Shopping for a child with ADHD can feel pretty overwhelming. After all, this is someone you love dearly, and you want to make sure that whatever you give them is something they will enjoy.
So what are the best toys for kids with ADHD? Well, there is no one size fits all answer to any gift-giving situation, but we’re here to help provide you some guidance on how to choose a present, as well as a list of our top toy recommendations.
In this article:
To buy a gift for a kiddo with ADHD that will be truly appreciated, you first need to have some understanding of their unique needs and how these affect their playstyle.
What is ADHD
For moms and dads who have lived side by side with ADHD, it certainly needs no introduction. However, if you are shopping for a relative or friend’s child, or are new to the ADHD parenting club, we want to clear up some general misconceptions about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
First of all, ADHD is not a catch-all phrase to describe an unruly child, and it cannot be fixed by merely imposing stricter rules or harsher punishments. Sure, there are parenting strategies that can teach children personal responsibility and accountability, but they won’t erase the underlying issues.
Diagnosed by a doctor, psychiatrist, and/or psychologist, experts widely consider ADHD to be a neurological issue. Symptoms can vary in severity and number and include:
- Short attention span
- Inability to maintain focus, even during play
- Constant fidgeting
- Excessive talking and/or interrupting others
- Problems organizing
- Difficulty listening
Toy age recommendations and ADHD
Studies have shown that a child affected by ADHD has a brain that is physically maturing slower than that of their peers. This lag in development leads to difficulties with focus and staying on task, which can, in turn, make following age recommendations on toys a bit more complicated. While a ‘neurotypical’ 10-year-old might enjoy a game with intricate rules or a drawn-out craft project, a child of the same age with ADHD may find these tedious and uninteresting.
Types of toys to look for
- Games with clear and easy to-follow-rules that have short turnover times are likely to be a big hit among kids in the ADHD community. They allow a child to play and interact with their family or peers without becoming frustrated by excessive rules or drawn-out rounds.
- Crafty presents that allow for open-ended projects and have materials that are straightforward to work with will engage your kiddo. These gifts will enable a child to complete a project AND have something to show for their work, reinforcing the positives that come from finishing a task- a true win-win.
- Role-playing games or accessories that stretch the imagination and allow kids to act out fantasies in a safe way. With a mostly open-ended type of play and fewer rules, these types of activities encourage both communication and group play without causing your little one to stress over following a set of specific instructions.
- Anything that encourages children to get active and move around in their world. Since kiddos with ADHD thrive when they can burn off energy, gifts that provide an outlet for fidgeting, or even a simple soccer ball to kick around the yard, can be big hits.
- Gifts that encourage artistic expression can provide hours of entertainment for a child with ADHD, while also teaching self-expression and boosting their confidence.
Toys to avoid
- Games with long rules and/or gameplay (e.g. Monopoly)
- Overly flashy gadgets
- Complicated crafting projects
- Building toys with no free-play options
Quality over quantity
While it can be tempting to buy loads of presents for birthdays and holidays, this can prove overwhelming to a little one with an ADHD diagnosis. Too much stimulation can split their attention to the point where they really can’t enjoy any of their new toys. It is best to pick one or two gifts that they’ll genuinely appreciate.
The video game-debate
If you have ever watched a kiddo with ADHD playing video games, you’ll be forgiven for momentarily doubting their diagnosis. Instead of appearing unable to focus or sit still, a child diagnosed with ADHD can appear hyperfocused, unmoving, and wholly engaged with a video game. Well, there you have, you might be thinking, the perfect gift is clearly another video game! Hold your virtual horses.
There is evidence that suggests that one of the reasons children with ADHD are so drawn to video games is because these activities are super easy to focus on and can even provide a dopamine rush that mimics that of medications used to treat ADHD. Video games can, in turn, become a crutch and function as an unhealthy retreat from the real world.
While we’re not saying never let your kiddo play a video game, we are saying that excessive gaming is probably not the best thing for any type of young mind. Bringing toys that are grounded in the physical world and allow for creative expression and group play into the household can be genuinely beneficial.
Our picks of the best ADHD toys
Material: Latex-free plastic
Best For: Creative kids who function best when their hands aren’t idle
With no beginning and no end, this little contraption, Tangle Original Fidget Toy (check price on Amazon) is great for kids who need help concentrating or relieving stress. It can be manipulated into countless shapes, taken apart and reassembled, and comes in both a smooth and textured model. Your kiddo can get out tension while quietly creating miniature works of abstract art.
What we love
- Brightly colored
- Easy to twist
- Relieves anxiety while improving focus
- When taken apart, pieces are small
Best For Creative Fun
Age: 4 – 10 years
Best For: Children who thrive on expressing themselves through art
The Melissa & Doug’s Wooden Art Easel Set (check price on Amazon) includes, among other things, a foldable easel, dry erase board, chalkboard, and even a child-safe paper cutter. Setting this art set up is simple, and your little one will be happily expressing herself in no time.
What we love
- Multiple ways to play
- Adjustable height makes drawing comfortable.
- Takes time to assemble
Best Budget Buy
Materials: Thermoplastic rubber.
Best For: Kids in need of tactile stimulation.
Free from BPAs, latex, and phthalates, the Spiky Sensory Ring (check price on Amazon) is an affordable toy for kiddos who need something to do with their hands. It is flexible enough to manipulate and is virtually silent. Many parents noted in reviews that this toy calmed their little ones, allowing them to listen and focus better.
What we love
- Easy to squeeze
- Quiet enough to use in public settings
- Can be worn as a bracelet
- Spines can be bitten off by avid chewers
Best Concentration Toy For Toddlers
Best For: Kids who prefer open-ended games and are mathematically or creatively motivated
Simple and colorful, the Gleeporte Stacking Peg Board Set Toy (check price on Amazon) is perfect for free-building. The pegs are large enough where they are relatively easy to keep track of by a child, and, with no set start or finish, she will be able to walk away at any point without feeling like she abandoned the game.
What we love
- Brightly colored, easy to hold pegs
- Designing their own patterns
- Learning colors and numbers through creativity
- Spines can be bitten off by avid chewers
Best Calming Fidget Toy
Material: Nylon mesh
Best for: Kids who need to fidget and are prone to losing smaller toys
The Born2Calm Fidget Toys Set (check price on Amazon) includes ten of the same simple gadget in varying colors and provides a great alternative to tapping a pencil or clicking a pen while trying to work on homework or focus on class. Small enough to fit in one hand, your kiddo will be able to squeeze the mesh tube and manipulate the metal ball inside.
What we love
- The cinching carrying pouch and two carabiner clips make these toys harder to lose
- Can be used discreetly in public settings
- Included book that tells the story behind their toy
- Only two toys compatible with clips
Best For Story Time
Best For: Kids who enjoy creating stories.
The Gamewright Rory’s Story Cubes (check price on Amazon) is a simple game that involves rolling nine dice and crafting a story to go along the images. With open-ended rules and countless combos, your kiddo can take “once upon a time” into her own hands. The game can be as long or short as they want and is great for group play.
Best Concentration Toy
Best For: Kids who are happy to focus on creative projects
Kids can connect these colorful little discs into virtually any shape imaginable. This set of 500 ‘flakes’ (check price on eBay) includes blueprints for fun projects, but going off-book is equally encouraged. Your little one’s concentration muscles will be stretched in a fun way, and they’ll have a unique piece of art to show off at the end of playtime.
What we love
- Endless configurations
- Enough pieces for peaceful group play
- Discs are only 1.3″ in diameter
Best Sensory Sand
Materials: Sand and non-toxic, synthetic polymer
Best For: Children who love creating but also thrive with tactile stimulation
Made with non-toxic ingredients, this Kinetic Sand (check price on Walmart) will hold its shape when pressed together, allowing your child to mold it into any shape. Can be molded but also can ‘ooze’ through fingers when held lightly. It will never dry up, is ready to use right out of the jar, and is way easier to clean up than real beach sand!
Best Interactive Game
Best For: Kids who need to work on listening and communication skills in a fun, low-pressure way.
With 44 cards, this Sentence Completion Therapy Game features (check price on Amazon) an open-ended sentence and image, your kiddo will learn how to express themselves as they complete their card, and how to listen as you complete yours. The Perfect for fostering communication, this game’s length is easy to tailor to your child’s abilities.
Best For Relieving Anxiety
Material: ABS plastic
Best for: Kiddos thrive when their hands aren’t idol and can be a little rough with their toys
An excellent way for a child to funnel her stress, your kiddo can put the Infinity Cube Fidget Toy (check price on Walmart) through the wringer, and it will remain virtually pristine in all its BPA-free glory. Durable metal rivets hold all the cubes together for optimum fidgety fun, and it is small enough to be discreetly tucked away into a pocket. It has sleek design and numerous ways to rearrange the squares.
And the winner is…
We certainly hope that our top toy picks have given you some great gift ideas. While all these toys have their strengths, our favorite is Tangle the Original Fidget Toy (check price on Amazon). This gadget can relieve anxiety by providing an outlet for the need to fidget while also encouraging loads of creativity. Made from safe materials and available in both a smooth and textured model, it is a fabulously simple way for a kiddo to play, won’t make a mess, and is quiet enough to use in public settings.
Remember: an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t define a child; it is merely one facet of a fantastic individual. Happy shopping!