Home ADHD Survival Guide Motivating ADHD Students: Learning How to Motivate an ADHD Child

Motivating ADHD Students: Learning How to Motivate an ADHD Child

written by familyadhd
Thank you, internet, for making a gif that sums it all up! I’d say this is a pretty accurate portrayal of what some days are like when trying to motivate an ADHDer. Yes? 😉

If you have an ADHDer, you know how difficult it can be to motivate him/her to work on the skills he/she struggles with most, which for my oldest is quite the long list. He has some amazingly strong skills, but the skills he struggles with most are tortuous for him to work on … and for me!

I’m sure you can relate to the sheer mental, emotional and physical pain it brings to our ADHDers when they’re pushed. And like us, you’ve probably tried a million ways to motivate through positive reinforcement, encouragement and even consequences.

Sometimes nothing works.

Sometimes it changes on a daily or even hourly basis.

Sometimes it’s all trial and error.

Sometimes it’s mostly error–on our parts!

When Motivation Turns Into Discouragement

I remember when our oldest hit the age where he began showing serious interest in different potential careers.

Great, we thought, motivation! 

We jumped on this new-found potential motivation so fast I’m surprised we didn’t get whiplash.

Buddy, you have to keeping working on your math. You know, you’ll need this in order to be a robot designer.

Well, that backfired. The second he realized he’d actually have to continue using the heinous stuff we were painfully pushing him to learn he decided there was a simple solution to that.

Then I won’t be a robot designer.

You’ll need math if you want to be a video game designer, too. Don’t you want to do that?

Nah, I’ll just do something else.

Math is important, buddy. You’d need it to work at LEGO, too.

Yeah, I’m not going to do that either.


Just like that. After all, if math was the issue, why choose something that would force him to forever use something he found fatiguing to even think about?

We quickly realized this was problematic as our oldest’s career prospects were suddenly whittled down to 2–gold-miner or circus clown.

I felt panicked. My oldest, who for the first time ever had been exploring the fact he’d one day work towards a real job (obviously he isn’t much of a long-term thinker), was suddenly ready to kick every possible career to the curb simply because I mentioned he’d need to work harder on mastering borrowing… What had I done?

Then I did what any logical parent would do–panicked! (sarcasm)

Had I just done irreparable damage? He’s the type to be done with something the second it puts a bad taste in his mouth, after all. And not mildly done with the possibility of reconsidering…


Changing Our Approach … Again

It was in that moment that I realized I had to switch gears–immediately! While I realized I probably hadn’t done anything that couldn’t be forgotten with time, I knew if I persisted down that path of relating every difficult skill he had to learn with an appealing career choice he talked about he’d end up being a bum. Okay, maybe not a total bum, but he would certainly start down a mental path of looking for easy long-term goals that wouldn’t challenge or fulfill him. After all, he’s a highly intelligent guy. As much as he struggles, he also gets very bored very quickly. He’ll need to find that delicate balance between something that challenges him, yet capitalizes on his strengths.

It was then that I decided I would not use careers or even activities he’d shown interest in to motivate him to work on difficult things. Creating that association for him was not going to work. For a self-starter that motivates himself/herself? Absolutely! For my son? Nope.

Now, I stop myself every time I’m tempted to explain to him why different subjects and skills will be important to him in the long-run through associations of this nature.

Our Motivational Secret Weapon

In many ways I had to go back to square one, simply trying to motivate through encouragement (which often falls on deaf ears), through consequences (he’s often willing to accept them in return for not doing his work) and by explaining the real-world consequences of not doing certain work.

Over the years there has been one little thing I’ve been able to resort to when nothing else has worked and we’re reaching the point where stuff really isn’t getting done.

Ready? I’m going to reveal the motivational Ace up my sleeve.

The one and only thing our oldest really doesn’t want to do is repeat a year of school. He may say fine in the heat of the moment, but it really isn’t something he wants to do.

Thank goodness!

Bottom line, I haven’t found any super effective and ingenious ways to light a fire under him when it comes to the hard stuff, but I have found plenty of ineffective ways.

 And maybe I never will. I’m sure it will change as he gets older, but let’s cross our fingers it’s in favor of more ways of motivating him and not less.

Regardless, we’ll keep trying. As exhausting and frustrating as it may be, you imply can’t force someone to care about something they don’t care about. All we can do is do our best to keep things as positive as possible and someday, hopefully, it will all pay off.

If you’re in this boat with a child that is nearly impossible to motivate through the hard things–don’t give up! Maybe you’ll find that motivational sweet spot down the line.

I don’t know if we ever will, but I’m holding on to hope we do while trying to stay realistic. We may spend the next 13 years with our oldest (through college–fingers crossed) struggling to keep him plugging along. Is that a fun prospect? Of course not, but we’ll do it if we have to!

I encourage you to be as sensitive as possible to what pushes your kids buttons and demotivates them when it comes to working on the hard stuff. I’m not saying to let them get away with doing nothing–that’s obviously not a choice if you want your little ADHDer to progress–but simply take a breath and keep trying to find things that work.

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Lani Derrick // Life Anchored July 23, 2015 at 8:40 pm

I totally love that GIF, I just watched the movie this week.

familyadhd July 24, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Lol #momlife

Blushing Noir July 24, 2015 at 12:30 am

This is a great post. It's so hard to remain positive and not be frustrated!

familyadhd July 24, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Agreed! My daily struggle 🙂

Phyrra July 24, 2015 at 12:35 am

This is such a helpful post. Thank you for sharing. Love the gif too!

familyadhd July 24, 2015 at 7:12 pm

Thanks! It's a cute one, right? lol

Forever'sLikeaDream July 24, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Great tips, they'll come in handy for parents once school starts for sure!

familyadhd July 24, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Thank you!

loveforlacquer July 24, 2015 at 12:59 pm

You are such a patient and amazing mom! These are awesome tips that will absolutely help any parent!

familyadhd July 24, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Aw you're so sweet! I really appreciate that. 99% of the time I feel like I'm barely doing enough, so reading your comment was a serious pick-me-up <3


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