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May 17, 2023

"My kid has ADHD and I can't seem to get them to do anything without constant reminders. Even outright threats of losing privileges aren't effective. From showering, to homework, to keeping their room clean, to unloading the dishwasher when they're supposed to, it's one constant struggle. Why is it so hard to motivate my kid?"

As Executive Function coaches, we get questions like this every day from frustrated parents. If you, too, are finding it difficult to get your child with ADHD motivated to complete daily tasks and activities, you're not alone. ADHD can make it harder to stay focused and maintain motivation, especially when compared to those without ADHD who may be able to "power through" less-than-exciting tasks. In this article, we'll explore why it can be tough for people with ADHD to get and stay motivated - and we'll also provide helpful tips to increase motivation and get more work done.

Here's what we'll tackle:

Why can motivation be tough for an ADHD brain?

To understand the challenges people with ADHD face, it's useful to look at the science behind how our brains work. One of the key factors contributing to ADHD symptoms is the neurotransmitter dopamine. Research has shown that people with ADHD may have lower dopamine levels, which impacts their ability to feel rewarded and motivated.

A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that lower dopamine levels in individuals with ADHD can lead to decreased motivation and an increased risk for substance abuse (Volkow et al., 2009). It's important to remember that struggling with motivation doesn't necessarily indicate that someone is lazy; it's often due to underlying neurological factors.

Is there a connection between ADHD, Executive Function, and motivation?

Executive function also plays a crucial role in motivation, especially for individuals with ADHD. Executive Function is a set of cognitive processes that help us plan, organize, initiate, and complete tasks. People with ADHD often have difficulties with Executive Function skills, which can impact their ability to set and attain goals. Let's explore how deficits in specific Executive Function skills can make it difficult for people with ADHD to stay motivated.

Organization

    • Organization involves the ability to categorize and arrange information, thoughts, and materials systematically. Children with ADHD may struggle to keep their belongings, ideas, or schedules in order, making it difficult to start or complete tasks efficiently. Disorganization can lead to frustration and decreased motivation.

Initiation

    • Task initiation refers to the ability to begin a task or activity independently. ADHD may cause children to struggle with initiating tasks due to procrastination or difficulty focusing. The inability to start tasks can result in a lack of progress, leading to decreased motivation.

Goal-directed persistence

    • This skill involves maintaining focus and effort on a task or goal, despite distractions or obstacles. Children with ADHD may struggle to stay engaged in tasks, often losing interest or becoming easily distracted. This can lead to a lack of progress, diminishing motivation to pursue the goal further.

Working memory

    • Working memory allows us to hold and manipulate information in our minds while performing complex tasks. Deficits in working memory can make it challenging for children with ADHD to keep track of instructions, deadlines, or multiple steps in a task. This can lead to confusion and frustration, negatively impacting their motivation to complete tasks.

Emotional regulation

    • Emotional regulation refers to the ability to manage emotions effectively in response to various situations. Children with ADHD may have difficulty regulating their emotions, leading to impulsivity, frustration, or negative self-talk. These emotional challenges can impact motivation, making it difficult to persevere through tasks.

Planning

    • Planning involves setting goals, developing strategies, and determining the necessary steps to achieve a desired outcome. Children with ADHD may have difficulty creating and executing plans, leading to disorganization and a lack of progress. This can cause frustration and a decrease in motivation to complete tasks.

Cognitive flexibility

    • Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adjust one's thinking or approach in response to changing situations or new information. Children with ADHD may struggle with adapting to new situations, problem-solving, or considering alternative strategies. This inflexibility can lead to feelings of being stuck, ultimately impacting their motivation to work toward goals.

As you can see, Executive Function plays a vital role in motivation, particularly for individuals with ADHD. Deficits in Executive Function skills like organization, initiation, goal-directed persistence, working memory, emotional regulation, planning, and cognitive flexibility can negatively impact an individual's ability to set and attain goals. By addressing these challenges and developing strategies to improve Executive Function skills, kids and adults with ADHD can develop increased motivation and success in their daily lives.

Next up, let's explore some expert tips to help boost motivation in your child.

10 expert ADHD motivation tips

Now that we have a better understanding of the science behind ADHD, let's dive into some strategies that explain how to increase motivation with ADHD and improve day-to-day task completion. 

  1. Consider the task's importance and why you should do it

    • Help your child understand the significance of the task and how it will benefit them in the long run. This can make the task feel more meaningful and increase their motivation to complete it.

  2. Set small goals and celebrate small wins

    • Breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable steps can make them feel less overwhelming. Encourage your child to set mini-goals and celebrate their achievements along the way. This can boost their self-esteem and motivation to keep going.

  3. Create a list and define the tasks

    • Having a clear list of tasks can help your child visualize their progress and stay organized. Encourage them to prioritize the list, and as they complete each task, cross it off to give them a sense of accomplishment.

  4. Change the routine

    • Sometimes, shaking things up can be beneficial for maintaining motivation. If your child is struggling with a particular task, encourage them to try approaching it in a different way or work on it in a new environment.

  5. Incorporate incentives

    • Create a reward system for completing tasks. This can be as simple as earning extra screen time, choosing a special treat, or enjoying a favorite activity once the task is completed.

  6. Encourage physical activity

    • Physical exercise has been shown to improve focus and motivation in individuals with ADHD. Encourage your child to engage in regular physical activity to help increase their motivation for other tasks.

  7. Provide structure and routine

    • Having a consistent daily schedule can provide a sense of stability and predictability for children with ADHD. This can help them feel more in control and motivated to complete tasks.

  8. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques

    • Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help your child manage stress and anxiety, which in turn can improve their motivation.

  9. Involve your child in the planning process

    • By involving your child in setting goals and planning their tasks, you can help them develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, which can lead to increased motivation.

  10. Be patient and supportive

    • Remember that progress takes time, and setbacks are a normal part of the process. Encourage your child to stay positive and celebrate their successes, no matter how small.

Understanding leads to growth

Supporting a child with ADHD can feel like a daunting task, but there is hope and plenty of room for growth. By understanding the role of dopamine and the importance of Executive Function skills, parents and caregivers can better comprehend the challenges their child faces and develop effective ADHD motivation strategies to help them thrive. It helps to keep in mind that your child is not trying to be lazy or difficult. Instead, frame the issue as they want to be successful but don't yet know how. We've found through our almost 2 decades of coaching students that where there's a way (that is, strategies, tools, and a plan), there's a will (that is, motivation to try and to change).

Remember that progress is a journey, not a destination. It's essential to be patient and celebrate each small victory along the way. When working on improving Executive Function skills or implementing motivation strategies, try focusing on one approach at a time. (It can be overwhelming to have several brand-new tools to practice at once!) This allows you and your child to better understand which techniques work best and make the necessary adjustments as needed. 

As you support your child in overcoming the obstacles they face, keep in mind that they possess unique strengths and talents that make them truly special. By nurturing their abilities and providing a supportive environment, you can empower your child to reach their full potential, despite the challenges ADHD may present.

Stay positive, remain open to trying new strategies, and most importantly, believe in your child's capacity to grow and succeed. Together, you can overcome the barriers that ADHD may pose and build a brighter, more fulfilling future.



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About the Author

Jackie Hebert

Jackie Hebert is the Director of Marketing for Beyond BookSmart. Whether it's managing our websites, overseeing our social media content, authoring and editing blog articles, or hosting webinars, Jackie oversees all Marketing activities at Beyond BookSmart. Before joining Beyond BookSmart in 2010, Jackie was a Speech-Language Pathologist at Needham High School. She earned her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Boston University, and her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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