by Jacquelyn Nause
Screens and technology become more integrated into our children's worlds while anxiety and depression rates skyrocket among teens and adults. By encouraging children to get involved in extracurricular activities, parents can help build skills that keep anxiety at bay throughout the life cycle. Keep reading for six popular activities for children with anxiety and attention disorders.
How Exercise Counters Anxiety
Research shows the importance of physical movement and social support in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression in both children and adults. Participating in extracurriculars can increase self-esteem, teach social skills and improve physical health. This helps to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as helping to prevent anxiety and depression later in life.
Exercise, in general, helps to raise the levels of dopamine and endorphins. Endorphins act as natural painkillers and can improve sleep and mood and increase self-esteem. This works directly against the fight-or-flight response we experience with stress and anxiety.
It is important, though, to exercise caution in signing up your child for too many activities. Over scheduling can actually have the opposite effect, increasing anxiety and detracting from social skills and overall wellness. Each child’s capacity is different, so stay in tune with your child to ensure structured activities and self-led play time is balanced.
The following six extracurricular activities have great benefits for kids who have anxiety or attention disorders.
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1. Art Classes
Creative outlets like art classes are great for children who struggle to name their feelings and emotions. Crafts require focus and cognitive skills but are also self-led endeavors that can be used as a form of communication. Children often have to rely on limited language capabilities to communicate complex thoughts and feelings, and they can use art as a means of expression.
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Unlike some other activities, music stimulates both sides of the brain at the same time. Some research suggests that music can decrease impulsive behavior in children diagnosed with attention disorders. Children who participate in band or choir are also learning to function as part of a whole, which fosters cooperation and a sense of teamwork.
3. Team Sports
Highly physical activities are great for kids who have attention issues or hyperactivity. Team sports focus on cooperation and structure, as well as taking turns and other important social skills. Also, the coach matters, especially for kids with anxiety. Sports should be a place where your child can build relationships and work on self-esteem, not become more stressed.
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4. Nature Groups
Being outdoors is especially beneficial for mental health, improving our overall well-being as well as our social connectedness. Activities like hiking use large muscle groups for constant movement, keeping kids focused as well as burning excess energy.
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Why not make a splash and sign up your child for swim team? Kids get valuable one-on-one time with a coach while still getting the benefits of a team sport. Children can focus on personal development without directly comparing themselves to others on the team. Swimming also takes a lot of concentration and energy, which is especially helpful for kids with attention disorders.
6. Boy or Girl Scouts
Scouting includes a lot of physical activity, structured activities, social time and some competition. Scouting also has a system of rewards, which is effective in getting kids to work toward a goal. Activities like pinewood derby, arts and crafts and of course earning badges for learned skills keep children on task and working toward a personal achievement. This helps improve self-esteem and confidence.
The key to sneaking in more physical activity and structured play without a fuss is to let your child be the guide. Find an activity or activities they enjoy and focus on fun and enjoyment rather than performance. Watch for signs of burnout or increased anxiety. Be sure to keep their unstructured play time balanced with their obligations.
Jacquelyn Nause is a contributing writer with specialties in plant-based diets, parenting, and wellness. She enjoys traveling with her husband, being a doting mother to her two incredible kids and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest playground.