Extracurricular activities can help your child learn new skills, socialize, and have some fun. Some extracurriculars can be overwhelming or maybe feel a little over-coached, but others can help your ADHD child with their ability to focus.
Let Your Child Lead
Parenting a child with ADHD can have its ups and downs. They're doing well in school and focusing on their daily goals, but what should they do during their downtime? Some kids just aren't that into soccer or football, and complicated instrument lessons can add on even more sitting, coaching, and structure after a long day of school. Rowdy team sports can overstimulate a child with ADHD and intense personal coaching that comes with classic instrument lessons can make them feel over structured. Follow your child's interest and let them lead; are they creative and expressive? Are they athletic but overwhelmed by group sports like football or baseball? Letting them choose their outlet can give your child a sense of control and maybe even save you a buck or two by not shelling out a lot of cash for sports gear that won't get used or an instrument that will sit quiet and unplayed.
Martial Arts and Dance
According to Understood.org, activities like martial arts provide direct behavioral expectations that can help your child stay on track. Both martial arts and dance are strength based activities that require a lot of physical engagement and encourage focus. Disciplines like Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Ballet, and even hip hop dance provide structure and goal setting along with individual coaching and small group pairings to allow your child to focus on one thing at a time. Both have a strong focus on one on one instruction, following the rules, waiting your turn, and safety. Dance and martial arts help your child be able to anticipate and expect their next exercise, allowing them to stay focused in the moment. Dance and martial arts are practiced by breaking down and combining movements into tactile goal-oriented achievements with results your child can see; they can break a board, they can go en pointe, or bust out a really cool breakdance.
Instructional periods in martial arts and dance are short and to the point, followed by the student's turn to demonstrate the movements or lesson. These two opportunities create a very controlled environment that allows your child to expend energy while staying focused and can limit distractions that can make your child feel overstimulated. Martial Arts is a disciplined practice where excess talk and chatter are discouraged and shouting is reserved for specific times and movements. Choreographed floor routines can be fast to a strong beat or slow and focused so your child will be able to anticipate an increase in sounds and won't get overstimulated by an unexpected sudden change in environment. Quality dance or martial arts schools will be able to explain beginner classes and may let you observe a class to see if it's a good fit.
Not So Sporty?
Beyond the physical, there are other aspects to helping your child gain focus and interpersonal skills. Drama programs provide structure and engagement through storytelling, the use of cues, scripts and character exercises that require focus but also act as an unrestrained outlet for being silly and imaginative. Group music and drama programs can combine the best of art, music, performance, and dance, encouraging your child to have a hand in everything. Making the props they use, help painting or creating a backdrop, learning a short skit or dance routine and song makes them part of a group dynamic while giving them multiple outlets so they're not left feeling over coached or too structured.
Music lessons have been associated with heightened reading comprehension, problem-solving, and concentration, while performing can give your child a self-esteem boost that's both fun and creative. Like with martial arts or dance schools, quality programs will be able to give you info on beginners' classes and may let you audit or observe.
If your child loves the outdoors and animals, maybe give horseback riding a try. Beginner horseback riding classes consist of grooming techniques, learning the horse's body language, and walking the horse on a lunge line. Over time your child would work up to riding the horse and learning riding techniques with an instructor. Horseback riding involves working with an instructor who has intensive knowledge of horseback riding and safety and is generally a one-on-one activity.
For children not interested in riding but engaged and interested in learning about animals, equine therapy has been shown to benefit children with ADHD and help teach focus and behavior regulation through empathy. Unlike horseback riding, equine therapy is commonly headed by a mental health professional. Equine therapy allows your child to connect with the horse and see their behavior reflected in the actions of the animal. If they're calm, the horse will be calm. Horses take their behavioral and emotional cues from humans, so your child would be able to see the effects of their behavior on another individual. Equine therapy includes grooming, feeding, and learning to lead the horse and give commands. A 2016 study showed that children with ADHD who participated in a 12-week Equine Therapy course saw a reduction in their symptoms and increases in behavioral improvements and impulse control. It's outdoorsy, safe, fun, and a great new experience for kids who live in more suburban or urban settings.
There's more to extracurriculars than sports and music. Scouting is also an option for kids who enjoy a multitude of activities both indoors and out. Unlike privately owned studios or volunteer coaches, the scouts are already poised to create an open and welcoming environment for children with ADHD. Scouting Magazine has several blog posts, articles, and a podcast to help scoutmasters and troop leaders welcome kids with ADHD into their troops by teaching coaching techniques, redirection, explaining symptoms and encouraging an open discourse with the scout's parents. Besides creating an environment that's already in a position to understand your scout's needs, they combine things like drama, sports, hiking, and also promote a sense of accomplishment with merit badges and moving up ceremonies.
Each Activity a New Opportunity
ADHD isn't an uncommon diagnosis and as the scouts show, organizations are taking steps to be inclusive and understanding. Make an effort to talk to any instructors or program leaders to get a good understanding of the program requirements and how they mesh with your child's needs and interests.