Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have many gifts to offer the world. However, one of the biggest challenges of dealing with this disorder is that these children are prone to hyperactivity, a short attention span, and impulsive acts that can create social frustration and behavioral problems if their boundless energy isn’t addressed. This is best done through kinetic play and sensory-based self-expression.
Luckily, many activities are especially good energy channels for ADHD children and can help them use their natural neurological differences to keep up with and excel in the same recreational activities as their neurotypical peers. Keep reading to learn more about some great activities to engage in with your ADHD children to help them succeed both at home and in the classroom.
Swimming Helps Burn Excess Energy in Kids with ADHD
Swimming has long been regarded as a relaxing activity for various medical conditions. For ADHD, there are many aspects of swimming that can help mitigate the condition. The most famous swimmer in the world, Michael Phelps, has even come forward to open a discourse about his struggles with ADHD.
Here are some of the ways that swimming can act as a good activity for ADHD children
(Source: Psychology Today):
- Swimming helps ADHD burn excess energy. One of the main symptoms of ADHD is hyperactivity, and ADHD kids need a way to keep their bodies moving to burn some of that excess energy. This can help keep ADHD kids from funneling their excess energy into socially inappropriate actions such as yelling and roughhousing.
- Swimming may reduce the need for medications. While medications may still be necessary to keep children focused on slower activities such as schoolwork, high-energy activities like swimming can give children with ADHD enough stimulation that they need less medication to stay alert and centered on the task at hand.
- Swimming is highly structured and repetitive. The nature of swimming exercises can help ADHD kids stay focused on a simple set of movements or tasks and refine those movements, making it much different from the chaotic sort of team sports that many ADHD children have difficulty with.
- Swimming provides sensory stimulation: The sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations of the swimming pool can help exercise the brain in complex ways, helping combat hyperactivity and lack of attention.
A great thing about swimming for ADHD is that it isn’t limited to summer months—thanks to the indoor pools, there are opportunities for ADHD kids to engage in swimming activities all year-round.
Martial Arts Are Good Discipline for ADHD Kids
ADHD children are often accused of lacking discipline, but this is usually just a manifestation of their excess energy and difficulty with executive functioning, a symptom of ADHD that involves difficulty moving from task to task neurologically.
While many ADHD children tend to struggle in team sports and may even be socially ostracised for not following the rules or becoming impatient during down-time between matches or plays, these same children can excel in individual-based sports that focus on complex movements and training.
Here are some of the ways that martial arts can help children with ADHD (Source: ADDitude Magazine):
- Martial arts classes are often designed with a rapid pace in mind and with short, simple instructions for each set of moves. These classes also often incorporate a variety of auditory, visual, and kinetic signals.
- Martial arts have been shown to create new neural pathways in the brain. Like other brain-based focus activities such as yoga or meditation, this can improve both focus and emotional regulation (two areas that ADHD kids often struggle with).
- Martial arts can boost confidence and self-esteem. Many ADHD kids may have internalised ideas about how they are “naughty” for how high-energy they are, which can erode a child’s self-worth over time. Martial arts help bolster their confidence by incorporating their excess energy into an activity where it can be channeled into positive action.
There are many different types of martial arts available, from wrestling and karate to Japanese sword-fighting or fencing. These sports are good for honing the motor skills of an ADHD individual while also fostering focused activity and mental discipline in a fun way.
Meditation and Yoga Are Great for Calming ADHD Children
Like children on the autism spectrum, children with ADHD tend to wrestle with anxiety. Anxiety can rightfully be defined as excess mental energy turned inward. An anxious ADHD child may develop anxiety and compulsions in response to a flooding of hyperactive thoughts or sensory stimulation.
Both mindfulness meditation and yoga act as ways for ADHD to develop mental fitness and eventually develop a mental anchor against intrusive thoughts that lead to sensations of generalised anxiety or fits of boredom.
Often a lack of physical focus in ADHD children is the direct result of a lack of mental focus. This doesn’t mean that the child is lazy—on the contrary, ADHD children are often scarily bright. Meditation and yoga can be used to teach even very young children how to recognise the connection between body and mind and come back to their center when they begin to feel frazzled or impulsive.
Here are some of the ways that meditation and yoga can help children with ADHD (Source: WebMD):
- It strengthens attention control. One of the greatest weaknesses of an ADHD mind is that it lacks control when it comes to awareness and attention, but these are traits that can be improved even in kids with ADHD. Just because a child is naturally weak in one area doesn’t mean that they can’t be trained to be good at it.
- Meditation has been shown to thicken the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the human brain associated with attention, planning, and impulse control. It is also an area of neurology where ADHD kids are historically weak. Like physical therapy for atrophied muscles, meditation can help provide a much-needed boost to an ADHD kid’s ability to concentrate.
- Meditation and yoga increase levels of dopamine in the brain. This feel-good chemical is in short supply in many disordered neurological conditions such as ADHD and autism. The result is that without replacing this dopamine through other avenues, these children are more susceptible to lifelong mental health problems such as generalised anxiety and clinical depression.
Meditation and yoga are beneficial to all kinds of people, not just those who are neurodivergent, but it is especially helpful to those with ADHD.
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Tennis Is a Good Option for ADHD Children
If you have an ADHD child and you’ve had a hard time getting them involved in team sports, individual sports are usually a better bet for these hyperactive, sometimes moody kids. Tennis is a good choice because it seamlessly combines action and reaction and plays up to an ADHD child’s natural tendency towards impulsivity and darting around.
Here are some of the other reasons that tennis can be a good option for ADHD children (Source: United States Professional Tennis Association):
- One-on-one attention: In tennis, a coach is usually interacting with an individual player rather than a team of players, and ADHD kids who have a hard time focusing when a teacher’s attention is diverted by other students can benefit from this special attention. Not only can the attention of a kind and firm tennis coach help to keep an ADHD child grounded, but it also offers them an outlet for asking technical questions and refining their skills.
- Constant action: In many team sports that feature extended breaks in play or elaborate turn-taking, such as football, ADHD kids can become bored and restless. Once bored, their lack of attention to what’s going on in the game can lead them to make crucial technical mistakes, which can help alienate them from their teams. The constant action in tennis helps keep an ADHD child engaged with the game at hand and can prevent their mind from wandering.
- Visual instruction and imaginary drills: The types of drills that tennis coaches teach students to help them track the tennis ball in flight can help ADHD children improve their ability to focus and react in different areas of life.
Many other types of students may try to give up on tennis because it is a mind game that requires close attention to the ball and anticipation of where it will land by how it is struck. This makes it too complicated for many children. But the bright, intelligent nature of ADHD children combined with their boundless energy makes tennis a good match for many of them.
Strength Training Can Give ADHD Children Calm and Confidence
Strength training can be a good activity for ADHD children. While it does take a little adult oversight when children first begin to use free weights and weight machines to work out, once children learn how to use this kind of equipment, they can incorporate it very easily into a daily routine.
Strength training can benefit ADHD children in the following ways (Source: Next Step 4 ADHD):
- Builds confidence: ADHD children can be subjected to bullying because of their erratic or impulsive behavior, not only from other students but also from teachers. One way to deter bullies from targeting neurodivergent children is to make sure that they are both physically active and physically fit. The physical strength gained from strength training can translate into mental and emotional strength as well.
- Goal-oriented: The drive to constantly push past an individual’s personal best record (either for repetitions or weight lifted) can be a powerful motivator for people with ADHD, who can become emboldened by accomplishing objective tasks that are laid out to be addressed repetitively and cumulatively. Scientific studies have shown that overcoming obstacles in a controlled manner—like making goals and reaching them—can have a positive mental impact.
Cardio training can also be very healthy for a child with ADHD. Still, strength training can not only give them confidence and mental resilience; it can also set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits to bolster their mental health in the future. It can even have a positive influence on neural development.
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Music and Dance Can Teach a Child with ADHD Creativity and Focus
Most people have a strong emotional connection to music. Music in both learning instruments and dance can help ADHD children break through their attention barriers and learn how to hyper-fixate on positive activities. While some ADHD children may take to learning an instrument easily, others may need a music-oriented activity focused on kinetic motion, such as dance.
Taking music classes such as piano or violin lessons can offer many of the same benefits to ADHD children as other specialized individual activities like horseback riding or tennis. Being the focus of an adult’s attention can help prevent ADHD children from becoming bored. The constant absorption of new information combined with sensory input can help hold an ADHD child’s attention.
Here are some ways you can help incorporate music into household activities for your ADHD children (Source: ADDitude Magazine):
- Have your ADHD children create playlists. This focused activity can help teach a child to examine their favorite music. Creating a finalised product such as a burned CD or even just a digital playlist on YouTube or Spotify can help give ADHD children a sense of satisfaction about their completed project.
- Use rhythmic music to build focus. If you have a hard time getting your ADHD child up and motivated and processing through executive function in the morning, playing a rhythmic song in the background while getting ready for work and school can help signal to the brain that they need to hone in and complete a specific set of tasks.
- Have a dance party at home. There’s no need to take your child to a ballet lesson to let them enjoy dancing. It’s possible to throw all kinds of different themed dance parties at home, and you can even incorporate props like costumes or secondhand clothes to make the party even more fun. Organising a dance party when ADHD kids seem particularly restless or full of excess energy can help them burn off their bounciness in an enjoyable and controlled way.
There are other ways to incorporate music into household activities such as chores or playtime to help keep ADHD children engaged on a sensory level while also increasing their focus. Music has been shown to positively affect mental health for all people, not just those with ADHD, so incorporating it into a household routine can be great for everyone involved.
Indoor Snowball Fights and Pillow Fights Are Addictive Games for ADHD Children
Some children with ADHD can have hyperactivity that almost borders on aggressive. So, conflict-oriented sports or games can be a good outlet to get some of that energy out. When outdoors in the winter, a snowball fight can be a great way for ADHD children to burn off some competitive fire, but in Australia, we don’t get snow at all. Even in those that do, that still leaves kids unable to participate in this fun game except for one season a year.
Many ADHD children already get in trouble for throwing things around the house, as tossing a ball or similar object up and down is a common fidgeting practice. One way to let kids throw balls around the house without getting in trouble is to set up an indoor snowball fight.
The easiest way to do this is to get a couple of small laundry baskets full of soft socks tucked into balls. These will act as the snowballs in the activity. Each person or team in the snowball fight takes one of the baskets, which acts as their ammunition during the fight. Both teams start after time is called, and the game can either be played like dodgeball (where a person is out if tagged by a snowball) or just like a regular snowball fight where balls are picked up and thrown over and over.
A variation on the indoor snowball fight is the good old-fashioned pillow fight. Like indoor snowball fights, pillow fights allow children to work off some aggressive energy (especially important for rowdy siblings) while also keeping them safe from injury in the process. It’s a good idea for both of these activities to move any breakable objects such as lamps, picture frames, or knick-knacks.
Card Games Keep ADHD Children Engaged
While not all card games are suitable for children with ADHD, there are a few simple card games that keep ADHD children engaged and help them train their focus and memory skills. Here are a few card games that are a good match for ADHD children:
- Egyptian War: Also known as Egyptian Ratscrew, Egyptian War is a matching card game that relies on speedy reflexes to slap down on pairs of cards to accumulate the entire deck to win the game. In general, children love games where they get to slap at each other as part of the rules but be sure that any slapping involved in the game doesn’t get too competitive or violent. (Source: Bicycle Cards)
- UNO: UNO is a good game for children with ADHD because it involves bright colors and other vivid visual cues, making it an easy game for children to keep up with even if they have some attention issues. The turn-taking in UNO also moves quickly enough that it is more difficult for ADHD children to become bored compared to more methodical games like rummy. https://amzn.to/3gx2zHX
- Go Fish: Go Fish is a favorite card game among all children, and the graphics-based cards in this game can help improve an ADHD child’s memory and concentration skills. Go Fish is also a simple card game that can be played even by children who don’t have the attention span to absorb more complicated card games, and the turn-taking aspect increases social engagement.
It may take some ADHD children longer than others to grasp the rules of any given card game, so patience is needed to teach these children how to play. Do not accuse children of cheating for forgetting the rules and be compassionate towards their mistakes while they’re still learning. This can help keep the child positive about learning how to play and can help them work up to learning more complicated card games in the future without becoming frustrated.
Nature Walks Are a Calming Activity for ADHD Children and Parents Alike
Like many children, children with ADHD are often driven to be outdoors during good weather. Scientific studies have shown that pursuing physical activity in natural surroundings, such as a forest, can have major positive impacts on your health. The Japanese have been pursuing this activity for centuries and call it shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.”
Here are a few of the ways that regular nature walks can help to benefit children with ADHD:
- It is a physical activity that will help burn off their excess energy. Hiking is a moderately strenuous activity. Getting ADHD children involved with it early on can help keep them physically active and prevent their hyperactivity from being channeled into negative outlets such as tantrums or acting out.
- Spending time in nature reduces negative ADHD symptoms. Studies have shown that children who spend small increments of time outdoors on a walk in nature (20 minutes) show reduced incidence of negative ADHD symptoms and behaviors than those who don’t access natural surroundings.
- Children with ADHD show a greater attention span after exposure to natural surroundings. Not only do nature walks help mitigate the negative symptoms of ADHD, but these walks also help improve weaknesses associated with ADHD, such as lack of attention and concentration issues.
- It can help keep off excess weight gained by too much screen time. Walking and other forms of physical activity can help ADHD kids from becoming glued to their television and computer screens. While many children are drawn to screen-based activities, these activities don’t engage children mentally in the same way that physical activity does. In fact, too much screen time has been shown to increase impulsive behaviors. Time spent in nature has the opposite effect.
Going on a nature walk doesn’t mean retreating to a national forest or wilderness—even a heavily treed avenue will do nicely. The most important thing is to get outdoors in an area with some greenery and get your ADHD child moving.
Nature walks can also help to engage a child’s innate curiosity about the world around them. Setting goals for walks, such as bringing home a certain number of rocks or other natural objects, can help turn an otherwise boring walk into an engaging game.
Arts and Crafts Provide Sensory Pleasure for ADHD Children
For ADHD children who are less outdoorsy, arts and crafts can be a great way for these kids to produce beautiful works of art while also exercising their creativity and exploring self-expression. Here are some of the reasons why arts and crafts can be a good activity choice for ADHD children:
- It is self-directed work. ADHD children often have problems with team sports because they can’t figure things out at their own pace or work through mental problems on their own, but arts and crafts encourage individuality and self-expression. This can be a major benefit for children who already have a habit of marching to their own drum.
- It allows children to work towards a tangible goal. As mentioned earlier in this article, controlled overcoming of obstacles can be a major influence in training mental resilience and focus in a child with ADHD. Sports training can provide this goal-setting outlet, but for more creative children, arts and crafts allow kids to work towards a goal as well.
- It engages ADHD children on a sensory level. While all children can benefit from controlled sensory input such as arts and crafts, ADHD children can become better grounded in the present moment and less inclined to daydreaming or impulsivity when they are kinetically engaged through drawing, sculpture, or other visual art forms.
- It allows ADHD children to express their creativity. ADHD children may find it difficult to articulate their emotions sometimes, and artistic expression is one way that neurodivergent children like those with ADHD can more clearly express their self-identity.
Parents might also consider taking advantage of formal art classes or crafting classes at local art museums and other venues to help give children a group experience in artistic expression, as this can help ADHD children to integrate socially.
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Many Activities Are Good for ADHD Children
Many different activities are a good fit for ADHD children, but it may take a little experimentation before an ADHD child finds a hobby or sport that they click with. It is important to find an activity that they enjoy since the benefits of these activities regarding their ADHD condition can be life-changing and cumulative over years of practice.
If you are looking some more resources to help your child develop focus and attention, either at home or within a classroom setting, check out our ReadyKids platform of OT resources!