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The Attention Games: Catching Focus

#ADHD ~There’s more than one way to teach self-control, concentration, and responsibility. Our favorite? These board, card, and action games that make learning fun and collaborative!


Helping your young child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) pay attention is hard work, and nagging her or him to “do this” or “stop that” is getting on everyone’s nerves, especially yours. Try a little fun instead, using focus games to stretch her or his attention span.

Studies suggest that everyday play — especially play that engages a child’s brain and body — accomplishes that goal better than worksheets, video games, or punishments. Here are five playful ways to build concentration.

“Freeze” Time

Having trouble teaching your child to sit still? Play “statue.” Have your son make goofy poses until you shout, “Freeze!” He should hold that position for a set time (maybe 10 seconds, for starters). If he remains motionless the entire time, he gets to turn you into a statue. If she has energy to burn off, go outside and play freeze tag!

Here’s a variation for fairytale (and superhero) fans: Pretend she’s been caught in a magic spell, and have her freeze herself, lying down, like Sleeping Beauty. She stays still and quiet until the Fairy Godparent (you) unfreezes her.

Try Tabletop Games

Give your child one-on-one time with mom or dad while working together on a puzzle, coloring a picture, finger painting, or engaging in water play (driving boats in the sink, pouring water into funnels or sieves). These activities engage a child as she learns to sit and focus.

If she can’t get motivated for these games, make it a competition! Race to see who can put five puzzle pieces together first, or who can use the most colors in their picture. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing these activities. Praise her for her achievements.

Turn Chores into a Song

Children with ADHD often need reminders to stay on task. Research has shown that music helps the brain — especially the ADD brain — organize time and space, aiding in learning and memory. In other words, it’s harder for her to get distracted if her voice, mind, and body are all focusing on a task! Sing the “Tidy Up Song” with your child, to help him remember he’s cleaning up toys right now. Lyrics can be as simple as: “Tidy up. Tidy up. Everybody tidy up.”

Any ordinary task can be set to a song. For maximum sticking power, choose one of her favorite melodies: a TV theme, “Frère Jacques,” or a Christmas carol. Encourage your child to make up new, silly lyrics relating to the task she’s doing.

Make Her Part of a Story

During story time, ask her questions to keep her mind on task and focused on the characters: “What did the doggie do? What do you think he will do next? If you were in the story, what would you do instead?” Share your own thoughts and show him you’re enjoying the book, too.

If it’s not before bed, and you don’t mind revving up her energy level, have her play the part of one of the characters: crawling around on all-fours like the dog, or acting the part of the fairy princess. Physically acting out the character may help her stay on track longer than she could stay while sitting still.

Say It Out Loud

Encourage your child to use this self-coaching technique of talking to himself, like acting in a play. Have him describe what he’s doing and what he might do next. “I’m building a tower. One…two…three blocks. Uh-oh! It fell over. I’ll try again.”

Take the lead self-talking yourself through “grown-up” tasks. “I’m making spaghetti. I’ll need a big pot to boil the noodles. Let’s get that pot. Fill it up with water. Turn the stove on. What comes next? The sauce!” Self-coaching enables your child to stay on task and to follow steps in order.


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