Imagine that you are living inside a video game, where everything is coming at you at once. Every sight, sound, and sensation is a distraction. For a child with ADHD, getting through a typical day is something like that. And it explains a great deal about how they experience the world.
Children with ADHD typically have impairment of functions such as concentration, memory, impulse control, processing speed, and an inability to follow directions.
“The good news…there is something you can do to help your child with ADHD to improve their concentration skills.”
If you’re a parent of a child with ADD or ADHD, this most likely sounds all too familiar. Over the years, you’ve probably struggled through homework sessions with your child and tried (and failed) to get them to complete certain tasks like cleaning their room or finishing yard work. And on more than one occasion, you’ve probably felt completely drained by their high energy and seeming inability to focus.
The good news is, there is something you can do to help your child with ADHD to improve their concentration skills.
For years it was thought that each of us was born with a generous supply of brain cells but that we were unable to produce additional cells or make changes in how they function. Fairly recently, neuroscientists discovered the presence of something called neuroplasticity, which enables the brain to actually grow additional cells or modify the function of existing cells.
Amazingly, cognitive exercises have been found to produce desired changes in how the brain works and how it looks. What this means for parents is that you now can work with your child to help improve their ADHD symptoms.
Think of it this way: when you want to build up your muscles, what do you do? You do strength and endurance training. Brain exercises basically work on the same principle. They’re a way of helping your child build up focus and endurance in order to strengthen their ability to concentrate, process, and manage their emotions.
As a child psychologist and the father of a son with ADHD, I developed a host of exercises that help kids with ADHD improve their concentration. The key is presenting them as games that are fun for parents and children to do together.
Here are a few simple exercises to get you started. While doing these exercises together, be sure to provide reinforcement in the form of praise and encouragement. Keep a record of progress (usually, this will include how fast your child can complete a task or how long they can continue a task).
Parents like this game because it improves memory and sequencing, as well as attention and concentration. And kids enjoy it because it’s fast-paced and fun.
First, you will need a small pile of assorted coins, a cardboard sheet to cover them, and a stopwatch or timer (there are lots of free timer apps available for your phone). Choose five of the coins from the pile (for this example, we’ll say three pennies and two nickels) and put them into a sequence.
Now, say to your child: “Look carefully at the coins arranged on the table.”
Then, cover the coins with the cardboard. Start the timer, and then ask them to make the same pattern using the coins from the pile. When they are finished, mark the time with the timer and remove the cardboard cover.
Write down the time it takes them to complete the pattern and whether or not they are correct. If your child doesn’t complete it correctly, have them keep trying until they can do it.
You can increase the difficulty of the patterns as you go and include pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars. You’ll see your child’s concentration and sequencing improve the more they play, which is a great reward for both of you.
Combining simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing with positive visual imagery helps the brain to improve or learn new skills. For instance, research shows that if a person mentally practices their golf swing, the brain actually records the imaginary trials the same as if they were real trials, which leads to improvement on the golf course.
In other words, kids with ADHD can imagine that they’re paying attention in class or handling teasing, which can change their behavior at school. You and your child can use your creativity and give this a try.
An example of this technique would be to have your child attempt to sit in a chair without moving. The parent times how long the child can do this. Repeated practice over several weeks will show improvement. Through this activity, the neural connections between the brain and body are strengthened, providing improved self-control.
It sounds simple, but these are great tools for kids with ADHD. Crossword puzzles improve attention for words and sequencing ability. Likewise, picture puzzles, in which your younger child has to look for things that are “wrong” in the picture or look for hard-to-find objects, also improve attention and concentration.
Children’s games, such as Simon, are great ideas for improving memory and concentration. They are quick and fun.
Memory motivates the child to remember the location of picture squares, and Simon helps them memorize sequences of visual and auditory stimuli. Through repeated playing, brain circuits are exercised and challenged, which strengthens connections and thus improves function.
For older children and adolescents, check out the cognitive exercises provided by Lumosity.
There are various versions to select from, depending on your child’s age and what he or she likes. These games can be played on various video game platforms, including Xbox, Wii, and others. You will also need to purchase the dance mat that goes with your system.
These games improve concentration, processing speed, planning, sequencing, and motor integration. As an added bonus, they can also be a good form of aerobic exercise.
To play these games, all you need is a good story book and a good imagination. You can simply read a short story and give the child a pop quiz on the content. Or, you can read a paragraph or two from a story and then ask your child to come up with what they think might come next.
Provide guidance to keep the content connected to the original story. You can then add your take on what happens after your child says what he thinks happens next. If possible, keep trading back and forth and see what you end up with.
These games help with building working memory and concentration. They can also help in the development of logic and sense of humor.
You can find mazes appropriate for the age of your child for free online. One site that has them is KrazyDad Mazes. Start off with easy ones and move forward. Keep track of speed and errors. Of course, don’t forget to praise improving scores.
Mazes are great for concentration, planning, sequencing, processing speed and visual-motor integration.
Puzzle games are very good for kids with ADHD or learning disabilities because they help build that brain muscle we were talking about, as do all these exercises. There are maze games (like Perplexus) where players must maneuver a small marble around challenging barriers inside a transparent ball, for example. You can vary the challenges to provide a variety of games.
Did you ever play with one of these as a kid? I did as a child and a young teen and really enjoyed it. Basically, it’s a wooden paddle with a rubber ball attached to it with a rubber band. The equipment should easy to find at a toy store or drug store.
Best to start with bouncing the ball downward and when that is mastered, switch to bouncing it upward. Keep track of how long your child can keep the ball bouncing. Encourage increasing the amount of time. For older kids, you might want to talk about what it would take to set a record to motivate them.
As you do these brain exercises, work together with your child, serving as their coach. Encourage them, and track their progress as they improve. Working together is a win-win solution because it also strengthens the relationship you have with your child.
Go ahead and have some fun. Do the exercises along with your child. And who knows, you may find your brain will work a little faster and smarter, too!
These suggestions are provided as activities to supplement medical and/or psychological treatment provided under the guidance of a physician or psychologist. They will enhance the benefits of the treatment but will not on their own resolve severe symptoms for a child who has been accurately diagnosed with ADHD.
Dr. Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD - ADHD) and learning disabilities. Dr. Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr. Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, childdevelopmentinfo.com. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.