The Best Toys and Games Are the Ones You Play Together

You don't need to buy expensive gaming consoles or vast Lego sets to help kids with ADHD build social skills and express themselves through the magic of play. These tried-and-true toys and games will keep your child entertained — and learning — for hours on end.

The Best Toys And Games for Kids, Part 2

Parents can help at this stage by taking the place of peers and engaging their children in games that will help them develop more socially acceptable behaviors. Dr. Brady counsels parents to look for games that help build the capacity to focus, handle frustration, and play by the rules.

Choosing games that grow with the child

Children with ADHD often have a diminished capacity to follow multi-step directions and stay on task, and become frustrated by their inability to do so. Games that are perfectly appropriate for most six to ten-year-olds may prove far too challenging even for highly intelligent ADHD kids.

But many popular games can be adapted for kids with ADHD, with rules multiplying and challenges increasing gradually over time. This approach enables ADHD kids to master challenges in increments, building gradually their capacity to stay with the game, follow complicated rules, and handle frustration and disappointment.

One example is Milton Bradley's Fishing Game. "I like it for six-year-olds because as kids can master longer periods of time you can change the nature of the game," says Dr. Brady. "At the same time it maintains its familiarity so they don't get distracted by something new and they don't get overwhelmed."

She encourages parents to improvise. "In the beginning, you can start by just letting the child learn how to catch fish. Once this step is mastered, you can go to the second step, which is a race to see who throws out their fishing poles first. The third step would be to add a cognitive challenge, such as who can get four red eights first. After that step is mastered you can change the game to something more interactive by allowing players to ask each other for cards they might need to complete a set. The point is that the game grows with and also fosters the child's ability to maintain more detail."

Keeping it simple

The less complicated and more low-tech the game is, the better it works for ADHD kids. High tech games can be overstimulating; complicated games too frustrating. The following are several simple games that can help enhance ADHD kids' social and cognitive skills.

The Memory Game (Milton Bradley): This simple game helps increase attention span and memory. It requires players to match their cards with others that are turned face down. If you turn a card face up and it doesn't match your card, you have to put it back face down. The challenge is to remember the cards that have been put back down, so that you can pair them with your cards when matches come up. Whoever gets the most matches wins.

"Because this game can be frustrating, you can quickly get an informal measure of how far you can go in terms of length of time and staying focused," says Dr. Brady. "Then you can begin to change the rules to match your child's frustration level." With younger or less focused children, you can set up the game so that matching cards are closer together; when they try to find a match they'll usually win. Over time you can increase the challenge by scattering the cards, forcing the child to go farther in the visual field to find a match.

Chinese Checkers: Chinese Checkers works for ADHD kids because it's simple, yet it requires a bit of strategy. Like its more complex sisters, Checkers and Chess, it helps kids develop their capacity to plan and think ahead.

The challenge is simple; just get your men from this end to that end using very simple strategies. Over time they start to learn that if they think ahead about where they're going, they can get there a lot faster. "When they make this connection it's really good," says Dr. Brady. "That's also when they start beating me!"

Chutes and Ladders (Milton Bradley): Children with ADHD experience increased frustration over anticipating success and dealing with failure. Chutes and Ladders is an excellent way to help kids increase frustration tolerance and get over failures quickly.

The objective is simple: to roll the dice, and move the players along a trail toward the top of the board. Along the way are ladders; if you land on one, it can bring you quickly to the top. The chutes are a hazard; land on them and you can plummet from leader to loser.

"I like this game because it gives the parent and child an opportunity to talk about how it feels to climb ladders and have good things happen," says Dr. Brady. "But then you also get to talk about what it feels like to slide down the chute. You can help them practice how to manage failure, particularly when you're so close to winning. And you can stress the importance of recovering quickly from disappointments, because if you continue on you still can get to the top."

Clue (Milton Bradley): Clue is a crime solving game in which children have to evaluate clues to determine who committed a crime, and which weapon was used. It works by process of elimination, so it forces kids to think about information that they have and that they don't have. That's a real challenge for kids with ADHD, and it enhances some critical skills.

One is learning to use information to solve problems, rather than acting on impulse; kids with ADHD tend to act on their feelings before thinking about the consequences. Within the safe confines of a game like Clue, children learn quickly that impulsive actions usually are counterproductive.

Another objective is to organize and prioritize. "Since the game provides players with cards that help them eliminate items from a list, it fosters this kind of thinking in everyday life," says Dr. Brady. I tell kids that in daily life we also have to make lists and cross out items so that we know what our priorities are and what we have to do.

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