By Kris Downing, LCSW-S, SEP
How do we effectively motivate kids to do what we feel are essential for their healthy growth and development, make life easier, and preserve our sanity? Here are four short articles that provide excellent information and ideas about using rewards to increase your child’s motivation to complete tasks like chores, homework, and other goals you want to encourage. These articles give ideas for rewards and essential information about why they are effective for all kids and necessary for kids with ADHD.
Before choosing behaviors and rewards, here are three important caveats to consider:
- Make them doable, i.e., developmentally appropriate. If this is a behavior you’ve seen your child accomplish but has difficulty staying motivated, it is possible. However, be careful not to set your child up for failure by expecting them to have skills beyond their level of development, keeping in mind that executive function skills (* listed below) for kids with ADHD may be as much as three years behind their neurotypical peers. Circumstances are critical, too. For instance, practicing Hot Chocolate Breath with you and making it fun when your child is feeling good is doable; asking them to do it when they have flipped their lid is probably not because they are not in their thinking brain. That is when you model using Hot Chocolate Breath yourself out loud and allow your child to “borrow” your calm nervous system.
- Catch them doing what you want or the opposite of what you don’t want. Imagine what their behavior would look like if they did not do the problem behavior. Then catch them doing that in any small way, in any situation. For example, if they always throw their clothes on the floor, the opposite would be picking up and putting things away. So when they put their plate in the sink or their school tablet in their backpack, praise them by stating what they did and thank them for being thoughtful about putting things away and how helpful that is for you.
Specific positive praise (what they did and why it is helpful or important to you) is much more powerful and effective at shaping new behavior than criticism and corrective statements.
- Be sure that having special time with you or their friends is “extra.” Kids with ADHD need a bunch of loving and nurturing time with caregivers and social time with peers to feel connected and help to balance out the daily challenges of ADHD. So if they get a good dose of fun and loving time with you already, they might get an extra 15-20 minutes of “choose your adventure with mom or dad” time for a reward. Or if they already have playtime with friends, they might get “extra” time or an extra special event with friends for a reward.
Articles with ideas for different types of rewards and how to determine if they are effective.
Articles to help you understand why external rewards are so important for kids with ADHD. It’s about dopamine and brain development.
* Executive Function Skills
This list of Executive Function Skills is based on an article by Drs. Gerard A. Gioia, Peter K. Isquith, Steven C. Guy, and Lauren Kenworthy and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (2005).
1. Inhibition – The ability to stop the behavior at the appropriate time, including blocking actions and thoughts. This includes the ability to slow down our physical and verbal activity levels. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity, a weak ability to stop yourself from acting on your impulses.
2. Shift – The ability to move freely from one situation to another and think flexibly to respond appropriately to the situation.
3. Emotional Control – The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings.
4. Initiation – The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies.
5. Working memory (Verbal and Non-Verbal) – The capacity to hold information in mind to complete a task.
6. Planning/Organization – The ability to initiate and manage current and future-oriented tasks.
7. Organization of Materials – The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces.
8. Self-Monitoring – The ability to monitor one’s performance and to measure it against what is needed or expected.
9. Task Completion and Persistence – The ability to persist when a task is challenging and tolerate/manage the reactivity to frustration.
10. Perception of Time: 5 minutes of tedious activity feels like FOREVER. This is referred to as Time Blindness.
11. Sustained Focus – Ability to focus on tasks that are not exciting, preferred and self-chosen. Resistance to distraction.
ADHD exists on a continuum. It is essential to determine which executive skills are problematic for each child and to what degree. It is also imperative to understand that executive functions are separate from intelligence and creativity. Many children with ADHD have above-average intelligence and creativity.
Photo by Ramin Talebi on Unsplash