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