A Summer Fitness Routine for Your Child’s Brain

Have your child start the new school year raring to go, with these five summer-break tips.
Be Our Guest | posted by Dr. Robert Melillo
Brain-Boosting Summer Activities for Children with ADHD

Dr. Robert Melillo is the founder of the Brain Balance program, and a leading researcher in Functional Disconnection Syndrome. Dr. Melillo’s research and extensive clinical experience led him to understand disorders like ADHD, dyslexia, processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders as manifestations of an underlying brain development imbalance.

Summer is a great time for kids with ADHD to make a big leap forward. It can also be a time to “slide back” and be unprepared for the upcoming school year. The difference lies in how you and your child spend that time. Use this summer to make strides toward a successful school year in the fall by using these tips:

> Get out there. Physical activity is one of the most important ways of developing the brain’s frontal lobe and improving a child’s behavior and attention. Traditional summer activities, like being outdoors in unstructured play, riding bikes, and swimming, are all good workouts for the brain. Using big muscles and increasing aerobic capacity is good for the body and the frontal lobe. This summer, make a family commitment to achieve a common goal over the three-month break, such as completing a 5K run together, mastering a new cycling trail, or earning a swimming or life-saving certification.

>Limit screen time. Many children with ADHD are “house kids.” They prefer to stay indoors, playing computer and video games. These activities may make them happy, and keep them quiet and calm, but staying sedentary is the worst thing for a child who has ADHD. It will lead to meltdowns and more behavioral challenges. Ignore the calendar and do your best to stick to a strict “screen diet” during the summer months as well as the school year. Use a timer or a journal to allot a specific time limit for gaming.

The Balanced Brain

The Right Brainis the spatial side of the brain. It controls the big muscles, and is connected to bodily sensations and feelings. The right brain loves physical activities outdoors and social activities. The right brain is the creative side of the brain and is stimulated by activities that use the imagination—like trying to come up with solutions to a problem, painting, or creating something new or novel. The right brain is in charge of “big picture” skills, such as making inferences when reading and figuring something out that was not explicitly said.

The Left Brain controls the small muscles and “small picture” skills. Left-brain skills include counting, math calculations, and solving problems using logic. A child’s ability to remember letters and the written spelling of words are also left-brain skills. Reading a book, playing chess, and listening to classical music are all left-brain pursuits.

> Uncover special interests. Many a kid with ADHD comes to be known as the “problem” child, and teachers, parents, and coaches lower their expectations for him. This can affect a child’s self-esteem and decrease his motivation to try something new. Counteract this hit to your child’s self-esteem by helping him discover and celebrate his own strengths by exploring and developing a special interest. Has your child expressed an interest in photography, playing the violin, or learning robotics? Find a workshop or camp that caters to his gifts.

> Exercise all of the brain. Many students with ADHD are gifted, especially in left-brain skills (see sidebar). When we create better balance in the brain by stimulating both sides of the brain, as we do at Brain Balance Centers, kids are able to tap into their strengths, instead of being pulled down by their weaknesses. By committing to a program of exercising the brain, you can maintain a routine and strengthen important skills at the same time.

> Keep it loose—and boring. Parents mistakenly think that, if their child is bored during the summer, they are failing as parents. One of the best things you can give your child is the gift of boredom. Daydreaming on a lazy summer day should be part of every child’s life. Let your child entertain herself by using her imagination. Your children will amaze you by designing an obstacle course or planning a scavenger hunt. Let your kid be a kid!

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