Q: How Can I Teach My Son to Entertain Himself (Without Video Games)?

Q: “My son, 9 years old with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), has had trouble since he was a toddler with entertaining himself. He always needs to be playing with me or someone else (of his preference). If he isn’t, he wanders around the house and ‘can’t find anything to do.’ What activities can we teach him that he can do alone that will keep his attention that aren’t electronics? With summer coming up, this becomes a huge issue as I can’t be entertaining him all day everyday.” — BoyMom

Hi BoyMom:

Boy, did this question resonate with me. When my son with ADHD was that age, he had a very difficult time entertaining himself. It definitely was a struggle, but here are a few tips I learned along the way.

1. Set up structured play time. If Eli and I were home together, I would post a “schedule” on our refrigerator of the activities for that day. Similar to what he might find at school. It looked something like this.

9 to 10: Free Play
10 to 11: Outside Time
11 to 12:30: Mom Time

Posting a daily schedule in this manner really helped Eli pause and pace himself. It would allow him to know where he was in the day, how much longer he needed to occupy himself, and how much longer until he could get my attention. It also took the constant questioning “When are you going to play with me?” out of the equation. All he had to do was look at our schedule to know when.

2. Involve him in your activities. I love to cook and now, at 21, so does my son! Why? Because way back then, when he needed entertaining, I involved him in the tasks I was doing. So think time in the kitchen, outside gardening, organizing the garage, and yes, even laundry. All of these activities are more fun to do when there is a partner to join you. And your son will be building life-long skills and habits along the way!

3. Set up activities that are multi-stepped. My son loved putting together puzzles and building LEGOs. And they bought me hours of time. The key was to get them started for him. So if a puzzle was involved, I would leave it on our dining room table with a few pieces fit together. Or if it was LEGOs, I would lay out the pieces and the instructions so all Eli had to do was begin building. I found that getting started was the hardest part, which was a main reason he looked to others for entertainment. If I could remove “all barriers to entry,” it made getting started simple. And Eli was entertained for hours.

4. Sign him up for some outside activities. If it is possible, consider signing him up for some summer programs. Tap into his interests! Does he like to swim? Play a sport? Draw or paint? Perhaps a class at the local Y with children his own age might help him break the habit of needing to be by your side. And as an extra benefit he will learn some social skills along the way!

5. Plan playdates. At 9 years old, your son is the perfect age for organized play dates. Do you have friends who have children your son’s age? Does he have a few friends of his own? Perhaps you can arrange a weekly date with another child so your son has some company and you have some quiet!

6. Let him be bored. There is nothing wrong with a little boredom. It encourages creative and imaginative thinking, develops problem-solving skills, and boosts self-confidence.

Enjoy your summer!