Motivational Strategies for Children with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have problems getting work done. For example, kids with predominantly inattentive ADHD or combined type ADHD have difficulty sustaining their attention during a task, do not always follow through on assignments, and are easily distracted. Children with predominantly hyperactive and impulsive ADHD also have difficulty with work; behavioral symptoms can include leaving their seat during class, blurting out answers, not waiting their turn, and interrupting others.
These symptoms of ADHD can impair children’s performance in school. Part of the problem is lower dopamine levels in the ADHD brain, which affects children’s motivation. Since children with ADHD have disrupted reward pathways, they need more feedback and engagement, such as from motivational strategies.
Daily Report Card
One motivational strategy used in the classroom is the Daily Report Card. (With older children, parents and teachers may use a Weekly Report Card.) The Daily Report Card does not “grade” the child. Instead, it creates behavioral goals for the child, and provides him or her with feedback and tangible rewards. Those rewards encourage the child to improve his or her behaviors. The Daily Report Card also involves input from the parents, so this motivational strategy can be used at home as well.
The first step in creating a Daily Report Card is determining which behaviors need to be improved. This requires input from the parents and all teachers who work with the child. For example, if a child has problems with his schoolwork, then target behaviors may be completing homework assignments or bringing home all the items needed to do the assignment. The target behaviors can be organized by subject. Once the goals for the child have been set, then rewards can be attached. For younger children, the Daily Report Card should have fewer behavioral goals and more tangible rewards. The Centers for Children and Families and the University at Buffalo note that three to eight behavioral goals are a good starting point. The rewards can be daily or weekly, though the parents and child also may agree on long-term goals such as a bicycle or new game console.
When the Daily Report Card is finalized, the parents and teachers should go over it with the child. When explaining the Daily Report Card, the parents and teachers should do so in a positive manner. For example, they can tell the child that the Daily Report Card will help him or her manage symptoms. Also let the child know that choosing rewards will be a team effort. For the Daily Report Card to be an effective motivational strategy, part of it has to be carried out at home. For example, if the behavioral goal is to complete homework, parents should make sure that the child follows through on assignments.
If the child’s targeted behaviors improve, the Daily Report Card can be adjusted to require the child to do more to get the rewards. If, on the other hand, the child does not reach the behavioral goals, or they require him or her to do more than he or she currently is capable of, they can be readjusted so the child can reach them. Getting the tangible rewards serves as encouragement for the child to continue to do better. The types of behaviors that the child works toward can be changed as the child’s symptoms improve.
When developing a motivational strategy for a child with ADHD, the key is to find an appealing one. Video games are one option. Some video games work as a motivational strategy for attention deficit disorder because they give the child immediate feedback. If the child does well, he or she gets points or rewards. If the child does not successfully complete the task, he or she learns how to do it the next time it is attempted.
One video game parents may use as a motivational strategy is the FFFBI Academy, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and developed specifically for children with ADHD. The game has seven parts, with each section focusing on a different ADHD symptom. For example, the first game of FFFBI Academy, “Step into the Triple E!” helps with inattention and impulse control. This type of game, where the child works on a scenario that helps with his or her symptoms, can also be used in the classroom. If video games or other activities with feedback work, parents and teachers can incorporate them as part of the Daily Report Card. For example, if the child stays seated during one class period, he or she can have 10 minutes to play a game during a break. Not only does this strategy give the ADHD child motivation to improve his or her behaviors, but the games help with those symptoms as well.
Center for Children and Families and the University at Buffalo: Daily Report Card (PDF file)