Guest Expert

Consequences for ADHD – Are they Counterproductive?

What does PLAY have to do with consequences for children with ADHD? More than you might think.

Psychologist and play-expert, Kirsten Milliken, PhD, has a lot to say on the matter, and advocates using a playful approach with kids (even when kids are acting 'bad.') In this interview, she raises a powerfully important question to consider: Are consequences for kids with ADHD actually counterproductive?

Says Milliken, "When you talk about play, I can feel my brain lighting up." As soon as you say, 'we're not talking about that today, we're talking about consequences for ADHD,' which is such a heavy word, I get very different feelings. Those feelings tell you the differences in what consequences do versus what play does.

A Playful Mindset Activates the Brain

According to Milliken, "when we talk about play, I'm not just talking about going out and kicking a ball, or playing a game, or things like that.  Really it is more about approaching tasks with a playful mindset.  Whether it is learning in a classroom how to do math, or going out on the playground and learning social rules and things like that -- there are different kinds of play.  And everything can be approached in different ways.

"You can approach how to teach rules, approach how to teach math in a playful way.  When you do that, it is activating the parts of our brain that have to do with executive functions, which are the areas that are related to ADHD in the frontal lobe. It is also activating the dopamine system, which is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good.

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Thinking of Consequences Can Shut Down the Brain's Frontal Lobe

Milliken continues, "When we think of consequences, on the other hand, if we are not giving them in a playful way, we are shutting that system down [Frontal Lobe].  And really what you are doing is turning off the dopamine, which is necessary for people with ADHD to manage their brains, to overcome some of their symptoms in the moment.

"We know that when people have ADHD, there is actually a deficit of dopamine flowing into the frontal lobes of their brain.  So we want to do whatever we can to perpetuate more dopamine being produced to a certain level." Dopamine is essential to finding motivation and getting activated; fear of consequences is not exactly inspirational – and unlikely to generate that response.

These comments are less than one minute of an engaging, compelling, and VERY playful 18 minute interview with the one and only Diva of PlayDHD, Kirsten Milliken, PhD.

Listen to the rest of the interview to decide for yourself whether you want to rely on consequences for ADHD management, or it might be time to try something a little less heavy…and a whole lot more fun!

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