Once upon a time, I said that I would never bribe my child.
See, I never needed a lot of motivation.
Even though I have ADHD, motivation was not usually a problem I had as a child.
I had hyperactivity ADHD –technically mixed type ADHD– so I usually had plenty of energy; it just needed to be channeled.
But, as I would discover after I had children, certain ADHDers –often inattentive type like my husband and my youngest son– lack motivation and energy.
For them, it’s more than just a focus problem. (ADHD is a regulation problem. Read more about that here.)
See, for most people –especially with neurotypical (normal) brains– their brains release a reward chemical when they complete tasks.
But, what if your brain doesn’t give you the reward chemical for a completed task?
What if the satisfaction of a job well done isn’t enough for your brain to get motivated?
That’s what happens to ADHD people, and it’s not that uncommon.
Dr. Barkley describes this phenomenon in his video at the bottom of this post.
I spoke with a few ADHD people I know who deal with this motivation issue and decided that my youngest –who was struggling through no fault of his own to get his ADHD brain motivated– needed my help for motivation.
A carrot on a stick, if you will.
Now, before I knew that my kids had developmental disorders, my motivation would have been consequences.
But both studies and my own experience shows that negative reinforcement is not a good motivator for those with ADHD.
My experience is that this makes it much worse for kids with ADHD.
To me, doing an hour of chores for video game time should be motivation enough but my sweet boy was struggling.
A trusted confidante confirmed that it wouldn’t be enough for many ADHD kids.
The suggestion: a small reward for each task that was completed.
Since this is a side of ADHD that I haven’t personally experienced, I wasn’t sure what a small incentive would be.
On a whim, I looked through my cabinets for anything that I could entice him with and stumbled upon some jumbo-sized cake sprinkles.
They were round candies for cookie decorating and just about the size of a pencil eraser.
When I asked him if he would eat them if I rewarded him with them, he lit up.
So, for every task, I gave him four sprinkles.
It worked like a charm.
Instead of being sluggish and complaining of how tired he was, he was happily working.
To his brain, those four pieces of little candies were gold.
We don’t eat a lot of candy at our house, as you might be able to tell.
Now, let’s be honest: this did not cure his ADHD, and he still really struggled to focus and needed my help sometimes to complete tasks.
But, it was an improvement.
Now that he was motivated to work he eagerly returned his work when he got distracted and when I reminded him to focus.
By the time he was done he had had a dozen or more jawbreaker hard and probably stale sprinkles.
He was happy, motivated boy.
I was a happy mama.
Because of the unexpected jawbreaker quality of the sprinkles, the next time I was at the store I grabbed the biggest bag of mini M&Ms that I could find.
I know they’re not a great treat, but in my defense we hardly eat sugar and he’s only getting two M&Ms at a Time.
Unload the dishwasher?
Yay! Two Mini M&Ms.
Take out the recycling?
Yay! Two Mini M&Ms.
I’m not saying that this will work for every kid. There are a plethora of comorbidities that couple with ADHD, and if your child has something like ODD it might not work (it probably won’t in that case).
But, for us it is working.
And it is teaching him life skills.
He is old enough to understand that his brain needs smaller goals and rewards.
So this will serve him well when he is older.
The one thing I’m not doing is bribing him.
I’m rewarding him just like adults get rewarded.
If you work 8 hours you get a paycheck for your reward for your time and effort.
In an ideal world, kids would help around the house without extra incentives.
But, I don’t live in a perfect world with perfect kids.
I live in this world with ADHD kids who need to figure out how to exist in this world.
By doing this, I’m helping him establish coping mechanisms for adult with.
And I’ve come to realize that we only call it bribing when we don’t understand what chemical problems exist in the brain of a child with a developmental disorder.
Once we understand the problem, a few M&Ms– or whatever carrots you choose– make perfect sense.
Whatever you do, it has to be worth it to the Child.
If I made him do five chores for one sprinkle or M&M it wouldn’t be enough external motivation for him to complete the task.
If I had known that so few mini M&Ms would fix this problem, I would have tried this ages ago.
Some kids may be so reactive to sugar that they can’t handle even a few M&Ms for a reward.
Here are some other ideas:
Canned pineapple chunks
A chunk of cheese
Anything that this child would view as a reward or a treat will work. Offer a few things and see what lights up the child’s eyes.
I hope this will help someone else as much as it has helped us.
P.S. This was posted with the approval of the above-mentioned child. I make it a point to not post about my children without their knowledge and okay. I think this teaches them healthy boundaries.
P.P.S. I have received a lot of backlash for this post. If you think the post is unhelpful, just move along. Don’t attack my parenting or spam my blog. There is no reason to be nasty just because you don’t like what worked for us. No one is making you try it.