As a parent, have you ever wondered: How do I get my kids to do what they're supposed to do when they're supposed to do it? That was a rhetorical question, we know you have! You have most likely asked your kid to complete their math homework for what might have felt like the 100th time. Getting your kids to do something they don't want to do can be difficult, but it all boils down to motivation. We've put together 4 ADHD-friendly tips to motivate your kids to get the not-so-fun things in life done!
Motivation is the precursor to behavior, and that drive to action is often linked to a promise of a reward. This isn't just in our opinion, American psychologist B.F Skinner studied and researched the notion of positive reinforcement - if a behavior results in a positive outcome, it is more likely to be repeated. For example, if you get a coffee in bed every morning at 6 am (and you value coffee), your motivation to wake up early would be considerably higher than if you got no coffee. What this means is our drive to action sometimes needs a bit of incentivization.
Now we wouldn't be doing motivation any justice if we didn't mention dopamine. This neurotransmitter has a significant impact on your mental and physical functioning, specifically when it comes to mood and motivation. Most notably, dopamine makes us feel good, and that helps reinforce behavior.
The ongoing research on ADHD brains has shown different dopamine levels from neurotypical brains, specifically, a deficit that impacts motivation, focus, and memory. As a result, many people with ADHD tend to seek out experiences that provide a surge of dopamine and are more motivated to do activities of great personal relevance and promise of reward.
Ordinary or understimulating activities are not only unappealing to a person with ADHD, but they can feel near to impossible to start. Kids with ADHD whose interests, for instance, don't include their science homework are not being difficult when they procrastinate or outright avoid starting their homework. On the flipside - kids and adults with ADHD can be highly motivated and hyper-focus on something they find interesting or that matters to them.
But let's be honest, it's not likely that brushing their teeth or doing their homework is going to interest or matter to them. That's why we've curated 4 easy tips to make unappealing activities seem enticing for your kid with ADHD (also applicable to neurotypical kids, we know most kids will avoid doing homework with all their willpower).
1. Use a timer
Have you ever found that when something needs to be done, and you've had all day to do it, it gets done at the last minute? That's because a sense of urgency actually motivates us to work! Here's a trick, you can create a 'false' sense of urgency with a timer. This technique is a tried and tested ADHD time management tool, and it works.
It can be impossible to get kids ready in the morning. So use a timer!
Set a timer on your phone for 5 minutes. Then, set a specific goal for your kids, such as brushing their teeth and washing their face.
Make it fun! Start with a countdown...READY...SET... GO! Once they're done, give them a small reward for completing their task within the allotted time.
Our Coachbit App has a built-in Focus Timer purposefully designed to facilitate these sessions.
2. Change things up!
Ordinary tasks are often unappealing because they are repetitive and predictable, so get creative and change things up.
There's rarely anything exciting about studying for a test, but buying new funky-colored highlighters can make things a little more interesting. If your child always works at their desk, suggest a change in environment.
Work outside or suggest they listen to their English-prescribed novel as an audiobook while on a walk. Why not take on the challenge together to make ordinary tasks fun?
If you are running out of ideas, write some quirky suggestions on paper, place them in a jar, and draw them out the next time your kid seems bored. The unknown can be exciting.
3. Make it a game
Both of these tips can easily be turned into a game.
You can set a timer for your child to clean their room and set a rule that if they finish earlier, they get a surprise! Or use a point system - completing all five daily chores earns a reward. There are endless possibilities to turn ordinary tasks into games!
4. Short-term rewards
The immediacy of gratification is often something your kid with ADHD craves.
This may explain why brushing their teeth is such a chore! They are not thinking about their dental health or having no cavities at their next dentist appointment in three months. Its simply too far into the future to motivtate them in the present.
So create a short-term reward for them. If they brush their teeth every night during the week they get to choose a movie Friday night. Consider a reward that would be most meaningful to your child.
Motivating kids to do monotonous and tedious tasks like homework, chores, or brushing their teeth can be challenging - but it is possible. By understanding how low dopamine affects motivation in people with ADHD, we can help kids overcome procrastination and get those unappealing tasks done.
Here at Coachbit, we've done the research and found some suggestions on how to shake things up! Beyond these tips, our coaches are well-versed in finding creative ways to motivate kids, especially those with ADHD, to get things done. Sign up to Coachbit today, and we'll do the heavy lifting!
Morsink, S., Sonuga-Barke, E., Van der Oord, S. et al. Task-related motivation and academic achievement in children and adolescents with ADHD. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 30, 131–141 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-020-01494-8