The school day is over by 3 o’clock. You don’t get home from work until 5 P.M. and dinner isn’t ready until 6. You want your child to meet new friends and to have some fun before homework time. You may find yourself wondering…
According to Mary Robertson, R.N., it is important to find an activity in which your child is interested or has an ability to do well. For example, if s/he is not an athlete by nature, forcing a him/her to play a sport that s/he doesn’t like or is unable to play well, may cause more stress and possible humiliation. “I remember trying to get my 6-year-old son with ADHD excited about soccer. His peers were all playing various sports and some played multiple sports at the same time. At the time, he was not really interested in physical games, but I thought the structure and running would be good for him. I was so wrong. The other children would dribble the ball in and out of the cones, as requested. But not my son. He did not see the point in going in and out when you could just kick the ball straight and get to the last cone first. After a couple very difficult soccer lessons, I remember driving home with tears streaming down my face, telling him he’d have to BEG me before I ever sign him up for another after school activity.” She adds that later she realized she was setting both her son and herself up for failure. “Soccer may be what the other kids were playing, but it was not what my son was able or willing to do.” Parents may need to think “outside the box” for after-school activities. Consider classes such as art, computer, photography, modeling, karate, etc. According to Mary, “Another excellent after-school experience is to volunteer their time and skills. Students can receive school credits by working as a volunteer at a local non-profit organization or for the town. Volunteer work is often required to graduate high school.”
Peter Anderson, a clinical pharmacist, also states that he would encourage physical exercise. “The physical activity may be a mechanism to use up some of the hyperactivity. I also feel that most children do not get enough physical activity.” Dr. Anderson adds, “Be aware though before enrolling a child with ADHD in a sports program that the child may have difficulty with coordination or concentration. This may result in getting ‘picked on’ by peers. Ideally the physical activities would be in a semi-structured environment.” Marc Atkins, Ph.D. agrees that, “structured activities are generally best for children with ADHD, ideally in an activity with high appeal.” He reminds us that like, all children, “children with ADHD have many varied interests. Many children with ADHD enjoy active sports, such as soccer, but others with less athletic ability may find music or art activities more appealing.”
Jonathan Brush, a clinical psychologist, states, “Children with ADHD spend the day having to control their impulses and comply with their teachers’ expectations. Typically, they get limited time to play freely and use their physical energy.” Dr. Brush recommends that after school, grade-school children with ADHD should have unstructured yet supervised time to use their imaginations, make up games, and relax. He believes that “highly rule-oriented games, especially where children have to wait their turn or follow complex patterns are probably not the best. Highly interactive games, such as role-playing, building structures, forts, etc. are excellent.” Computer games are often very attractive to children with ADHD, but they lack the physical involvement and interpersonal engagement, which is recommended. As such, parents should make sure that their child’s video games are not excessively violent and should regulate the amount of time spent playing them. Dr. Brush cautions that watching television or videos should also be time-limited, as they allow the child to ‘zone out,’ and afterwards they are often irritable and edgy. “In some communities, children tend to have many daily after-school activities, with a different activity, such as, sports, musical lessons, or tutoring session, every day. This may seem to be ideal for the child with ADHD, as there would be less chance for boredom or behavioral issues. However, scheduling all of a child’s free time, does not allow children to learn how to entertain him/herself without instruction or direction,” explains Dr. Brush. He adds that this kind of play is crucial for development of creativity and independence, which are often strengths of the child with ADHD. The parent or adult should be monitoring activities, of course, and available to handle problems, for at least some part of a child’s after school time.