Navigating the Playground with ADHD by Ben Isaacson (The ADHD Advocate)

Ben not only has personal experience of ADHD having ADHD himself but he is a certified ADHD Coach having trained at the ADD Coaching Academy. He also has UK accredited teacher training which gives him valuable insight into the ADHD experience at school having taught across all class groups from Reception to 6th Form. Importantly, Ben knows first-hand the transformational power of ADHD Coaching having experienced it himself, and what’s more… he loves coaching children with ADHD.

It’s 1 pm. The bell rings. It’s time for lunch. I’m not hungry. The medication reduces my appetite. I don’t like school meals anyway, so I decide to see what’s going on in the playground.

I take a sip from the water fountain, then join some classmates playing football. They say I can only play if I go in goal. I don’t like playing in goal, so I leave the pitch and walk further along the playground. A group of girls are playing hand tennis. I ask if I can join in. One of the players tells me that it’s too late because they’ve just started a new round. I feel a sense of rejection. The people I thought were my friends don’t care about me. My negative emotions start to swell as I walk back in the direction I came. I give up on the playground and go inside the school building. I make my way upstairs towards the library. Maybe some friends are hanging out there? I see Natasha, Alex, and Nathan sitting around a table together doing some work. It looks boring. I ask them what they’re up to. They tell me to go away. I walk down the corridor and see two pupils playing cards in an empty classroom. I’m not so friendly with them, so I continue along the corridor. I decide to make my way to the music room to see what’s going on. A kid runs into me. He’s being chased by another pupil. They look like they’re having fun. I wish I had a friend to chase me around the school. I try to open the door to the music room, but it’s locked. Mrs. Jackson tells me that there’s choir practice and to come back tomorrow. The boredom in my head intensifies. I don’t know where to go next. I look at my watch and see there are 15 minutes left of lunch. I walk downstairs, back to the lunch hall. I hear shouting. Three Y11s are having a food fight. I keep my distance and watch and laugh with some of the other pupils in the crowd. After a few minutes, it gets out of hand. A senior member of staff ushers everyone out of the lunch hall. There are five minutes left of break. I collect my bag from the bag rack and walk slowly towards my form room. My thoughts are going round in my head. I tell myself I don’t have any friends. It’s a painful realisation. There’s obviously something wrong with me. It’s probably my fault. There’s a reason why no one wants to hang out with me. I’m a weirdo.

Should I tell my parents? No! It’s too embarrassing. They wouldn’t understand anyway. Hopefully, things will get better tomorrow (Ben Isaacson, Age 12)

The playground can be a brutal place for any child. ADHD does not just affect students in the classroom, nor does it mean that they’re always getting into fights. For many children with ADHD, the biggest struggle is the negative perception they get from their peers. This negativity arises from the child’s day-to-day experiences of rejection. In my own case, this was felt most intensely among the rejection from my friends. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve bullying but can arise from being teased or told you’re not good at a particular sport. Each moment of rejection feels so acute to the ADHD mind that it often becomes a self-defining experience. These supposedly minor incidents do not simply evaporate; they are internalised in the child’s mind. These are the building blocks of the child’s internal story; and naturally, with ADHD, the negative building blocks carry more weight than the positive ones.     

If your child has ADHD, it is likely they will be focusing on many negative thoughts throughout the day. It is the small moments in the playground and the classroom that can make all the difference. Whether it is making a joke that classmates don’t find funny, or if it involves being casually excluded from a game in the playground. The negativity remains with the child throughout the school day and will likely find a release in the evening.

If your child is stressed or angry at the end of the school day, it could be the result of loneliness, rejection, boredom, or bullying. If your child suffers in silence, these feelings will likely develop into harmful negative perceptions over time. It is so important for children with ADHD to have a support system to get them through the challenges of childhood. For parents in search of ideas, I have added a few thoughts of my own below.

If your child has siblings, perhaps encourage an older brother or sister to take them out for a walk at the end of the school day. I still have memories of my older sister, Suzanne, taking me for a walk to calm me down in the evenings. It was a useful way for me to release all that stored up tension from the school day.   

My second suggestion would be to get your child a pet. I understand that this is a huge ask! However, some parents are quick to dismiss this as ‘out of the question’, before even considering the costs and benefits. Think about the long-term therapeutic effects that a pet can have on your child’s mental health. Research shows that having an energetic playmate can be a great source of emotional comfort for children with ADHD. For some children, this will be incalculable. The unconditional love of a dog will always hold the affection of a child’s heart. Over the years, a loving companion can do so much to soften the pain of an ADHDer’s internal world of negativity.  

Third, this might seem small, but try giving your child something to look forward to during the day. Whether it is an after-school activity, their favourite meal, or an exciting gadget. Something significant that will be enough to break through the dark clouds amidst those turbulent moments of rejection. Do not underestimate the effect that hope can bring during times of adversity.

One of my favourite exercises is to compile a list of unconditional truths about your child’s life. These can include strengths, interests, values, virtues, and achievements from the past. Specific truths that your unique child contributes to the world in their own special way. However, this exercise alone isn’t enough. If your child has ADHD, they will require a trigger to act as a regular reminder throughout the day. A good trigger item is a personalised bracelet or an amulet that your child can clutch from time to time to remind them of who they really are at their core. 

If you suspect your child is having a hard time, a mentor or coach who understands your child’s ADHD can make a huge difference to their life. Many children (including myself) did not have the opportunity of talking to someone who could relate to my day-to-day challenges. In hindsight, had I known there was someone there to champion me week in week out, the benefits to my confidence and self-esteem would have changed the person I am today. 

If you are looking for support for your child with ADHD, please get in touch with us to find out about our brand new ADHD Coaching Programme for Kids that we are launching in July 2021.

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