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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Why Play Can Help Children with ADHD

Photo by San José Public Library (Flickr)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects up to one in ten children, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and it can cause kids to have trouble controlling their impulses, sitting still, focusing, or staying organized. I've worked with dozens of kids who have ADHD, and play is a tool that can help them manage their symptoms. Through play, children with ADHD learn how to do many important things.

Deal Naturally With Emotional and Energy Fluctuations

Kids with ADHD experience intense emotional and energy highs and lows that hinder their school performance, social interactions, and body control. That's why your child with ADHD might fidget, make inappropriate comments, and lose things. They need opportunities to play, run, jump, and climb, which allows their minds and bodies to relax and prepares them to return to the classroom ready to focus and learn.

Use Excess Energy Productively

Last summer, one of the neighbor kids often kicked a tree or yelled at my girls while they played. She had tons of energy she channeled in an aggressive way. Thankfully, her dad signed her up for the swim team, and I've since noticed a big change in her behavior and self-esteem. Play helps her release energy in a productive way so she can avoid acting out inappropriately.

Rehearse Lifetime Skills

Taking turns, handling frustration and disappointment, and following rules challenge kids with ADHD. I find that play helps kids learn these essential life skills, especially when I use modified game rules and build skills in increments. For example, play the board game Chutes and Ladders with your child, and make all of the chutes and ladders go up. As your child masters taking turns and concentrating on this shortened game, introduce two downward chutes and begin teaching your child how to accept, reframe, and overcome disappointment. Eventually, you can use all of the chutes and add more players while using play to rehearse life skills.

Boost Memory

Because kids with ADHD have trouble paying attention, they also forget things easily, especially homework or what they're supposed to do right now. Learning to play an instrument and playing games like Memory or Simon Says can help your child become more attentive and remember things better.

Improve Focus

Kids with ADHD get distracted easily and struggle to stay on task. Play breaks and free play time encourage them to run off their excess energy, regulate their emotions and bodies, and enjoy activities. Games like Battleship and Memory also give kids practice focusing, concentrating, and paying attention to details. With play breaks, kids return to the classroom or any other gathering or event and are able to focus and concentrate without feeling distracted or distracting others.

Stay Organized

Children with ADHD typically struggle with organization as their brains shift quickly from one thought to another. Building with blocks, art, and other creative activities improve a child's ability to organize and approach life in a methodical manner. As they create, they must first organize their ideas and then assemble the project in a calculated manner, which can translate into greater organization in other areas of life.

Control Impulses

Simple games like mancala, freeze tag, and group sports help kids with ADHD stop, look, listen, and feel. While they could make moves without thinking, they're more likely to win if they practice impulse control and think before they act.

Build Friendships

Sometimes, the fluctuating behavior of a child with ADHD scares other kids who may be annoyed or unsure about playing with a kid who's different. Play time brings kids together as they share a common goal of having fun, and it can build friendships for kids who may otherwise struggle to make and keep healthy and fulfilling relationships. Consider role-playing with puppets, dolls, or figurines, too, as you prompt your child to consider social situations, responses, and anticipated outcomes. Ask questions like, "How would Dolly feel if Teddy took all of her crackers, jumped on her foot, or forgot to bring back the toy he borrowed?" and you give your child valuable tools that can help them build meaningful friendships.

Explore New Experiences in a Safe Environment

Kids with ADHD can't always express how they feel or think. Use action figures, doctor kits, and dress-up play to give your kids a safe outlet where they can practice and develop self-expression skills. With an adult or other kids they trust, they can expand their experiences and skills with limited risk.

I strongly support play for all kids, especially those who struggle with ADHD, because I've observed how play can help them. What other advantages does play provide your child with ADHD?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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