Creating Incentives that Work:
How to do you get your child or teen to do things around the house? Do you
ask your daughter nicely to set the table at first but then resort to yelling when she won’t get off her phone? Do you calmly warn your son that it is time to turn off the television but then shut it off angrily when he ignores you? Is there more stress than cooperation in your family than your would ideally like?
Many parents struggle with the challenge of motivating their children and teens to do what they are supposed to do when they need to it—whether or not the kids have ADHD. In our world today, the technological gadgets and social media networking sites are far more seductive and rewarding than ever before. For kids with ADHD, such activities are more than distractions: they are completely absorbing. To set successful limits on these activities and help your son or daughter focus on what needs to be done now (like chores, homework, job, etc), you have to use an effective incentive program to reward desired behaviors.
Now, you may ask: “What is the difference between a rewards and a bribe?” Good question!! A bribe is something appealing that you give to someone before she performs the desired task. For instance, we see bribes in crime shows on television all of the time: “Hey, here’s a hundred bucks if you take this package across the street.” Frequently, the package doesn’t arrive and the runner takes off with the cash. An incentive is something appealing that you give to someone after they have completed the desired action. On a crime show, this would look like: “Here’s a package that goes across the street. When you have delivered it successfully, come back and I’ll give you a hundred bucks.” The runner delivers the package, returns and gets paid his wage.
Now obviously, I am not suggesting that we should make our families into crime shows. These are just examples to clarify that incentives reward desired behaviors. Research on children and teens with ADHD has shown that reward incentives that are desirable for the kids and immediately given out support improved behavior on a number of executive functioning tasks. This means that when the incentives are attractive, they can help improve skills such as planning, organizing, persistence and self-control.
Here are some guidelines for setting up incentives that work for your ADHD kids and will work for you too!
- Take a few moments and think about what your child LOVES to do: the options can range from go out for ice cream, to playing Minecraft, to using Facebook or Instagram, to watching television, to sleepovers, to using your car. Make a list of all of these things BEFORE your start a conversation with him. Remember that these are privileges, not entitlements.
- In a calm moment, ask your daughter what are her favorite ways of spending time. Write these down and then go over your ideas with her.
- Together, pick one area of his life that could use improvement: getting started with homework, cleaning up after dinner, hanging up the wet towel from his shower instead of leaving it on his bedroom floor, getting to school on time, etc.
- Now, pick one item from the favorite activities list and link it directly to the activity you have chosen. For example, if the desired goal is getting ready for school on time and the favorite activity
- This is a process of negotiation but you must hold firm about the goal and figure out collaboratively what the appropriate incentive is to obtain it. If things get tense, take a mutual break but come back to it before the day is over.
You CAN create a win-win situation with this process. You obtain the behavior that you want without losing your cool and your child or teen gets something s/he wants too.