep your child occupied until you get off work, there are a couple of additional factors to consider, says Gallagher. “There should be a plan to include homework completion, because if homework is left until after parents get home, it’s going to be pretty late. For some kids, their treatments are going to be wearing off,” he says. The best bet is a schedule that allows for a snack and a brief period of relaxation, followed by homework and then their chosen activities.
Cut Screen Time for Children With ADHD
Although it can be tempting (and your child may beg and plead) to allow your ADHD child to chill out in front of the TV, surf online, or play a favorite video game — resist. Television use and online surfing have both been linked to increased ADHD symptoms. A recent survey showed that children with ADHD who spent one hour or more playing video games had more ADHD symptoms throughout the day than those who did not.
Also remember that your child’s smart phone counts as a “screen” — so stay on top of how much time he’s playing games or texting.
Ultimately you know your child best — and your child knows what interests him. Finding an after-school activity that will engage him and be enjoyable — but at the same time be structured and well supervised — may be a welcome challenge.
What are the best sports for kids with ADHD?
Getting children involved with sports offers plenty of benefits, including physical exercise, development of social skills and even boosted self-esteem. But do all sports offer the same level of benefit for children who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
A common condition, ADHD affects more than 11.1 percent of children in Michigan ages 4-17 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three main symptoms experienced by those with ADHD are impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, but children with ADHD tend to experience these symptoms at varying levels.
Considering the severity of their symptoms, children with ADHD may find they enjoy playing some sports more than others. Factors like the coaching dynamic, overall pace of the sport and focus on teamwork versus individual performance may influence the decision on which sport is best.
Team Sports vs. Individual Sports
The sports that are most ideal for children with ADHD are those with a more individual focus. Many of these sports offer the opportunity for an athlete to compete as an individual, but they still get the experience of being part of a team because their individual scores often contribute to the team’s overall score.
One major benefit of individual sports for children with ADHD is the direct interaction between the coach and the athlete. Individual sports offer a coaching dynamic where the instruction is more one-on-one. It’s much easier for children with ADHD to focus if there are fewer distractions and the coaching is directed specifically at them. If they are playing a sport where the coaching is directed more at the team as a whole, an athlete with ADHD may have a harder time paying attention.
Because of the coaching and more individual focus, here are some examples of sports that a child with ADHD may enjoy include:
- Martial arts
- Track or Cross Country
While individual sports may provide certain benefits for kids with ADHD, there are still some team sports that they may enjoy playing. If an athlete with ADHD would like to play team sports, I would suggest one of the following:
These are three sports where the athletes are almost always moving and there’s very little idle time. That constant motion provides a good outlet for the athletes to use their energy, and having less idle team means they are less likely to become distracted.
Medication and Sports
One of the things parents should keep in mind if their child with ADHD chooses to play sports is the child’s medication schedule. Most students are treated for ADHD in a way that allows the medication to peak when the child is in school, because that’s when he or she most needs to pay attention. But if the child plays sports after school, the child’s parents and pediatrician should make sure that the medication regimen reflects the change in schedule.
For older children who are interested in going on to play sports in college, there may be concern about their medication because some of the substances used to treat ADHD are on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. The NCAA will make exceptions for athletes who have documented ADHD and a medical need for the medication. For college-age athletes or high school athletes who are planning to play in college, it’s very important that their coaches and trainers know about their medication, and that all necessary documentation is turned in to prevent any issues related to its use.
Children with ADHD can benefit from sports just as much as their peers who don’t have the condition. It’s all about finding a sport they are comfortable with and enjoy playing. If you have questions about your child playing a particular sport, ask your child’s pediatrician for guidance or schedule a sports physical.
Dr. Leonard Pollack is a pediatrician seeing patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Macomb Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Center – Sterling Heights.
To find a pediatrician or make an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
For more advice on raising healthy kids, visit henryfordlivewell.comand subscribe for weekly emails of our latest posts.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
Awesome Activities for Kids With ADHD
Kids with attention issues, hyperactivity, or ADHD, can benefit greatly from having their energy put to good use. These lively children are usually at their happiest when they are kept busy. So, if you are wondering what activities would be best for your child, here are some suggestions.
In 2012, RTSG Neuroscience and Specialized Bikes spent five days a weeks, over a period of a month, observing and measuring the effects of cycling. They used two groups of middle school-age children who were either diagnosed with or displayed symptoms of ADHD. They found that biking:
- Improves attention and attenuates impulsivity.
- Enhances processing of information.
- Improves the child’s mood.
- Enables kids to better understand their feelings.
- Increases cognitive performance after just one ride.
- Decreases waist circumference and BMI.
Sports psychologist Dr. Lindsey Shaw Thornton believes that cycling may be beneficial for these children because of “factors like maintaining balance, being outdoors, riding in groups and the rhythmic motion of pedaling.”
Why not make a splash and take your child swimming? It’s an excellent form of exercise and a fun way to spend an afternoon. It helped Olympian Michael Phelps, who was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of nine, become a world-class swimmer.
This activity allows children to swim off all their excess energy while improving focus and self-esteem at the same time. If your child enjoys swimming, you might also want to consider signing them up for swimming lessons. The sessions will be structured in a way that helps them to set goals and achieve them, which is a great confidence booster.
Singing is not just a good way to pass the time; it has other benefits too. Singing helps to improve language development in younger children and can improve concentration and social skills for all age groups.
Learning to play an instrument like the drums, recorder, piano and so on, can help to build confidence, improve focus and reduce stress. Some research even suggests that music can decrease impulsiveness and may even improve mathematical ability in ADHD-diagnosed children.
Acting and role play will give your child the chance to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Learning lines and preparing to go on stage will teach them self-discipline, as they leave their inhibitions behind and get into character. Drama is a good activity for helping children to develop their social skills and improve concentration, comprehension and confidence.
Sharing a story is fab way to connect with your child and help them to see the world from different perspectives. Kids with ADHD tend to overlook characters’ motives, but if you read together and discuss the different characters’ motives and actions, it may help them to understand other people better.
Board games haven’t become extinct just yet, and it’s a good thing, because there’s nothing quite like sitting around the table and playing a good game. This kind of activity is ideal for shorter attention spans, and it can also help an impulsive child to learn to take turns. If your child enjoys this activity, you could introduce games that require a longer attention span and strategic thinking to enhance their concentration and cognitive process.
Fun activities are especially important for hyperactive children, because they can learn many skills in an enjoyable way.
Worried your child has ADHD: first steps
If you think your child might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the first step is to visit your child’s GP or paediatrician for further assessment and diagnosis.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, you and your health professional can work together to develop a behaviour management plan.
Behaviour management plans for children with ADHD
Managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children is about first accepting that your child will behave in challenging ways. But a behaviour management plan can make the behaviour easier to handle.
A behaviour management plan guides your child towards appropriate behaviour with:
- strategies to encourage good behaviour
- social skills to help your child get along with others
- strategies to manage your child’s energy levels and tiredness
- strategies to support your child in the classroom
- medication, if your child needs it.
The best plans are usually based on sound professional advice that takes into account what suits your child and family. Plans should consider all aspects of your child’s life, including your child’s needs and responsibilities at home, at school and in other social settings.
Children with ADHD often experience other difficulties like oppositional defiant disorder or anxiety. You can incorporate strategies to help with these in the management plan.
It’s a good idea to discuss your plan with your child’s family, carers, therapists and teachers. This helps people have realistic expectations of your child’s behaviour. It can also help them understand how best to handle your child’s behaviour. And if they have to give your child medication, they’ll know how much to give and when.
When you work with health professionals, school teachers, other adults in your child’s life, and your family and friends, it can be easier for you and your child to keep to the plan.
Behaviour strategies to help children with ADHD
Your child’s behaviour management plan will probably include strategies that help your child learn the skills she needs to increase cooperative behaviour and reduce challenging behaviour.
Some simple but effective behaviour strategies might include:
- changes to the environment to make it easier for your child to behave well
- clear verbal instructions to help your child understand what you want him to do
- praise for positive behaviour to encourage your child to keep behaving well
- predictable daily routines to help your child at demanding times of the day, like when you’re getting ready for school and work in the morning.
Social skills to help children with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might need support to get along with other children. So your child’s behaviour management plan could include some ideas to help your child develop social skills.
These ideas might include:
- rewarding your child for helpful behaviour like sharing and being gentle with others
- teaching your child what to do if there’s a problem with another child – for example, walking away or talking to a teacher
- teaching your child how to regulate her own behaviour – for example, by using a short prompt like ‘Stop, think, do’
- giving your child the chance to practise social skills – for example, by arranging supervised playdates.
Strategies to manage energy and tiredness in children with ADHD
All children find it easier to behave well if they can manage their energy levels and aren’t tired, so behaviour management plans for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often cover this.
You can help your child manage energy levels and maintain focus by:
- building rest breaks into activities
- allowing some time for physical exercise breaks while your child is doing learning tasks like reading or homework
- being ready with a few fun but low-key activities like Lego or a puzzle, which your child can do if he starts to get overexcited.
And you can stop your child from getting too tired by:
- getting your child into good sleep habits, like getting to sleep and waking up at about the same time each day
- providing healthy food options for longer-lasting energy and concentration
- making sure your child’s screen time is balanced with other activities during the day
- making sure all electronic devices are switched off at least an hour before bed.
Classroom strategies to help children with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have problems at school. So behaviour management plans should include classroom strategies to support your child’s learning.
You could talk with your child’s teacher about strategies like:
- dividing tasks into smaller chunks
- offering one-on-one help when possible
- giving your child a ‘buddy’ who can help her understand what to do
- planning the classroom so your child is seated near the front of the room and away from distractions
- making a visual checklist of tasks that need to be finished or keeping a copy of the school schedule where your child can see it
- doing more difficult learning tasks in the mornings or after breaks
- allowing some extra time to finish tasks.
To get the support your child needs for learning, language and physical problems at school, you might need to advocate for your child. This could involve talking to your child’s classroom teacher, the principal or the additional needs support officer about special programs, funding and other help for your child.
Schools can help by setting out support plans in an individual learning plan for your child. The school should also work with you to set and review your child’s learning goals regularly.
If your child needs medication to help him manage his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this will be included in his behaviour management plan.
Doctors will sometimes prescribe stimulant medications for children diagnosed with ADHD. These medications improve the way the parts of the brain ‘talk’ to each other. This can help children with attention and self-regulation.
Methylphenidate is the most commonly used medication of this type. It’s sold under the brand names Ritalin 10, Ritalin LA and Concerta.
Other stimulant medications are dexamphetamine or lisdexamfetamine. Lisdexamfetamine is sold under the brand name Vyvanse.
Your child’s paediatrician or psychiatrist will be able to work out which drug and dose will be best for your child.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask your doctor:
- How long will each dose last?
- What are the side effects of the medication?
- How will the medication be monitored?
- How long will my child stay on medication?
There are also some non-stimulant medications available for treating ADHD. These include Strattera (atomoxetine), Catapres (clonidine) and Intuniv (guanfacine). These medications can help to reduce anxiety too.
Side effects of ADHD medications
These medications can cause some side effects – for example, loss of appetite, which can affect your child’s weight gain or growth. Other side effects might include difficulty getting to sleep, tummy upsets or headaches.
Because of these possible side effects, a child who has been prescribed medication should always be closely monitored by a health professional.
Most side effects are mild and don’t last long. If there are side effects that don’t go away, your health professional might change the dose or timing of medication, or suggest trying a different medication.
Treatments that are backed up by science are most likely to work, be worth your time, money and energy, and be safe for your child. If you’re interested in other ADHD treatments, it’s always a good idea to speak with a health professional about them.
When your child has ADHD: looking after yourself
Looking after yourself by asking for help and support is a big part of managing your child’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Here are some options for you to think about:
- Ask for help from family members and friends. If your child relates well to a particular family member, like an aunt or grandparent, that person might be able to help in difficult situations like shopping, or spend some time with your child while you get some chores done.
- Speak to your child’s teacher about classroom behaviour strategies that you can try out at home.
- Go to a support group for parents of children with ADHD.
- Talk to your child’s health professional about any difficulties you’re having.
- Learn about stress and how you can handle it.
ADHD and Exercise
The notion that physical activity has a positive impact on ADHD isn’t new, but a recent study showing regular physical activity decreased the severity of ADHD symptoms and improved cognitive functioning in children has a lot of people talking about the future of exercise as a treatment for ADHD.
Dr. Betsy Hoza, professor of psychology at the University of Vermont and lead author on the study, says that the idea for the study came from a friend of hers who teaches elementary school and mentioned how much periods of in-school exercise seemed to help her ADHD students. She suggested Dr. Hoza and her colleagues investigate. “That made such intuitive sense,” says Dr. Hoza, “I was honestly a little surprised no one had documented it previously.”
The results were promising. Dr. Hoza and her colleagues found that for kids between kindergarten and second grade, as little as a half hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise had a positive, measurable impact on their focus and mood. The results were similar for kids with the impulsive-hyperactive type of ADHD and those with the more inattentive type.
So what does this mean for parents and kids with ADHD?
The importance of evidence
For many parents looking for alternatives to ADHD medication, studies like this can be a beacon of hope. When non-pharmacological treatments for ADHD get press, they are sometimes hyped as cure-alls, so it’s important to take a closer look at the facts to see what they can, and can’t, truly offer.
In this case, the results of the study were promising but Dr. Hoza says it’s not time to stop using traditional ADHD interventions just yet. “When I talk to parents I say, ‘You need to know what the evidence-based treatments are and right now that’s stimulant medication, behavioral therapy and their combination,’ ” she explains.
The bottom line: Exercise isn’t a miracle cure for ADHD, but it can make a contribution to a child’s functioning better and feeling better, and it’s definitely something worth trying.
A do-no-harm intervention
What Dr. Hoza can say for sure is that exercise definitely doesn’t hurt. “It’s important to note that there is absolutely NO reason why a parent can’t add physical activity to the treatment they’re already using,” she says. “Unless a child has a physical challenge that would be exacerbated by activity, exercise is a do-no-harm intervention.”
While the findings regarding the impact of exercise on ADHD were most notable, Dr. Hoza says that that all the kids in the study—the group at risk for ADHD as well as the typically developing control group who were also participating in the half-hour exercise program—showed improved cognitive functioning.
Good habits, good health
This, Dr. Hoza says, is the most vital point. “The most important message is that physical activity is important for children’s development regardless of whether you have ADHD or not,” she says. “There’s other research that suggests it has cognitive benefits for all children and we all know the physical benefits.”
She’s right. According to the CDC, kids who get moving have lower rates of obesity, anxiety and stress, and are less prone to health problems later in life. Exercising during childhood also helps them build good habits that will follow them into adulthood.
The “I” in team
This is great news for kids who have a great time playing sports or running outside but for some parents, getting kids to exercise isn’t always so easy.
For a lot of kids, including some with ADHD or other learning challenges, gym class—if they still have it—is the worst part of the day. Organized sports are minefields of potential embarrassment for kids who struggle to remember multi-step directions, aren’t comfortable with physical contact or just aren’t as coordinated as their peers. Making exercise appealing to children who’d rather sit in the bleachers is a challenge.
“It’s really important for parents to pay attention to what kind of activity they’re enrolling their child in,” says Dr. Hoza. “In today’s world there are so many children’s sports that are very competitive, and those wouldn’t be the best choice for kids with ADHD who have a hard time following directions or might not be as coordinated as their peers.”
Many ways to get moving
If a child isn’t comfortable participating in team sports, look for noncompetitive activities that raise the heart rate without putting him in potentially stressful situations.
- Look into other kinds of activities such as swimming, track, fencing or martial arts.
- Talk with teachers about integrating more noncompetitive physical activities into the school day. Exercise doesn’t have to be limited to gym class!
- Help your child find something that suits him. Kids who find activities they enjoy are more likely to participate willingly and stay active as they get older.
- It’s easy to integrate exercise into daily life at home. Family bike rides, brisk walks to school or even just a simple game of tag in the yard can get everyone moving without the pressure of an organized activity.
So exercise isn’t necessarily the whole solution for a child who’s struggling with ADHD, but it can have a positive effect on concentration, and it is a vital part of healthy physical and mental development for all kids. “I just can’t think of a good reason not to have our kids exercising,” says Hoza.