Children with ADHD: What Extracurriculars Are Best?
We all want what’s best for our children, especially when they face unique challenges like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Finding effective ways to support and engage children with ADHD can be both rewarding and demanding. Today, let’s explore some ideas and tips for activities that help children with ADHD harness their boundless energy, develop essential life skills, and thrive in their daily lives.
First, we need to understand what ADHD is. According to the CDC, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. It may present with symptoms of frequent day dreaming, forgetting or misplacing things, being overly squirmy or fidgety, excessive talking, making careless errors, trouble with taking turns, and challenges with getting along with other individuals.
A child with ADHD may have trouble in organized sports or other structured activities. They may struggle with remembering multi-step directions, turn-taking, coordination, inattention during a game, and getting along with teammates. (I.e., the outfielder in baseball who is staring at the clouds not paying attention to the batter, the hockey player stopping to wave to his friends in the stands and the basketball player shooting in the wrong hoop.) This is not to say that this child shouldn’t participate in sports or structured activities, but it’s important to choose and prepare for pastimes carefully. The following considerations and strategies can make a positive difference in your child’s extracurricular journey with ADHD.
Let’s Get Moving
Being physically active can channel a child’s energy, help them function as part of a team, and help them learn discipline. Physical activity increases dopamine and norepinephrine, which are potentially in deficit in individuals with ADHD. Dopamine helps with emotional regulation and feeling pleasure, while norepinephrine helps with concentration and paying attention. Participating in physical activity can also build confidence, which could help children with ADHD regulate their emotions and improve social skills. The following are some great options for physical activity for children struggling with ADHD:
- Cross country and track
- Martial arts
- Horseback riding
These activities allow flexibility in how and when benchmarks are achieved. They also provide opportunities for individual attention from coaches and mentors, which can help a child with ADHD focus, improve, and enjoy the exercise.
Avoid Excessive Competition
It is important to be mindful of putting a child with ADHD in a competitive pastime if they struggle with competition and teamwork. This is why individual sports are a good idea – while there is still some competition against opponents, the real competition is against the athlete’s own self.
Other extracurriculars can also present a challenge to children struggling with competition due to ADHD. Performance events like dance, theater, and debate can trigger stress and tension. The following are great examples of low-stress activities:
- Arts and crafts
- Environmental clubs
- Reading clubs
- Playing musical instruments
Competitive activities are by no means off-limits for children with ADHD, but as parents and guardians, you want to be aware of the potential challenges for which to prepare your child.
Help Adults Help
Coaches and activity sponsors want to be there for your child as much as you do, but they don’t necessarily have the expertise related to ADHD to be the most effective. Establishing a connection with other adults in your child’s life will allow you to assist them in creating the most positive experience for your child and other participants. Check out some of these ADHD-specific tips to share with coaches or activity sponsors:
- Drills/exercises with change and continuous movement are better for children with inattention and hyperactivity
- Pair a struggling child up with a buddy
- Provide 1:1 instruction, when possible
- Try to do frequent checks for understanding
- Give participants choice in the activities they perform
As a parent or guardian, you know your child best. Help the coach or activity sponsor by telling them about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as describing their unique cues when they need a break.
In the End, It’s All About Fun
A child with ADHD is more likely to thrive if they are enjoying what they are doing, and if they have some agency over what is happening. This is why it’s important to involve them in the process of selecting activities they will participate in. It’s also necessary to check on their progress and enjoyment of the pastime even after they have chosen it to make sure they are still having fun and benefitting from it.
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About the Expert
Yael Eisenberg received her Bachelors and Masters of Nursing degrees from New York University College of Nursing, and she completed a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Fellowship as a Registered Nurse. For the past five years, Yael has worked at Northwell Health Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, where she diagnosed and treated children with autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression and oppositional behavior.