For kids and teens with ADHD, lack of motivation can be a major challenge. However, practical steps such as physical activity, celebrating victories, starting with simple tasks, and timers/alarms can make a big difference and increase motivation.

For those whose willpower to accomplish tasks seems more unpredictable than Joe Exotic, help is on the way.

Problems with ADHD and Motivation

The connection between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and motivation has long been studied, and often criticized, due to a perceived connection between ADHD and laziness. However, different brain function is to blame more than a character problem.

Does ADHD make you unmotivated? In daily life with ADHD, you are working with a chemically altered brain. While executive function (goal-setting and accomplishment skills) works well for some tasks, this may not be true in other areas. 

For example, a child may be focused in math class but struggle to tidy their room. This may be due to lower levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that can affect emotional regulation, focus, drive, memory, concentration, and more. Sound like any symptoms you’ve seen?

Next time you’re wondering why your child just can’t get motivated, try to remember that there are chemical imbalances at play, and their brain functions differently than yours!

4 Strategies to Improve Motivation with ADHD

The 4 most beneficial ways to help motivate your child with ADHD include:

  1. Increasing exercise/physical activity levels
  2. Celebrating victories with rewards when tasks are accomplished
  3. Start each day with simpler tasks and work up to complex tasks later in the day
  4. Utilize timers and alarms to stay on task

There are a variety of questions to ask and answer when considering the best treatments and strategies. The symptoms of ADHD can range far and wide from procrastination, hyperfocus, and impulse control problems to another set of symptoms. 

Can you have ADHD and not be hyperactive? Inattentive ADHD is one of the three types of ADHD. Inattention looks more like forgetfulness and daydreaming than bouncing off the walls, and can be more damaging in girls. 

Does ADHD medication help with motivation? Possibly, but the risks can be high. We believe that the best way to treat ADHD is a functional approach — one that addresses everything from diet to emotional support. 

However, after addressing all we can through diet, supplementation, and therapy, medications may help in some children and improve quality of life. They are just not a first resort for our practice.

We want to lay a solid foundation first and see how the body responds naturally. These strategies can play a part in that foundation.

1. Exercise

Studies show that physical activity can dramatically improve ADHD symptoms in young children, and that if it’s done long-term, the specific type of movement is unimportant. This means you can pick your child’s favorite way to get active!

For adults with ADHD, the same is true. High aerobic activity has been shown to reduce worrisome thoughts and impulsivity that can plague ADHD brains. 

2. Celebrate Often

Compassion, both for yourself and your child, is key in treating ADHD. At The M Center, as mothers of children with special needs, we recommend celebrating little victories as a strategy. 

This strategy is backed by science: kids with ADHD prefer smaller, short-term rewards, and these can make time seem to pass more quickly. This is a time to work with their symptoms, not against them!

Don’t be afraid to give a child a few minutes to run around, play video games, or have a healthy treat after completing a subject or chore, or when they’re doing a great job prioritizing. These little rewards will help them focus and take some frustration out of the effort it takes.

3. Start With the Small Stuff

To improve motivation for kids and teens with ADHD, start each day with simple tasks and work your way to complex tasks later in the day.

Momentum isn’t just a term from your kid’s science class, it’s a great concept for motivating your child with ADHD. Think of it this way: If your child was learning how to swim, would you ask them to start with the Great Barrier Reef? Hopefully not.

Starting your child’s day, or even chores and homework, with their most difficult task is a recipe for disaster. Give them something you’re sure they can succeed at. The confidence boost will go a long way toward completing the next task. 

(Pro tip: clear lists can help them avoid the dreaded decision-making. The clearer and more laid-out the to-do list, the better your odds of a job well done).

4. Use Timers and Alarms

Try setting a timer or an alarm to help your child manage time effectively as they move from task to task.

This one is great, because it removes the need for you to be the walking reminder of your child’s entire checklist. Time management can be a struggle for kids with ADHD. 

Since kids with ADHD often have fabulous imaginations, ask them to help you turn timed tasks into timed or alarmed games where they move from one task to the next. The timer or alarm will help them manage their time, motivate them toward small rewards, and enjoy their duties.

We hope that these four tips help you make the very most of your child’s motivation and lessen the stress of daily tasks for little ones with ADHD.


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