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How to Motivate a Child With ADHD: Finding What Works

January 23, 2023
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    Motivation is what encourages us to act and meet our goals. If your child struggles with motivation, they might find it tough to finish homework, self-care tasks, and other important activities. Unfortunately, difficulties with motivation are a common challenge among children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So, what can you do?

    In this article, we'll talk about how ADHD affects motivation and ways to motivate a child with ADHD, such as creating routines, thinking outside of the box, and setting goals in a way that works for your family. Then, we'll discuss seeking professional support and how Joon can help.

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    Understanding ADHD and Motivation

    ADHD can impact motivation in more than one way. First, research shows that ADHD is associated with deficits in motivation. Specifically, differences in reward pathways in the brain might hinder internal motivation in those with the condition. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to motivate kids with ADHD. Instead, it usually means that approaching motivation in new ways might be the right step.

    Another potential factor doesn't relate to motivation, but it might look like a lack of motivation from the outside. Trouble focusing, forgetfulness, and executive dysfunction overall might make it look like a child with ADHD is not motivated or does not want to do something when that is not the case at all. Many children with ADHD face poor academic performance and similar troubles because of their symptoms.

    Although it's most frequently associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), some people with ADHD experience what's called pathological demand avoidance. Pathological demand avoidance is when someone has trouble complying with demands from others. If this seems to characterize your child's life experiences, rephrasing instructions, collaborating with your child, and decreasing stress can be beneficial. What else works?

    How Can I Motivate My Child With ADHD?

    With child and adolescent ADHD, it's often not easy for parents to get their kids to do what they need to do. Power struggles and frustration on either side can become common themes. However, it's possible to help kids find motivation. Solutions will differ among children based on factors like personality type and what's holding them back, so don't hesitate to try more than one approach. With that said, here are some tips to help you motivate kids with ADHD.

    Set a routine

    Routines are crucial for people with ADHD. While starting routines requires time and care, once a routine is in place, it can be a real game-changer. For those who make what appear to be careless mistakes (like forgetting to take their lunch or backpack on a school day), routine can solidify necessary activities like double-checking for items or checking off tasks like eating breakfast. Similarly, once something becomes a habitual part of your child's day, they're less likely to put up a fight, find the task difficult, or face other common dilemmas.

    Remember that it's okay to do what you can to make it easier for children to follow routines. For example, external tools like alarms and mobile reminders can be helpful for kids with an impaired sense of time. Teaching kids to work with their brain and use tools like this now can set them up for success later on.

    How Joon Can Help

    We talked about how beneficial routines are for those with ADHD. Joon makes routines easier and more fun for kids with ADHD, and in turn, can take the pressure of constant reminders off of parents. How does it work?

    Parents start by downloading the Joon Parent App. In the Joon Parent App, parents create a custom task list for their children. Kids connect with a separate app called Joon Pet Game. When children finish items on their to-do lists, they get rewards that allow them to take care of a virtual pet in game.

    90% of kids who use Joon finish all of the tasks their parents assign.

    Download Joon to get started. 

    Provide straightforward instructions

    In some instances, a child's inconsistency in doing what they're told could be related to directions that aren't straightforward. Alternatively, instructions for some tasks could be overwhelming. Give directions carefully, and try to break complex tasks down into smaller steps.

    Think about the differences between saying, "clean your room" and "put your toys away in this box." When you instruct your child to clean their room, it might not be clear to them what exactly that means. On the other hand, telling a child to put their toys away (and in a specific spot) means that they know precisely what you're telling them to do. It's also a smaller, more doable task.

    Outline rules and expectations

    Although excessive rules aren't necessary, reasonable rules and expectations matter. Like with instructions, rules and expectations must be clear and direct.

    It's also imperative to be patient with your child as they learn to follow rules. Let's say that the rule you want your child to follow is to take their shoes off when they come in from playing outside so that the floor doesn't get dirty. If they forget, remind them to do so gently.

    Kids are curious and may ask "Why?" when presented with rules and expectations. If a child asks why you have a specific rule, provide an explanation.

    Give directions with verbal and visual input

    Even as an adult, you likely know that you are more apt to understand instructions if they're relayed in a particular way. For example, when putting together furniture, some might benefit most from diagrams, whereas others might understand the instructions more easily if read aloud.

    The same is true for kids. Regardless of age, we all have different learning styles. Simultaneously provide verbal and visual input when you give your child directions. Supplement verbal questions and instructions with something visual, such as pictures, charts, diagrams, or videos.

    It's often possible to extend this to your child's learning environment. Children with a 504 plan might have accommodations such as oral testing (vs. written tests) or visual aids to give them an equal chance at learning in a way that suits them best.

    Make sure you have the child's attention before giving directions

    Let's say that your child is fixated on a TV show or book. With ADHD, it's hard to pull away, and that's not your child's fault. Rather than attempt to give them directions from a distance, raise your voice, or repeat the same thing multiple times while your child stays fixated, ensure you have their attention first.

    Give the child time to respond to your directions

    Children take time to process what you tell them. Some kids (or teens and adults, for that matter) may require more processing time than you'd expect. Accordingly, you want to pause for about 5-7 seconds after you give a child instructions. That way, they'll have time to take in what you say.

    Think of the pause that occurs when a teacher asks a question, or on an educational TV show when a character does the same. That's the pause you want to mirror! If your child doesn't seem to hear you once the pause is over, feel free to repeat yourself.

    Note: Does your child struggle with motivation? Joon could be the solution.

    The Joon app motivates children to start and finish routine activities such as homework, brushing their teeth, and household chores. Designed uniquely for kids with ADHD and related disorders, Joon is backed by child psychologists, teachers, and occupational therapists.

    With a total of more than 3.6k reviews from parents like you, Joon is rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the App Store.

    Click here to try Joon for free.

    Allow them to think outside the box

    It's vital to encourage imaginative thinking in kids. Work with your child to find alternative methods of doing things they have a hard time with, whether that's because it’s difficult, not fun, or poses another challenge. Making math problems or chores into a game is one standard example; don't hesitate to extend this creativity to other tasks.

    Reward good behavior effectively

    We're all more drawn to rewarding activities. With ADHD, that generally refers to activities that are immediately rewarding. Instant, external rewards are ideal for children with ADHD. Reward ADHD children's good behavior through verbal praise, activities like screen time or going to the park, or small objects. If you take the route of verbal praise, point out the specific behavior (e.g., putting their coat away) in your compliment. 

    Allow for physical activity and breaks

    Especially with ADHD, kids need to move around regularly and frequently. Physical activity can support mood, concentration, and academic performance. It's also known that movement can help with ADHD symptoms. Regular breaks not only allow for exercise but also let kids give their minds a break. Encourage movement and fit breaks into your child's routine, especially during extensive or complex tasks like homework.

    Talking With A Medical Professional

    If your child continues to struggle with motivation and you're at a loss, it might be time to speak with a medical professional. Consider what you think might be affecting your child's motivation and when the problem started. Has your child struggled with motivation for as long as you can remember, or does it seem to have begun around a certain time - then the start of middle school, for example?

    Hyperactive behaviors, direct conflict with authority figures, your child's ability to focus, refusal to participate actively at school, and so on, are all examples of concerns you might bring up. Feelings of depression and social challenges like bullying or feeling othered by peers might also affect motivation in kids and young adults, so look out for signs just in case.

    A medical professional such as a primary care provider (PCP) can help you find out why your child's behaviors occur or what's hindering their motivation. Alternatively, they may be able to refer your child to another professional, like a psychiatrist, if needed. Some concerns with motivation could be due to ADHD symptoms that aren't under control or similar matters and may improve if addressed effectively.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.