How to Beat the Boredom Nightmare with ADHD
Whether camp has been canceled or you’re uneasy about sending your kids to a modified version, it's troubling to plan for this summer of 2020. Whatever your choices are, even though the kids may sleep later and you may not need to rush around as much, the threat of boredom can feel like a nightmare for individuals and families living with ADHD.
The Boredom Paradox for Parents
Many of us have experienced how imagination and creativity can flourish from being bored now and then. By not crowding their calendars with all kinds of planned activities, we give our kids the time and space to play dress-ups, design a model, or make up a game. The same goes for adults; when we allow ourselves some breathing room, we are more available for creative expression.
Even so, there's a tendency to fear the onset of boredom and try to control it when it comes on. This can be partly because we strive to use our time in meaningful ways, and we want our kids to apply the values we impart on them. Despite that, parents can also understandably feel somewhat responsible to solve the boredom "problem" when it leads to frustrating and confusing behavior for their kids with ADHD.
ADHD and Boredom
Boredom isn’t a symptom of ADHD, but it’s a common result of having ADHD. Boredom isn’t a bad thing, but it can be helpful for parents try to resist the urge to jump in and fix the boredom, so your kiddos have the space to figure it out. This also sends your child the message that you trust she is capable. It’s tough to comprehend what makes your kid say, “I’m bored,” when they’re free to do whatever they want, even with many activities to choose from. But it’s important to appreciate that they’re not trying to be difficult. They just don’t know how to keep themselves from being bored.
One reason for this is because in individuals with ADHD, the brain under-activates the messages between neurotransmitters that makes activities satisfying. Consequently, individuals with ADHD feel less driven to stay focused, interpreting this under-activation as "boredom.” Another reason has to do with executive functioning, which is the ability to self-manage. People with ADHD can can be creative, divergent thinkers. But they struggle with the ability to plan, organize, and problem-solve to follow through with their innovative ideas.
Here are three ways to support you and your child in managing boredom this summer, so they can problem-solve, be flexible, and become more resilient (and so you can enjoy your summer too)!
Brainstorm to Get Buy-in
• If your child needs support in getting started, suggest grouping the activities and tasks by type. Ideas for Brainstorming activities and tasks can include:
• Family outings on weekends
• Individual Interests: art, research an item, cook an item, make a model, backyard fun, chalk outside, reading, school skills practice, create a script/film
• Chores: pet chores, pick up clothes, fold laundry, kitchen chores, yard chores, organizing chores (make it fun - as long as it gets done!).
• Family/Sibling activities: board games, twister, scavenger hunt, water-bottle bowling, balloon volleyball, hallway/outdoor hopscotch, horseshoes, crocket, backyard mini-golf, plant garden, dance party, mini trampoline, floor mats
• Mom/Dad Mystery Challenge: make something out of scrap materials; cook a dish for dinner, etc.
Provide Structure with Flexibility
Individuals with ADHD need structure, with flexibility built within that structure. Construct the day with a framework that allows your child some agency in his or her choices. Construct the day with parameters of "need to do's" and "can do's." This allows you and/or your child some understanding of priorities and gives her some agency over her choices. A structure for your child does not necessarily mean she needs to perform specific tasks at specific times for her entire day. She may work better by knowing that she needs to do one or two important tasks that day at a time that works best for her.
• Categorize the activities to aid with structuring the day, for example: indoor activities, outdoor activities, crafts, research, chores, fun, etc. You may want to collaborate with your child on adding a minimum/maximum time for each category.
• Categorize by "need to do's" and "can do." For example, let’s say you want your child to go outside every day, but you want to give your child a choice of activities. The framework may be, “can choose any amount per day” in the outside category (with time parameters); for chores, “must chose two per day." For mandatory daily chores you may want to keep a separate must do list.
Scaffold Your Child for Follow-Through
“Scaffolding” your child, is about what you can do as parents to anchor your child in the support he needs, which changes over time. Even with the best of carefully thought-out plans, what can often get in the way of following through is not having what’s needed to carry them out. It’s like having the recipe without the ingredients.
• Discuss and have your child list materials needed and where to find them. For example, for an art project, make sure your child knows what is needed and where to find materials.
• Some individuals with ADHD have challenges figuring out what to do when, and in what order. If you find your child needs support in this area, you can help your child select what to start with. For example, if your child is practicing reading over the summer, you could possibly have an agreement around having her doing her reading when she has the most energy to focus.
• Keep realistic expectations. Be aware that children with executive functioning challenges are typically 3 – 5 years their chronologically aged peers. Try not to think of where they “should” be, but rather where they are now and challenge them one small step from there so that they are successful.
• Reward your child for his efforts. Even if he didn’t get to everything, we want to focus on the process rather than only the success of the outcome.
Discuss Limits and Boundaries
Let’s face it, all parents need a break. One of the biggest fears parents understandably face is, “When is this ever going to let up?” Parents need to take care of themselves and one of the best ways to do this is to set age-appropriate limits and boundaries. You want your kids to ask for help when they need it. At the same time, you can’t expect yourself to take on the responsibility of managing them whenever they're bored.
• To support your child to be self-reliant, have a list of go-to questions your child can ask himself rather than coming to you, such as: “What’s my plan for today?" "What have I done so far?" "What’s a “must-do?” "What materials do I need?" "Where can I find them?”
• Agree on several break-times throughout the day to check in with your child when your child can count on asking for support. Take a breather together with a walk or bike ride.
• For parents working at home, arrange for a work-space or place to hang out near you in case your child wants to work quietly next to you. This can be outside in your backyard on a summer day.
• Provide your child with note cards for a suggestion box to capture ideas and questions to discuss with you during break times. Sharing their ideas in a box specially designed for their suggestions can motivate them to fill up the box rather than consistently coming to you.
To sum up, summer of 2020 may not be the summer you expected, but your kids can learn to overcome boredom, problem-solve, and be more resilient:
• Brainstorm to Get Buy-In
• Provide Structure with Flexibility
• Scaffold Your Child for Follow-Through
• Discuss Limits and Boundaries
Experiment with some or all of these so you can enjoy your summer too. I'd love to know how it goes for you!
PS. Need more assistance getting started with what matters to you?
Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!