Finding the Right Creative Outlet for Your ADHD Child


ADHD can leave your child brimming with excess energy, impulsiveness, and personal frustration. Help your child discover a creative outlet that will help strengthen their focus and improve self-esteem, among other benefits.

Guiding Your Child to Find a Creative Outlet

Give your ADHD child the tools and latitude to find the right creative outlet. As Leititia Sweitzer explains in ADDitude Magazine, ADHD children need unscheduled time, a space of their own, raw materials, and the freedom to make their own mistakes and triumphs.

Unscheduled Time

Between school, extracurricular activities, homework, and chores, much of your child's day is scheduled. And while structure is important for ADHD kids, creativity comes alive when the mind is allowed to wander and play.

A Space of Their Own

Whether it's a corner of the basement, a converted closet, or a little-used guest bedroom, your child will need a space of their own to explore their creative outlet. Of course, their needs will vary greatly depending on the type of activities they undertake. For arts and crafts, an art station can help keep all of their needed tools corralled and ready for use whenever inspiration strikes. A spiral notebook or refurbished netbook could be the perfect workspace for the budding author in your life.

If you're short on space, you can timeshare common areas such as the living room or kitchen. A compact wheeled cart, a toolbox, or even part of a small bookcase could serve as storage for your child's supplies.

Raw Materials

Don't feel compelled to take your child on an expensive outing to a crafts store. Inspiration can be found all around in common household objects. Sweitzer suggests working with your child to collect a ''mini-junkyard'' filled with empty cartons, bits of fabric, broken parts from toys, scrap paper, and other objects that stimulate the imagination. Add in common tools like scissors or a stapler to help them create new treasures from discarded ones.

Freedom to Create

Perhaps most importantly, your child needs the freedom to pursue their own creative ideas. Aside from reasonable safety warnings, refrain from giving your child rules or even instructions for their creative pursuit. Even if they don't succeed in their attempts, praise what they have done and avoid any critiques.

You may offer help or the wisdom of your experience to your child—provided they ask you for it. Otherwise, let them discover on their own.

Navigating Changing Interests

Although your child's creative outlet is all their own, you can help them find ongoing satisfaction with it in a few ways:

Gauge Their Enthusiasm

As children develop, their interests naturally evolve. The creative outlet your child enjoys may change over time. Periodically assess your child's current interest level in their chosen hobby or activity. If it seems like they are losing their fervor, work with them to develop a new creative outlet.

Needlework can be a creative outlet for your ADHD child.

Limit Their Extracurricular Pursuits

While there are many benefits to creative outlets for ADHD children, there are only so many hours in the day. With the distractibility and disorganization characteristic of ADHD, multiple creative outlets might become an additional distraction.

Aim for one or two creative outlets and see how well your child manages the time investment. If you feel that your child is spreading themselves too thin to handle their schoolwork along with of all their creative pursuits, ask them to limit the number of projects they work on in a given period of time.

If they need to drop one of their projects for a few months, remind them that they can always return to it later—whether over the winter holidays or during summer vacation. If they are frustrated by the restriction and feel that they will lose the flow of their project, suggest that they keep a small notebook or digital space where they can quickly jot down their ideas for the future. In fact, the planning time may enable them to make unforeseen improvements to their processes.

Put Their Interests Center Stage

Give your child the opportunity to share their knowledge and creative passion. If your child is an artist, for instance, treat them to a museum or gallery visit. Enjoy it together, letting them guide you through the experience. This will boost their self-esteem further as they teach you what they've learned.

Benefits of a Creative Outlet

As your child engages in creative activities, you will begin to see many positive results. In his article discussing art therapy, behavioral psychologist and ADHD specialist Dr. Michael Clatch lists several of them. They include:

Emotional Expression

The emotional outbursts sparked by ADHD can make it difficult for others to deal with your child's behavior—and your child can find such upheavals exasperating. A creative outlet can give your child a safe harbor in which they can explore and express these emotions. For instance, acting in the school play frees your child to imagine themselves as another person through whom they can communicate difficult feelings.

Other types of creative outlets can encourage different kinds of emotional expression. Nonverbal modalities, such as art therapy, allow your child to express those frustrating emotions when words fail them.

Better Self-Control

Something as simple as coloring can be a beneficial creative outlet for your ADHD child.
When your child enjoys improved emotional expression through one or more creative outlets, they can feel more relaxed and in control of themselves. With their creative safety valve, they have fewer unbridled emotions pressing down on them at any given time.

Increased Focus

When your child has a creative outlet they love, they can make use of ADHD hyperfocus to concentrate on their projects or activities. Learning new skills as they progress keeps them stimulated and focused. And that focus can translate to other parts of their life, such as schoolwork.

For example, if your child became enchanted with painting and pursued it for several years, they might perk up during classroom discussions of Renaissance luminaries such as da Vinci or Michelangelo. Even if they don't find school more interesting, you can reward them for their homework efforts by offering them extra time to pursue their special hobby.

Enhanced Self-Esteem

A child who struggles with schoolwork or general organization can find self-satisfaction and improved self-esteem through their creative outlet. They gain pride by identifying themselves as the creator of a cherished work, such as the comic book they wrote and illustrated or the computer animation they coded.

Channeled Excess Energy

A creative outlet can be the perfect receptacle for the boundless energy characteristic of ADHD hyperactivity. When an activity such as dance becomes part of your child's everyday routine, they can regularly let loose all of their pent-up vigor.

A creative outlet such as designing with modeling clay can give your ADHD child a means of nonverbal expression.
Also, with less unspent energy, your ADHD child may be able to remain calmer in more sedate situations. They could even develop more patience for sitting through the ''boring'' times!

Positive Feedback

Your child's engagement in a creative outlet may make them more self-possessed and self-controlled. Their easygoing behavior will win rave reviews from both you and their teachers. The pride they feel at the increased approval will encourage them to continue positive behavior patterns.

S.P.I.N. Avoidance

Dr. Ned Hallowell uses the acronym S.P.I.N. to describe the shame, pessimism, and isolation often felt by those with ADHD. The ''N'' at the end of the acronym stands for ''No Creative, Productive Outlet.'' Dr. Hallowell proposes that creativity itself—often in the form of play—is the antidote for what he calls the ADHD ''S.P.I.N. cycle.'' He believes that any activity, even chores like cooking or laundry, can be turned into a game.

Your child's creative outlet can help break them out of the common ADHD cycle of shame, pessimism, and isolation.

Creative ADHD Management

According to ADHD expert Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, creativity is a natural part of ADHD. Channeling your ADHD child's daydreaming, natural energy, spontaneity, and creative spark into an outlet that builds their self-esteem can only improve their life today. Exploring their creativity will also help them build self-control and self-esteem, which are keys to a successful future.

By Michelle Baumgartner
November 2017
k-12 parenting tips & tricks

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