It’s winter - it’s twenty degrees out, everything is covered in ice, and your car takes what seems like hours to warm up for an errand that will take you ten minutes. Long gone are the days of no outerwear, bright, warm sunshine and the ability to take a stroll around the block a few times to get some exercise. As a parent, you’re feeling the winter blues and it’s likely your child with ADHD is too! ADHD can present some unique challenges during the winter months.
The Role of Exercise
While it’s helpful to keep most children busy and on the move during the winter, it’s critical that a child who has ADHD be engaged in activities during this season. ADHD can be worse in winter. The winter months can be gloomy and depressing and children with ADHD need to be stimulated and kept busy! Exercising their minds and bodies is extremely important and critical to overcoming what we fondly call the winter slump.
Most of us can recognize the importance of exercise for children in general, but those with ADHD have even more complex needs with regards to exercising both their minds and bodies. In the winter months, more than any other time of the year, opportunities to exercise for a child with ADHD become increasingly limited as the cold temperatures set in.
Exercise, however, is extremely important to the mind and body. Research "...in animals and human adults provides compelling evidence that aerobic exercise can enhance neural growth and development, and improve cognitive and behavioral functioning.” Since school is still in session for most of the winter months, it’s critical to keep a child with ADHD firing on all cylinders and exercising regularly.
When all you can see out the window is bare, snowy trees and the cold sends chills through your body, it can be intimidating to start. But not to worry, there are many options to keep children with ADHD busy throughout the winter months without having to be outdoors!
Beat the winter slump with these great ideas!
Indoor playgrounds are always a hit during the winter months when we can’t otherwise run around outside. Thankfully, they seem to be popping up everywhere. Be sure to check out Groupon deals and your local library for cheap passes to these types of places. They make indoor climbing play places, trampoline parks, and sensory-friendly facilities for children who need to work out both their minds and bodies.
Organized indoor sports
Winter soccer, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, or dance, anyone? There are so many choices for indoor sports during the wintertime and these are all great options to work off that excess energy and get minds moving. Some types of indoor winter sports offer six to eight-week sessions for convenience around the holiday season and springtime and most only meet once or twice per week, so it’s not too large of a commitment.
Indoor arcades are great for an afternoon of children just playing with their parents, family fun, or a child and a few of their friends. Indoor arcades are perfect for arcade or interactive games, laser tag, or paintball. Kids can run around, burn off fuel and have some good old fashion fun with these classic activities.
Your local YMCA
An often overlooked resource in the community, the local YMCA has affordable rates for families and provides exercise and activity options for kids. Families can bring their children to their indoor swimming pool, basketball courts, or indoor track. Most facilities offer a babysitting area where children and toddlers can play for up to two hours while parents exercise.
Utilizing the YMCA for a child with ADHD several times per week can be an excellent way to expel their energy. They can do physical activities such as swimming, basketball, walking or running. Kids can play with other children at the “Kids Stop” or sit and play board games supplied by the facility with family members or friends in the lobby. The YMCA also offers organized sports and clubs ranging everything from basketball to martial arts to music or crafting clubs.
Outdoor tubing or skiing
Who says staying active in the colder months means having to stay indoors? For children without other health issues or those who don’t mind bundling up in the cold temperatures, finding an outdoor tubing or skiing park will surely melt off that pent-up energy! The adrenaline combined with physical activity and the cold temps will keep both mind and body stimulated and well-occupied for hours.
Along the same lines as organized sports, martial arts offers both mental and physical stimulation. Children learn discipline and self-defense skills while running, kicking, punching and more. Martial arts is especially recommended for children with ADHD. Some of the benefits of martial arts for a child with ADHD are:
- Focus on individual growth instead of a combined team effort
- Routines that are broken down into “manageable chunks” and therefore easy to remember
- Improved coordination
- Emphasis on self-control and regulation, two major struggles for children with ADHD
- Focus on specific goals versus just winning or losing a game, hitting a home run, or other team-centered goals that aren’t entirely able to be controlled by the child
- Provide a structure and routine that is easy to follow and helps nurture the child’s individual strengths and weaknesses
- Workouts focused on both the physical body and mind as it has been found that complex activities like this “strengthen and expand the brain’s networks”
Arts and crafts
Open-ended activities such as arts and crafts are great ways to engage a child’s mind and have them create something unique. While it might not have a large physical component to it, crafting can be an exercise for the mind, which can be just as exhausting. When setting up for a crafting session, try both leaving the goal of the craft open-ended and up to the child and then another time where there’s a goal to be met, like making a snowman or colorful snowflake. Each way encourages creativity and helps the child build self-confidence, develop fine motor skills, and learn how to follow directions.
Science and experiments
If your child is into science, embrace that while you spend time indoors over the winter months. There are so many simple science experiments that can be done together with your child or that they can complete independently. Visit your local library for some simple science experiment books or look up some on the internet. Activities as simple as making a volcano or experimenting with Mentos and Coca-Cola are sure to capture their attention and get them thinking critically. Keeping the mind busy is one of the best ways to get a child with ADHD to enjoy their day and forget about not being outdoors for once!
Another often uncharted resource for the winter months is that of visiting a local library! Most are up-to-date with computers and iPads that children can use to read. However, most importantly, options for books are endless! Most libraries also have activities scheduled during the week and on weekends for parents and children as well as open-ended play toys such as train tables and kitchenettes. Don’t forget story time, either! Sometimes a change of scenery is just what a child with ADHD needs to get rid of their restlessness and boredom and activities at the library are free, fun, and engaging.
Simple but often overlooked, scheduling play dates or times with friends can be a fun way to keep spirits up even when the weather temperatures are down. Children can visit other friends’ houses (if they are old enough, with permission, etc.) for the change of scenery we’ve talked about or they can have a friend or two over at their home to play. Socialization is a major part of keeping the body and mind happy and engaged!
Exercise and keeping the mind challenged is absolutely essential for a child with ADHD. Without proper stimulation, their minds can become bored and bodies restless, and that makes exercises and activities for kids with ADHD so important. When a child with ADHD is bored or restless, impulsivity kicks in and they are likely to make poor choices with regard to their behavior and other avenues, including homework. Exercise is particularly important during months when outdoor activities are limited due to cold temperatures or extreme weather. A child who has ADHD is always looking for the next way to keep their mind and body moving, so it is important that these types of opportunities are presented to them! Surely, our list of ideas to beat the winter slump will keep your child with ADHD happy, exercised, and thriving!
Ashley Lavoie is a mom of three and manages both child and adult ADHD and Neonatal Diabetes. She is advocating for awareness and loves writing and connecting with other families like hers.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.