5 Tips for Playground Success

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

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.

  1. Set the rules in advance. Choose up to 3 rules that you would like your child to follow while he or she is 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, 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.
  2. 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 he or she brings toys or sports equipment 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.
  3. 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 and feeling ignored, he or she will probably try to get your attention by doing something that is either risky or annoying. If he or she is 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 he or she is playing with other kids, monitor from a distance. If he or she is playing alone then join in and play with your child!
  4. Praise your child for following the rules. Help your child stay on track by giving him or her attention when he or she is doing something right, rather than only calling out to him or her when he or she is doing something wrong. Giving positive attention, either with a subtle thumbs-up from a distance or a few words of praise when he or she pauses for a water break, can help your child stay motivated to follow the rules.
  5. Give one warning when a rule is broken. If your child breaks one of the rules, give him or her one warning. If he or she continues to break the rules after the warning, then time at the playground should be finished for the day. As calmly as possible, let your child 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 he or she breaks a rule after a warning. When you are consistent, and your child knows that you mean what you say, soon he or she will start responding to your warnings and eventually you won’t need to leave the playground early at all!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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