"My ADHD child won't play alone. What should I do?" If you're a parent asking this question, you aren't on your own. While social activities are necessary for kids, independent play is, too.
Playing alone can inspire creative and imaginative thinking, help kids develop problem-solving skills, and learn about themselves and their interests, alongside other benefits. But, with ADHD, it may be more challenging to teach kids how to play alone when they need to.
In this article, we'll discuss why kids with ADHD tend to have trouble playing alone and how to encourage independent play in your child.
Do Kids With ADHD Have Trouble Playing Alone?
It's true that many kids with ADHD have more trouble playing alone than other kids do. Why is that?
People with ADHD often face challenges with organizing activities and staying focused, which can make getting started on an activity independently tough. Some kids experience other ADHD symptoms, like excessive talking, that can make independent play tough.
Let's take a moment to think about how people with ADHD often thrive when body-doubling. Body doubling is a technique to increase productivity that involves having someone work alongside you. When you engage in body doubling or parallel play, the other person serves as an "anchor." This helps a lot of people with ADHD focus, even if the other person isn't telling them to stay on task or is not involved in the same project at all. The stimulation from the other person is what works.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with liking to play with others. However, there will be times when a child's friends aren't available. On top of that, independent play teaches kids important lifelong skills. So, what can you do?
Encouraging Independent Play In Kids
If a child finds it difficult to get involved in independent play, it is not a sign of poor parenting. It is possible to help kids with ADHD learn to play alone. Eventually, as kids age, this time will be over. Parents can use these tips and activities to encourage children to be independent or play alone and get the benefits of doing so. First, let's talk about how Joon can help.
Designed uniquely for children with ADHD and related disorders ages 6-12+, Joon is a to-do app that doubles as a game. Joon is the key to promoting independence and routine in kids with ADHD. Here's how it works:
To get started, adults download the Joon Parent App and make a task list for their children. You can add any of your child's routines and activities, from getting ready for school or Summer programs to household chores and independent playtime. Kids use a separate app called Joon Pet Game. Once they complete the tasks adults assign, children get rewards in Joon Pet Game that allow them to care for a virtual pet called a Doter.
Joon is rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars, with more than 4k reviews. 90% of kids who use Joon finish all their tasks, and many users say that Joon has improved their parent-child relationship.
Make a routine
Creating a routine for your ADHD child that involves independent play can help them get used to it and know what to expect. Build a manageable amount of solitary playtime into your child's schedule. This can be a multi-stepped process; some parents, especially those with a toddler or very young child, will need to start with small chunks of alone time for kids.
Alongside short periods of solitary play, you might add other activities to your child's schedule to keep them occupied. For example, assigning them the job of helping you make dinner throughout the week and social activities where they'll be around other children.
Set a clock
When it's time for free play, set a clock. Often, when it’s time to play alone, kids will engage in constant questioning (When can you play with me? When is it over?). A visual clock or timer can help your child because they will be able to refer to how long this part of the day will continue.
Come up with activities
Build a toolkit of go-to indoor activities your ADHD child can use to entertain themselves. Include a variety of ideas, such as:
- Arts and crafts. Have an arts and crafts box handy at home for your child and encourage them to create whatever they want with the items in it.
- Physically active hobbies. For example, jump roping, hula hooping, playing with a basketball hoop, or something else that is accessible in their space at home.
- Outside activities (if you have a safe space for kids to play outside at home).
- "Building" activities. For example, legos, Lincoln logs, blocks, and other classic toys.
- Educational games or reading (including audiobooks).
Some parents will benefit from making a designated play area in the home for their child to go to during independent play.
Set kind but clear-cut boundaries that your child will understand. If you have a young child and designate a space for independent play within your sight, set expectations with your little ones about what you need them to do as they play on their own. How long are they expected to play alone? If it's quiet time and you can't talk right now, what's the exception to the rule?
Be patient and explain your boundaries to your child, taking care to give gentle reminders if they stray outside of the rules at first. Remember that, while this can be a very difficult time, they aren't doing it on purpose.
Challenge their creativity
If the main reason your child has trouble playing alone is that they are bored, have a conversation, and challenge their creativity. What toys do they have right now? What's something fun they can do with what they have at home? Brainstorming together develops problem-solving skills and can help kids learn how to self-start.
Playdates give your child structured playtime with kids their own age. Plan playdates with kids from school or neighborhood children around your child's age. A regular weekly date where a child gets to spend time with a friend can give kids something to look forward to, and it means that they will have company during that time so that parents get a break.
Find after-school or Summer programs
Similar to playdates, after-school activities (perhaps a class or club) and Summer programs may not count as independent play, but they are a great way to keep your child stimulated and get their need to play with others met for larger chunks of the day outside of solitary playtime.
Many after-school or Summer activities for kids provide the extra benefit of helping kids learn new skills, and they will be supervised, so this is ideal.
While you can't always play with them, you can offer support and guide children toward an activity. Often, especially with ADHD, getting started on an activity is the hardest part.
Helping kids get their toys out and start building legos or putting a few pieces of a puzzle together on the dining room table together to start them off before you leave them alone can be the key to getting them to play alone.
Don't forget to stick to your boundaries. Join your child only for a minute or two, help them get going, and then leave them to the job.
Much like with social activities, building life-long skills through independent play is an important part of childhood. However, it is particularly common for kids with ADHD to struggle with playing alone. If kids need entertainment all day, every day, it can become a significant problem or stressor in the home. Using all or a few tips from this article, like setting boundaries, scheduling playdates, and offering support, can help parents teach their children how to play on their own.