This time of year parents are eager to have their kids spend time outside of the house burning off energy that has built up after a long winter spent indoors. While getting outside and being physically active are exactly what most kids with ADHD need, all too often trips to the playground take a negative turn when hyperactivity, impulsivity and social difficulties get in the way. Keep trips to the playground fun with these 5 tips for playground success.
- Set the rules in advance. Choose up to 3 rules that you would like your child to follow while they are at the playground. These can be things related to staying in the playground area, following your instructions the first time you ask, being respectful of other kids and the equipment, politely inviting another child to play with them, taking turns or sharing equipment, and playing safely. Make sure your child clearly understands each of the rules ahead of time and can repeat them back to you.
- Be strategic. Think back to playground visits that did not go well. What were the problems that came up? Is your child more likely to have problems at one playground than another? Do conflicts happen more often when they bring toys or sports equipment with them from home? Set your child up for success by thinking ahead and being strategic about your playground visits. For example, avoid playgrounds where problems often occur, pack snacks to avoid hunger meltdowns, don’t bring any toys or sports equipment from home, invite a friend for your child to play with, etc.
- Monitor or play with your child. Often parents use time at the playground to relax and chat with other parents or spend time on their phones. While this seems like a win-win – you get some downtime while your child gets to play, it is usually not a recipe for success. If a child is playing alone are feeling ignored, they’re probably going to try to get your attention by doing something that is either risky or annoying. If they are playing with others, it’s harder to catch problems before they escalate if you aren’t watching. So, keep an eye on your child the entire time. If they are playing with other kids, monitor from a distance. If they are playing alone then join in and play with them!
- Praise your child for following the rules. Help your child stay on track by giving them attention when they are doing something right, rather than only calling out to them when they are doing something wrong. Giving positive attention, either with a subtle thumbs-up from a distance or a few words of praise when they pause for a water break, can help your child stay motivated to follow the rules.
- Give one warning when a rule is broken. If your child breaks one of the rules, give them one warning. If they continue to break the rules after the warning, then their time at the playground should be finished for the day. As calmly as possible, let them know that it’s time to leave. Be consistent and avoid negotiating with your child. The rules will only be effective if your child knows that you will consistently leave the playground when they break a rule after a warning. When you are consistent, and your child knows that you mean what you say, soon they’ll start responding to your warnings and eventually you won’t need to leave the playground early at all!