Guest Blogs

Independent Play: Activities to Keep Your ADHD Child Stimulated — and out of Trouble!

My daughter needs constant stimulation, which often means I’m her source of entertainment. Luckily, I found some creative activities that, while messy, keep Nat entertained.

I suppose it’s a function of her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that my daughter, Natalie, needs a lot of stimulation in order to be happy. Unlike some kids, who, by a certain age, can pretty well entertain themselves, Natalie usually relies on others to provide this stimulation. Even at age 10, she can’t keep herself busy and satisfied for any length of time. If she had her way, she’d play with friends every waking moment. If friends aren’t available, Mom or Dad must serve as social director and playmate or pay the consequences.

Earlier this month, between parent-teacher conferences and spring break, my kids had almost two weeks off school. For me, that same span of time a year ago was miserable. All of our respite providers and all of Natalie’s friends were away on vacations, and Natalie was extremely needy and clingy. I literally couldn’t walk across the kitchen without her hanging all over me. I was her only source of entertainment for nearly two weeks, and I was not up to the challenge. In fact, I was depressed and had recently added a dose of Wellbutrin to the Paxil I was already taking. You’ve heard that things always get worse before they get better. Well, I was in the “get worse” phase, desperately holding on for one more week to give the meds a chance to work (they did!) before calling my doctor.

So, with memories of last year haunting me, I made sure to structure as much of Natalie’s time off for spring break as possible this year — what credit card bill? — and arranged for our respite provider, Hannah, to take Nat to a hotel with a water park for two nights. I also scheduled Hannah to spend a few hours with Natalie for three days of spring break week. Natalie and I are both in a better place this year, so it may have been overkill, but I don’t regret it. I’m so lucky Hannah was available!

Despite all of the hours Hannah covered and the weather that was warm enough for Natalie to be able to spend time outside, it was still hard to entertain her during all of her unstructured hours. By the time the final weekend before school resumed rolled around, I was desperate. I had to come up with something new.

In the past, my husband, Don, and I have each scored a time or two when we came up with creative time-fillers that really engaged Natalie and held her attention. Once, I bought us several hours of peace and quiet for the price of aluminum foil, paper plates, bendy straws, and duct tape. We let Natalie have at it with those supplies and some cardboard boxes, and we were all in heaven. Another time, Don bought a variety of ropes and pulleys and hammered and strung them up on Nat’s wooden play structure. That provided nearly two full days of entertainment, even in the rain!

This time, I took Natalie to pick out several large bottles of washable paint and some new paintbrushes and let her paint her wooden play structure to her heart’s content. This activity kept her happily occupied for a large part of the weekend. And with rain in the forecast for Sunday night and Monday, I thought the tacky paint job would wash right off and our yard would be back to normal, just in time for Nat to return to school.

I was wrong. The washable paint soaked into the wood, and several rain showers later, it’s as bright as ever.

Do I care that my yard looks trashy? Not really. The fun Natalie had in the process was worth it. And just think, Nat can fill another weekend painting over the rainbow colors with something a little more tasteful, a win-win for me, Nat, and the neighbors!

Do you have to get creative to keep your child with ADHD engaged and occupied? What ideas have you come up with?

Related resources