Guest Expert

Motivate ADD/ADHD Kids: Catch Them Doing Something Right

Sandy Maynard

Parenting a child with ADHD is no easy task.  It’s at least double the work than typical kids. On the same token, it can be double the joy.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the topic of Motivation for this month’s theme, and have landed on some of the best advice I can give to parents who are trying to help motivate their kids.


First and foremost, catch them doing something right. When you do, give them a wink, a hug, a thumbs-up or an “I knew you could do it!”  It feels good to give your kid big kudos, and your child will certainly feel good getting it. Congratulations are the best positive motivator we can give as parents.  Additional computer time may run a close second, but our praise and love are the healthiest affirmations we can use. They help our children learn to cope better with the frustrations they encounter on a daily basis.


It’s no small task to help children with ADHD avoid distractions so they can get up and get ready for school, do their homework when they get home, have play time, eat dinner, finish their chores and finally get to bed on time.  ADD kids all need reminders — both verbal and visual — to stay focused and avoid distractions. When they do avoid the multitude of distractions and finish the task, remember to reward them by letting them know they did a good job.

Negative Motivators

Negative motivators can work, as well, but need to be used sparingly or they lose their power.  To be most effective, kids need to be clear on “the rules” and the consequences of breaking them.  Parents need to follow through and most importantly let their children know that any discipline comes from a place of love and concern for their safety and well-being.

Model Calm Behavior

Sooner or later, all mere mortals are bound to lose their patience in frustrating situations that last long enough. Keep in mind that anger added to any difficult situation only makes it worse. Kids throw tantrums. It’s to be expected.  However, it is possible to stay calm even when angry and frustrated with a kid that is misbehaving.  When we are able to do this, we are providing a good role model for our kids. No parent has ever been perfect with this one, but when we do lose it, be sure to apologize later for not being patient.  It could go something like this, “I apologize for losing my patience with you yesterday. I was angry that you bit Johnny at school.  You know that was wrong, but screaming at you was not right either. ”


External rewards are often used very effectively.  Unfortunately the rewards children often like the best cause cavities or — in the case of extra screen time  –induce lethargy. So, have a brainstorming session with your child about healthy rewards like a camping trip, a hike or a family bike ride and picnic.  After all, after a hard week at work, we all deserve time out for a weekend of fresh air and exercise!


Appreciation vouchers worked well for one family when it came to chores well done.  The vouchers were designed to make the child feel appreciated by giving them authority to choose which restaurant to order takeout from on a night of their choosing (provided 24 hour notice was given or a meal was not already in the process of being prepared).  Other vouchers were for similar privileges like choosing the movie on family movie night.

The best motivation comes from within.  Sure, a trip to the zoo, or a new computer game are delightful rewards for good behavior or effort, but the best reward is feeling good inside.  Kids especially like to feel proud of their accomplishments. As parents, we can be their mirror when we catch them doing something right. “That’s right… we look both ways before we cross the street. Good job!” provides a warm feeling kids can only get from feeling successful.  Chances are they will seek behaviors that give them that same warm feeling again, with or without us serving as their mirror.

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