Friendships & Activities

21 Ways to Make Lemonade During the Sourest Times

These activities for kids with ADHD — suggested by summer camp and school experts — are designed to build self-esteem, social skills, and motivation for learning in an online environment that is no one’s ideal.

Hand in a hole on a yellow background and offers lemon.

You are expected to keep your child focused, motivated, and socially engaged – all mainly via screen and while simultaneously working remotely and prioritizing everyone’s mental health. This is an impossible task, and one that’s grown no easier over the last four seasons. Many parents are staring down the barrel of summer and asking, “How can we minimize screen time without sacrificing our own work and well-being?”

“The question we must ask ourselves is, ‘How can we foster all kinds of skills in the online environment?” says Erin Wynne, assistant head of School for Institutional Advancement, at Eagle Hill School, in Massachusetts. A change of perspective — and some fresh ideas — may help.

To that end, ADDitude asked educational experts, camp program leaders, and others for their best strategies to help kids thrive even if they’re stuck at home — again — this spring and summer.

Skill-Building Activities for Kids with ADHD

How to Pick Up Life Skills

#1. “Develop a list of skills for your child to learn over a month or more. These can range from how to vacuum, iron a shirt, or pack a lunch to how to change a tire, plunge an overflowing toilet, or address an envelope. Choose skills that match your child’s needs and age group.” — Erin Wynne

#2. “Ask your child to do one of the following things: Dust off an old skill and reconnect with a hobby or activity from the past. Build a new skill or learn a new thing. Be physically active every day. Will this be perfect? No, but your child will have read more, gardened more, molded clay, investigated nature, played games, danced, connected with old friends, and learned how to cook new things.” Trevor Dunlap, Executive Director, CEO, Nuhop Camp, Ohio

[Kids Bouncing Off the Walls? Boredom Busters to Fill Time Gaps]

#3.Include your child in household activities: laundry, meal prep, as well as fun activities. Have your child create a menu, then make an online shopping list and order the groceries.” — John Willson, , Executive Director, SOAR Camp, North Carolina

#4.Re-organize your child’s workspace in a way that is useful for them! Do not worry about what appeals to you or is most aesthetically pleasing. Focus on what works for the child. Bins of different colors can help the child know where his materials should be kept.” — Ilana Stoch, Director, Camp Kodiak, Ontario, Canada

#5.Focus on what is going well, not on what isn’t. Establish a routine in which you ask your child to reflect on the day, and identify what he found challenging about it. Then ask how he handled the challenge. Ask what he can say about his success in handling it. Also ask your child what went well that day, and express your appreciation and gratitude.”— Karen Fleiss, Psy.D., Director, NYU Summer Program for Kids

How to Boost Self-Esteem

#6. “Keep socially distanced kids connected with periodic Zoom social hours. We’ll set up a game like Jeopardy and break into teams. Then we’ll order Uber Eats donuts to arrive at the winner’s house. The kids get the social interaction of their doorbell ringing, and to celebrate that winning moment in front of their buddies on the Zoom call. Being surprised at being a winner in front of your friends is a win-win for self-esteem and maintaining meaningful connections.” — Brian Lux, Owner, Camp Sequoia, Pennsylvania

#7. “Create a ladder of achievements that is based on incremental improvements that can be observed and monitored by the child. If the child has difficulty sitting still after 10 minutes of an online lesson, the goal should be to remain on task for 12 minutes, not 20 minutes! Make the goals achievable, and brainstorm with your child to find ways that she can be successful.” — Ilana Stoch

How to Grow Social Skills While Social Distancing

#8. “Prepare your child with conversation starters to build confidence. This is a great skill to practice in the car. You can buy conversation starters where most games are sold, but it’s also fun to create the starters yourself or with your child on slips of paper. ‘What is your favorite holiday?’ ‘Who is your favorite superhero?’ ‘Where is the one place you’d like to visit?’ ‘What’s your favorite vacation memory?’ Each time we play, one person gets to pick the starters. That person answers the question first and then asks everyone else in the car. When everyone is finished answering, we choose another starter and carry on in this way until we have reached our destination or tire of the game. Refresh the prompts as needed.” — Erin Wynne

#9. “Look for tools to encourage kids to interact on the screen. Two favorites are playing virtual board games or interacting using digital escape rooms, in which players work together to find clues and solve puzzles to escape. Children can practice social interaction via intentional play. For those families who are more comfortable with in-person engagement, I suggest hosting socially distanced hikes and/or scavenger hunts, where kids can interact at a distance while still being together.” — Trevor Dunlap

#10. “Start a pet pen pals program as a way to keep in touch with friends. One difficult part of having ADHD is figuring out how to start a conversation. Sometimes it’s easier for your child to write a letter from the perspective of their cat or dog. “Today I went out and played in the yard.” “My kid has to do Zoom school today, but I get to play ball.” It’s a social lubricant for kids who need to kick-start conversations. In addition, children look forward to receiving something personal in the mailbox (or at least a letter for their dog or cat).” — Brian Lux

#11. “Search out programs that cater to your child’s favorite activities and passions. There are many Dungeons & Dragons (#CommissionsEarned) game facilitators who offer gaming experiences online. Not only will your child be able to play the game they love, they will have an opportunity to meet people who share the same interest.” — Ilana Stoch

#12. “Whether it is via FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp, or any other teleconferencing platform, children can develop and refine conversation skills. Online platforms encourage a child to focus on the speaker by looking at him, waiting until the other person has finished speaking before beginning to talk, and regulating the volume of his voice. One of the advantages of this form of communication is that parents can observe the conversation skills that are in need of attention.” — Ilana Stoch

#13. “Parents struggle to find time for “play” with their children because of all the tasks that need to get done, the stress they are feeling, and the balancing act they are trying to pull off. A way to teach social skills, and have fun, is through the use of theater games, such as charades. These games require role play, interaction, and cooperation.” — Karen Fleiss

How to Motivate Your Student to Learn

#14.  “Limiting screen time is a necessity for many students during the pandemic. Even with parental cheerleading and support, this can be difficult for students with ADHD. Structure, including scheduled breaks, can improve motivation and focus. Several of my clients have introduced screen-free Sundays or incorporate kinesthetic activities (building, baking, painting, exercise, playing with the dog) as rewards throughout the day to provide respite and rejuvenation from screen time.” — Brian Lux

#15. “I encourage students to ask, ‘How would we be learning this in a normal year?’ We need to ensure authentic learning experiences within the curriculum, or the specific parts of the curriculum that interest them. If a child is interested in space, maybe he could track the dust collection on an asteroid in conjunction with a math or science project, instead of turning to a page in a virtual textbook.” — Brian Lux

#16. “Just as in school, recess should be scheduled in at-home or hybrid learning. Children need something to look forward to in their daily schedule. To self-regulate or manage motivation, the schedule should allow the flexibility to engage in choice activities when required tasks are completed.” — Trevor Dunlap

#17. “Use your child’s interests and curiosity to motivate and maintain focus on assigned work and tasks. Ask your child what kind of reward would be motivating, and let them work toward it. Being able to do that special activity after completing assignments may be the “carrot” they need to keep working. The reward can range from extra time for a preferred activity (watching one more show) to a special outing (going to the ice cream shop) to an activity that they usually don’t get to do (baking a dessert together or building a birdhouse).” — Ilana Stoch

How to Improve the Remote Learning Experience

#18. “Supplement learning on the computer with one-on-one time with the teacher during designated office hours. I encourage students to take advantage of office hours (virtually or one-on-one) to get feedback from their teachers.” — Brian Lux

#19. “If several children are learning at home, designate spaces for each to complete their work. This will not only provide a more focused environment, but it will also reinforce the idea that when a student is in their particular space during school hours, it is time to get down to work.” — Erin Wynne

#20. “Set up kids for success. Know the assignments — be the secretary who uploads and downloads school assignments and homework. Set up a weekly meeting with teachers to discuss their expectations in advance. Create a schedule for what is due and review it each evening with your child. This structure will allow your child to thrive.” — John Willson

#21. “Assign each subject a different-colored binder or folder. Have your child place all of their work into appropriate binders. Using a printed copy of your child’s class timetable, have them color-code the schedule, using the color of the binder assigned to each subject. When they look at their schedule, they will see which binder is needed.” — Ilana Stoch

Activities for Kids with ADHD: Next Steps

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