Easy Exercises to Nurture A Child with ADHD
Get a better understanding of your child’s ADHD symptoms and learn how to build better behavior and self-esteem with these parent-child exercises, including daydreaming and staying positive.
The things that often frustrate you and can make your child’s life miserable at times — spaciness, distractibility, and impulsiveness — are the very things that also make him exceptionally intuitive and imaginative.
Fire needs oxygen to burn. Similarly, creative inspiration requires a certain sort of openness, exactly the sort that your child displays. Creativity often requires reframing or rethinking old problems. And that’s just what kids with ADHD can do — in their own lives (with your help), and, eventually, in the world.
In fact, children with ADHD who have been labeled spacey often have a heightened capacity to dream of possibilities not yet existing in the world. Students with ADHD may miss some of the little details, but they are excellent at getting the big picture.
You can bring out your child’s gifts by strengthening his innate nature and teaching him how to channel it. The summer is an ideal time to do this. Here’s how:
Our culture values hard work and achievement above all else. But what happens when the inner voices call you or your child to take a mental break? What some people call laziness is actually central to creativity. Imagination is cultivated by getting lost in the corners of your mind— through play and goofing off.
The following experiment is for both you and your child. It has three purposes:
- to help you show support for the dreamy side of your child’s personality
- to help you develop a feel for the role spaciness plays in her life
- to help her learn that, if she limits her daydreaming to specific, appropriate times, she may be able to think more clearly when she does focus.
For you… Once a day for a week, spend half an hour daydreaming. Do not try to solve a specific problem. Do not try to concentrate on one topic. Just let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Invite in fantasies and daydreams.
For your child… Have him take half an hour for the same thing. (Make sure you each do it alone.) Tell him that daydreaming is a wonderful use of imagination that promotes creativity, so he should do it purposely during his half hour.
For the two of you… Talk about the daydreaming experience. How did it feel? What did you think about? Emphasize that you value being spacey and getting lost in imagination. Tell him that when he is tempted to daydream in places where it’s inappropriate, like during a music lesson or when he’s playing left field, he should remind himself to save it for the special daydreaming time that you have set aside.
For you… At the end of the week, write in your journal what impact this experience had on you. (Writing things down will make them clearer.) Where did your mind wander during these times? What did this period of reverie feel like? Do you and your child want to continue setting aside time to daydream?
Feed the urge monster
When parents become more sensitive to their own impulses, they’re better able to understand their child’s. The following exercises will help you learn what his life feels like, so you can help him learn to problem-solve about his impulses.
For you… Find a day, or a half day, or even a couple of hours, to spend following your own urges – walk in the woods, eat a hot fudge sundae, sleep late.
If acting on some of your impulses would be inappropriate, let yourself explore them mentally. Ask yourself, “What is underlying this urge? Is there some way I can honor it?” Suppose you felt like telling off a friend. How could you communicate your needs to this friend without being explosively angry? Could you ask another friend to help you come up with the right words and practice them with you? Follow through on the action. Use this experience to help you connect with your child for the next part of the exercise.
For your child… If he is between the ages of 5 and 9, tell him you want to talk to him about the “Urge Monster,” that thing inside each of us that pushes us to do things we shouldn’t. (If he is older, you can talk more straightforwardly about uncontrollable urges.) Share some of your own urges as examples. Tell your child that it is important to feed the monster but not to let it control you. Ask your son to talk about some of his urges. Work with him to think of ways to control the Urge Monster and to feed it without getting into trouble:
- Dad: Remember when you were jumping around your gymnastics class and telling everyone that you were going to have a baby sister? Sometimes we all get urges to blurt out what we feel. Just today, I thought I’d like to tell my boss to just leave me alone. Then I realized that my boss might get mad at me if I said that. So I called your mom on the phone and told her what I wanted to tell my boss. Then I could talk calmly to my boss. Sometimes the Urge Monster will quiet down if it’s fed a little bit. How could you feed the Urge Monster?
- Sandy: I was so excited. There was no way I could stay quiet.
- Dad: How could you feed the Urge Monster without disturbing the class? Maybe you could draw a picture of the Urge Monster or draw a picture for your sister when she arrives?
- Sandy: Yeah, I could tell the Monster that I was going to wait and tell Daddy how I’m so excited about my new sister instead of talking during class. And I could draw a picture for my new sister to hang in her bedroom.
- Dad: That’s a great idea. Sometimes promising yourself that you will tell someone else will help you keep quiet when you need to.
This exercise is a little more complicated. I’m going to ask you to change, or reframe, the way you see your child’s behavior. Instead of thinking about symptoms, think about manifestations of his creativity — in other words, to think not that he’s “acting up” but he’s “thinking outside the box.”
- Next time your child demonstrates a symptom, think of possible positive explanations for the behavior. For example, if your son bursts out with loud, inappropriate comments when you’ve asked him to be quiet — in line at the supermarket or in a doctor’s waiting room — don’t interpret his behavior as defiant. Don’t threaten dire consequences (and risk escalating the behavior and creating a vicious cycle). Instead, think that your son is trying to make things livelier. You might even commend him for trying to entertain everyone.
- Later, when the incident has passed, ask your son to reflect on his behavior. Listen to what he says, keeping in mind your new positive outlook, which is open to considering non-antagonistic reasons for his behavior. For example, you can calmly ask him why he was “contributing” at the doctor’s when he had been asked to be quiet.
- Listen attentively to learn how your son understands his behavior. He may surprise you by saying that he’s noticed that people laugh at these outbursts, and he wants people to laugh more. He might even tell you that people might be less scared at the doctor’s office if they were able to laugh. This is a radically different interpretation of his behavior, seeing it as generosity rather than defiance.
- Praise your son for his creativity. Explain that this is an example of thinking and acting outside the box. You might commend him on his perception of the anxiety in the doctor’s waiting room and his efforts at problem-solving.
- Explain that, while you appreciate his creativity and think he has a lot to offer, some people might be disturbed by his outbursts. He needs to learn to temper his creative expression with respect for other people.
- Together, brainstorm ways to express his creativity while being respectful to others. For example, he could suggest that the doctor buy more magazines for the waiting room. Or maybe he could paint a picture of people having fun in the waiting room and give it to the doctor.
Your goal is to work with your child to create better behavior. The beauty of this exercise is that, by listening to your child’s motivations rather than assuming the worst, you’ll gain an increased appreciation for him. That, in turn, boosts your connection — and puts you well on the way to transforming his problems into strengths.
Adapted from The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child’s Problems into Strengths, by Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, California.