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Executive Function Strategies Blog

Why Can’t I Motivate My Kids to Do What I Ask?

Dec 26, 2016 7:48:29 AM

(Editor's note: This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.)

The subject of motivation comes up in most of our workshops or classes. Without fail, we hear comments like, “Nothing motivates my kids. I’ve taken Diane Dempster.jpgeverything away… I bribe them with everything and still nothing works.”

There are some common mistakes that we parents make that actually get in the way of motivating our kids to take action. Here are 3 examples, and what to do instead:

3 Mistakes Parents Make in Motivating Our Kids

1) We don’t understand how motivation works.

Motivation isn’t something that our kids can simply turn on or off. It’s actually a critical, neurobiological factor in helping their brain accomplish anything, and it is something they have to learn to master, over time. But because some of the “normal” cause and effect motivators don’t work as effectively for kids with ADHD, we end up getting frustrated. 

What to do instead: Educate yourself. Learn about different ways to motivate the ADHD brain. Instead of being frustrated, stay in “detective mode” as much as possible, and engage your kids in the process of figuring out what works for them, and what doesn’t.

2) We work on solving the immediate problem rather than teaching a skill.

There’s nothing inappropriate about wanting your kids to pick up a towel, finish their homework, or speak respectfully. But ultimately, our job as a parent is to teach our kids the life-long skill of figuring out how to get themselves to do what they want or need to get done. Practically, we are helping them to learn to connect the part of their brain that knows what it should and shouldn’t do with the part of the brain that actually takes action (one of the key challenges in the ADHD brain).  So if we focus on the towel, or the homework, or the disrespect, we ultimately aren’t teaching our kids what they need to learn most — how to identify and use motivation as a tool for success.

What to do instead: Help your kids to see (in a non-judgmental fashion) what you notice about how their brains work with and without motivation. Be open and honest about those moments when you have to find your own motivation, and help them to understand that their challenge is really about biology, not just about will-power.

3) We focus on what we want rather than what they want.

Finding something that our brain is genuinely interested in or compelled by is at the core of motivation. Isn’t it fascinating that we tend to focus on trying to motivate our kids to do the things that we want them to do, for the reasons we think are important? As we focus on teaching our kids about motivation, and how to motivate themselves, the opportunity is to focus on the things that they want, rather than just the things that we want.

What to do instead: Start with a challenge your child already has some interest in addressing – that is, where the motivation is. Instead of focusing with your teens on getting more sleep (your agenda) consider focusing on getting to school on time so they can talk with their friends before class (assuming that is their agenda). In another example, since the solutions lie in the successes, once you help your kids learn to use motivation to finish their homework with a goal of watching their favorite show, they can then begin to apply the same strategy to those situations that are less important for them.

Bottom line:  Motivation is a critical tool for the ADHD brain, but it is something that is learned, not ingrained. Set your kids and yourself up for success by adding motivation to the mix, focusing on learning how to use motivation to get things done, rather than just getting results.


Executive function coaches help students identify strategies to support motivation and help them achieve their goals. Find out more below.

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As a coach, Diane Dempster, MHSA, CPC, PCC, has combined her passion for helping people with her ability to lead with integrity, building powerful corporate and coaching careers. She co-founded ImpactADHD, the first virtual coaching and training resource designed specifically for parents of children with ADHD. Diane served on the Board of Directors of ICFGeorgia (state charter chapter of the International Coach Federation) Earned her coaching certification from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). She founded Inner Progress Coaching to help professionals discover, or rediscover, their passions, reduce stress, maximize performance, and focus on priorities. Diane has held leadership positions within Kaiser Permanente and earned certification as an Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner and Reiki Master. She graduated with a BA in Biology/Human Services from Albion College and a Masters’ Degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of Michigan. 

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