Martial Arts for Students with ADHD

In ADHD, National by SDSS

If your child has ADHD, you know how challenging it is for them to succeed in school, in sports, and in many of the activities that come naturally to many of their peers.  At the same time, you know how they need action and a place to channel their energy more than most kids. The good news is, Martial Arts is often the perfect fit for their learning style, providing the individual attention they need and providing a place to channel their extra energy positively.  

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you probably see any or all of the following challenges:

  1. Following directions.  This has become an issue for all children in today’s media-saturated society, especially since most kids live 24/7 with mobile devices.  For children with ADHD, the problem is far worse. They often miss multi-step directions, and even if they catch them, they lose focus and attention while trying to carry them out.  
  2. Impulsivity.  Your child may sometimes act without thinking.  That, combined with exceptionally high energy, creates challenges in the classroom, in the home, and everywhere in life.
  3. Inattention.  This one seems obvious, but in moments when you’re trying to teach a child with ADHD, or help them learn to do things around the house or even show them basic safety, it becomes apparent just how inattentive this disorder makes them.  
  4. Low frustration tolerance.  Life is tough for a student with ADHD, and it becomes worse because they get lots of “you failed” messages in life.  Children are not naturally patient, but there is an even lower threshold for kids with ADHD. This makes for an angst-ridden childhood experience.

The problem is, of course, that ADHD makes it even more challenging for the child to cope with these issues.  It is just as challenging for the adults who care for them, whether it be parents, teachers, or relatives. Children with ADHD experience a higher degree of conflict in the home and at school.  That leads to a growing cycle of frustration, depression, diminished self-esteem, and a lack of peace at home and in school. ADHD is brutal for everyone involved.

We’re still learning about ADHD

Doctors and Psychologists are still learning about this disorder, even today, and we are a long way from a “cure.”  Nevertheless, there are many ways in which the martial arts can and will help your child become more successful.  

  1. Social development: Students learn values such as Self Discipline, Self Control, Respect, Honesty, and Patience in the martial arts.  It is woven into any substantial martial arts experience and is the foundation of Grandmaster DeMasco’s Life Skills program.  Kids learn that they can control their actions and behavior. It doesn’t happen overnight, but as they study the martial arts, they learn personal accountability and responsibility.
  2. Emotional development: Bit by bit, martial arts students discover strategies to control themselves, and not let their ADHD control them. They learn, through actual accomplishment, that they are capable people who can do great things.   When a child earns a new belt rank or wins an award at a competition, they re-discover how good a “win” feels. Particularly for kids with ADHD who may not have scored a “win” in a while, these genuine, real-world accomplishments help them discover that they can and will be successful in life if they work hard enough at it.  
  3. Physical development: Probably the most significant benefit to children with ADHD, the martial arts provides a highly focused outlet that is more than enough to handle their nearly limitless energy.  More importantly, success in the martial arts requires focusing that energy in positive ways. SDSS students learn to use their whole body in every block and strike. They learn when to turn it “on” and “off.”  For a child whose internal “engine” is perpetually in high gear, this can be a game changer.

Martial arts vs. team sports

Martial arts has a distinct advantage over team sports for kids with ADHD.  In the dojo, each student is on his or her journey toward black belt. The training is highly physical, and exhausting in the most positive sense of the word.  Kung Fu training involves both individualized feedback and high-repetition, both of which are essential for someone trying to learn despite this disorder.  

In a team sports setting, the fast pace of play requires a focus on multiple stimuli.  Players have to focus on position, on the ball, on the goal, on the rest of their team, and on the movements of the opposition.  For a child with ADHD, this is a Herculean task, leading to frustration or embarrassment. These high-energy kids often bring tremendous speed and energy to the game but are prone to high-profile errors during play because they can’t track the ball or know what to do next.  

On the field or the court, kids with ADHD sometimes become “ball hogs,” hanging onto the ball too long and trying to do everything by themselves.  It appears as selfishness, but it’s not. For a child with ADHD, they often don’t pass the ball because they don’t know where to send it. They, quite literally, cannot see the big picture.  In games like baseball or softball, they’re often the child who is fast enough to steal a base but is thrown out on a baserunning error because they couldn’t track the flow of the game. For children who already have a tough time handling frustration, this can make team sports a negative experience.  

Not so in the Martial Arts, where every child learns a small, discrete set of skills at one time, and practices those skills until they achieve mastery.  They learn to focus and control their entire body. They learn to react to input successfully. They learn to spar in a safe environment and discover how to focus their body and mind entirely in the moment.  This is a life-changing experience for a child with ADHD. As they experience success in the dojo, they translate these lessons to other areas of life.

Small group and individual attention

This is probably the best reason to enroll a child with ADHD in the martial arts as soon as you can.  At SDSS, students receive a combination of small group, semi-private instruction, and group classes designed for their particular developmental level.  This is the absolute best learning environment for students in general, but especially for a child with ADHD. Your teacher makes a personal connection with your child every single class.  It is “preferential seating” of the highest order because each student receives positive and constructive feedback at consistent, short intervals. The class is fast-paced, highly physical, singularly focused, and changes at regular intervals.  Each group class is designed to meet the developmental needs of that particular age level. This eliminates much of the frustration and makes learning fun.

Learning can be fun again

What a relief it will be when your child discovers that learning can be FUN once again.  When school is tough, when there is drama at home, when there is conflict with peers, there always seems to be negative energy in the air.  You’ll watch your child laugh, smile, and feel good about himself or herself as she or he pours all that energy into something positive. They will engage in learning games, run high-energy drills, and push themselves to new limits.  One day, take a picture of your child walking out of class and save it. When life brings its challenges, you’ll discover that the dojo has become a place where your child can focus his or her energy and find the natural joy that comes with being a kid.  

Not a cure, but a life changer

There are no snap “cures” for ADHD, but the Martial Arts can change your child’s life for the better.  Dramatically. Any parent of a child with ADHD will tell you that living with this disorder is a draining combination of love mixed with discipline, patience seasoned with accountability, and an absolute determination that your child will grow into a successful, happy adult.  The martial arts can help you both rediscover and celebrate your child’s many gifts. Your child will become himself or herself once again, as you enjoy taking the journey together.