Trouble starting something? Get MOTIVATED!

Teenager sleep with a Books Have you ever asked your ADHD son to start his homework over and over and still he doesn’t sit down to do it? Even if he is failing the class and it means he won’t be able to play on the basketball team? Even if it means that he won’t be able to go out on Friday night? It’s hard not to become immensely frustrated with him and his behavior at this point. Most likely, he can’t start his homework because he lacks motivation-either internal or external–which would get him going. How can parents assist their children in developing motivation?

Let’s first reflect on ourselves and what helps us do things. It’s easy to do something you like, whether it’s reading an engrossing novel or playing tennis on a sunny day. It is MUCH harder to do something thatOverflowing laundry basket you don’t like such as folding laundry or taking out the trash. When a task is fundamentally unrewarding or uninteresting, we are not very compelled to do it. We lack internal motivation. When a task doesn’t have meaningful deadlines or immediate consequences to get us started (i.e. your boss expects the report tomorrow), it lacks external motivation. In both cases, we have to find something to get us going and our adult brains rely on fully matured frontal lobes to do so.  

ADHD children and teens have not yet developed the executive functioning skills to overcome poor focus, disinterest or boredom to get unpleasant tasks done. They often do not possess the strategies or solutions to address either internal or external motivation deficits. If something seems unappealing, they turn away from it–even if the consequences are serious. Most kids have to rely on external rewards to rouse themselves; internal motivation, and the satisfaction a person receives when a dreaded task is completed, comes later– in early adulthood. So children and teens need help from adults in their lives to create external rewards that are both meaningful and encouraging.

Here are some tips on how you can create effective external rewards that will MOTIVATE your son or daughter:

1. Talk about the concept of external motivation. Most ADHD childrenMother with son doing homework and teens will acknowledge when they struggle with focusing and what tasks lack inherent interest or value for them. Ask what has assisted them in doing such things in the past and what would entice them to do them now.

2. Decide in advance with your child what the rewards will be for finishing something that is difficult to do. For example, if your son finishes his history project on time, maybe he can go out for pizza with his friends. Or, if he works for 30 minutes, he can earn 10 minutes of social media or music time. Do not remove the agreed upon reward if he engages in a separate behavior that you don’t like. If he earned the reward for doing the agreed-upon activity, then he should have it.

3. Remember, (as I have written about in previous blogs) Most ADHD kids and teens have a great deal of difficulty starting something unpleasant because the task seems too large. Break it down into smaller components with timed rest periods during which your son or daughter can engage in a desired activity. Let’s say, for example, your 10 year old daughter’s room is a mess and you want her to pick it up. Think realistically together with her about how long she can actually work before she gets distracted, let’s say 15 minutes. Then, set up 3 15 minute work periods with 5 minute movement, snack or bathroom breaks. Remember that she may need help figuring out where to begin or she may want you to stay in her room and guide her through the process. Your support can be a key to her success. Sprinter getting ready to start the race

Good luck with your efforts and let’s get started!!




Stop reacting and start responding!

It’s been a long day and you finally make it home from work with a car full of groceries which have to be unpacked and then, somehow, magically transformed into a tasty and nutritious meal. You trudge into the house, bags in each hand, and your ADHD son rushes towards you, waving a pink piece of paper in your face. “You need to sign this so I can go on the field trip on Friday. It’s really important, my teacher said so. Can you sign it now?” You are amazed that he not only can’t see that you have no hands to sign anything but that he also doesn’t offer to take one of the grocery bags and help you. You can feel yourself about to lose it. What should you do? You can react and and shout at him, “What are you doing? Can’t you see that my hands are full?” Boy confronts his motherIn all likelihood, you will get a bigger reaction in return. OR, you can respond by saying, “Hey, I can see this is important but my arms are full. Why don’t you give me a hand and then we can take care of it right away?” By doing this second option, you will probably avoid a blow-out and maybe even get some cooperation along the way.

The big difference between reacting and responding is how you manage yourself. Did you ever have one of those moments when you say something in frustration and wish that you could suck it back inside to make it go away? We all do! Most likely, those words are part of a knee-jerk reaction–a time when your emotional brain has hijacked your thinking brain. As adults, our developed pre-frontal cortex (located behind your forehead)–the seat of the thinking brain, can re-establish control and figure out how to put those emotions back into their place. Our ADHD children and teens, whose pre-frontal cortex is still maturing (until at least age 25), need extra assistance with managing emotions. Our self-management behaviors and our ability to talk about their choices and actions can show them how to do this.

Responding requires you to acknowledge what your child is expressing,A man is accused of something
either verbally or non-verbally, in a non-judgmental way. It’s not dismissive and it doesn’t exacerbate tension or stress. It relies on patience, clear communication and paying attention to what is going on around you. This is why responding can be so challenging for people with ADHD. When someone responds, they validate whatever is going on and then create time for a solution. This can be especially tough in ADHD families when things happen very quickly–often escalating within seconds. You have to slow things down that are moving too fast–either for yourself or for your child or teen.

Here’s how you can do MORE responding and LESS reacting:

1. When people react, they act first, think second and breathe last (if at all). When we respond, we breathe first, think second, and act last. Switching the order of our actions and thoughts in this way offers the opportunity for things to be done differently. Do this yourself first a few times to see how it feels. The, you can start to talk your ADHD son or daughter through the steps in moments when they could use the help.

2. Responding does not involve blaming or name-calling. Use “I” statements and teach your kids to do this too. For example, “I get scared when you don’t come home at the time we agreed because I don’t know where you are” or “I don’t like when you call me ‘stupid.’ We don’t talk to each other like that in this family.” These words reflect your sentiments about yourself and offer an opening for your child to reply more thoughtfully than defensively. Daughter Greets Mother On Return From Work

3. Try to practice active listening. “I heard you say that this permission slip is important to you. It’s important to me too and I will sign it once I have fully arrived home.” This recognition is reassuring to your child and teen and lowers his or her anxiety that their needs will be met. ADHD kids often worry that they won’t remember things and don’t expect others to either. This anxiety often fuels their insistence that things have to be done now and their frustration when they have to wait. Restating what you perceive as their concerns and offering a plan for dealing them helps them calm down.

I invite you to try this approach and see what happens. Reducing the frequency of reactivity in any ADHD family will create more calm in the midst of our busy, demanding lives and relationships.