Motivating Children with ADHD

UWindsor Blog Post by: Brie Brooker, M.A.

ADHD ChildIt is often said that being a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences of adult life. But for the parents of children with ADHD, the joys of parenting often come with daily struggles to manage a child’s behaviour and to keep him or her on-task. These challenges can leave parents feeling drained, frustrated, and isolated, often wondering if there is hope that their child’s behaviour is within their control. At the same time, children with ADHD may also feel frustrated, often desiring to comply with their parents’ requests but struggling to resist competing impulses and focus on the task at hand.

So what are parents of children with ADHD to do? Overreliance on punishing undesirable behaviour can be frustrating for a child, but when it comes to reinforcing good behaviour (whether through praise or a more tangible reward), research suggests that children with ADHD process this reinforcement differently than other kids do. By basing parenting strategies on these differences, parents may increase their (and their kids’) success.

Here’s what research tells us about how kids with ADHD are motivated.

  • Reward JarKids with ADHD may need more rewards in order to achieve the same level of performance as their peers. This suggests that parents of kids with ADHD may achieve better success by celebrating even the small victories, such as completing part of a chore or homework assignment.
  • Immediate rewards have a greater impact. Research also suggests that kids with ADHD are more motivated by immediate rewards rather than the promise of a reward later. However, parents may wish to teach their children with ADHD the value of working toward a more distant goal. One strategy which has been successful for kids with ADHD is the use of “tokens”: children earn small rewards (stickers, marbles in a jar) which may be collected and exchanged for a reward after a point (for example, after the child earns 10 stickers).

These are, of course, general findings based on large groups of children with ADHD, and every kid with ADHD has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it’s been suggested that individual factors such as ADHD medication can also impact reward processing, making kids with ADHD respond to rewards more similarly to non-ADHD kids. However, these findings may serve as a starting point for increasing success opportunities and making the parent-child relationship more rewarding for both of you.

Brie Brooker, M.A. (Doctoral student in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Windsor)

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