Let’s get started! 5 tips for helping kids get things done | Sharon Saline, Psy.D. | 7 Min Read

Do you wonder why some kids struggle with starting things, sticking with them, and finishing up? Whether it’s working on a school project or preparing for their birthday party, many children and teens struggle with getting started on tasks that seem important but can be tedious, boring, unachievable, or overwhelming. Sometimes it takes the urgency and pressure of deadlines to get anything done, and it’s often at the last minute. Motivation is related to many executive functioning skills simultaneously — initiation, focus, time management, organization, prioritization, sustained attention, and goal-directed persistence. Plus, starting something requires impulse control and emotional regulation: you choose not to do another compelling activity for the one at hand, despite any disappointment or frustration. For kids with ADHD who naturally struggle with many of these skills, summoning up the impetus to begin can be especially challenging. Why does this happen and what can you do to assist your child or student? 

Let’s face it, it’s harder to muster the energy to do things you don’t like or don’t feel immediate satisfaction from completing. Interest fosters motivation. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic (also known as external) motivation means doing something to get something: it refers to an outside reward. You have to turn in your forms for a class trip to the museum or you can’t go. Intrinsic (also known as internal) motivation refers to goals that we set for ourselves. You want to reach the next level on your computer game or run a mile in eight minutes. Intrinsic motivation — doing something because it feels good — fully matures in neurotypical brains in the early twenties and in ADHD brains, by the mid-twenties. If something seems unappealing to a youngster with ADHD, they will probably turn away from it — even if the consequences are serious. Many of these kids have to rely on external rewards to rouse themselves. Whether they are neurotypical or neurodiverse, children and teens need help from adults in their lives to create meaningful external incentives to nurture the growth of internal satisfaction later. Do the dishes and then watch television; finish studying and reward yourself with an hour of gaming. There are no quick fixes for improving motivation, which can be frustrating for everybody. Instead, it’s all about establishing routines, being consistent more often than not, and noticing progress.

When kids are unmotivated, they…

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D.

Sharon Saline, Psy.D. is a top expert in ADHD and neurodiversity. Dr. Saline specializes in an integrative approach to managing ADHD, anxiety, executive functioning skills, learning differences and mental health issues in neurodiverse and 2e children, teens, college-age adults and families. With over 25 years of clinical experience, she brings a positive, strength-based approach to improving the challenges related to attention, learning and behavior. As a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Northampton, MA, Dr. Saline helps people reduce frustration, develop daily living skills, communicate better and feel closer. An internationally sought-after lecturer, workshop facilitator, and educator/clinician trainer, she adeptly addresses topics ranging from making sense of ADHD and executive functioning skills to managing anxiety to understanding the teen brain. You may contact Dr. Sharon Saline at https://drsharonsaline.com.