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Getting Children with ADHD to Entertain Themselves

Will my child with ADHD ever learn to provide her own structure and stimulation or to entertain herself?

“Play with Me” — The ADHD Child’s Battle Cry

Natalie has to be doing something every waking moment, and she’s almost never willing (or able?) to do that something alone. Is this true for your child with ADHD?

I know kids with ADHD need structure, but for Natalie, the need seems to be more about stimulation than structure, and more about being dependent upon one-on-one interaction with someone on her preferred-playmate list. Playing with a friend is, of course, her ideal scenario. But if no friend can play, watch out.

Natalie’s nine years old, for goodness sake, and Don and I still practice tag-team parenting in order to complete basic household chores. Don entertains Natalie so that I can load the dishwasher. Tag. I take over play duty so Don can drive Aaron to basketball practice. Tag.

I have to hire a babysitter if I want to work — from home — when Natalie’s here. And, I have to deal with the fall-out when I’m too tired or too busy to give Natalie the wholehearted energy and attention that she demands. Her reaction to a lack of attention and stimulation is near panic.

Last night was a case in point. None of Nat’s friends were available to play. Don had an evening meeting. I was ON. I was IT. Energetic playmate! Imaginative entertainer! No cooking or kitchen clean-up allowed. No time or attention diverted to my other child. No reading the evening paper. No catching the TV news. Or else — put up with Nat’s whining. Clinging to me. Hanging on me. She becomes un-grounded; un-centered — giggling uncontrollably — at nothing. Wiggling frantically, like she’s lost control of her body and her limbs are in danger of flying off. Escalating, escalating until I feel like screaming.

This morning, I thought with relief, tonight will be different. Allie is coming from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 pm. for a respite. She’ll be the one who’s ON. Nat was happy to hear it. “I want Allie to play with me,” she said. “I want Allie to play play play play play play play play plaaaaaayyyyyy with me.”

After school (early-out day, 2:05 p.m. dismissal) I was once again 100 percent ON — until Allie came for respite time. Then, I cooked a good supper. I watched a little TV with Aaron and listened to him talk sports. I left the house for an hour-and-a-mocha. I didn’t scream — or even feel like screaming — once.

Will Natalie ever learn to provide her own structure and stimulation; to entertain herself? How can I help her learn to do so? How old was your child with ADHD when this skill began to develop? Or, like me, are you still in the entertain-me-trenches?

Share your experiences in a comment below.