Many parents ask for advice on how to get their child to “put forth more effort” or “try harder” to get things done. I invariably ask, “what makes you think your child is not trying?”
Effort has to do with how much work you are putting into a task not the final results you are getting. It is how hard you are trying to get started not how hard you are trying to finish. A common mistake parents make is gauging effort by focusing only on physical actions, failing to recognize the invisible work going on inside the brain.
“Just Do It” is a great slogan for a shoe company, “but it is a far cry from how any human gets things done. Nobody JUST DOES ANYTHING. Instead, we have to access and use a special set of brain processes to get something done. Every time!
These processes are known as the Executive Functions, and they are the invisible parts of effort. These functions help us do everything from realize we need to do something, plan a time to do it, remember how to do it, to start doing it, withstand any distractions from doing it, and then push through to completing it. Accessing and using these functions are significantly harder for a person with ADHD. So, what looks to the outside observer like “not trying”, is actually an immense internal struggle to coordinate the use of these functions.
Here is how you can help.
- Make sure your child has a clear understanding of the end goal – what does success look like? This clarity makes it easier to start and stay focused on the task at hand.
- Break big tasks into smaller tasks. This “chunking” alleviates the pressure of having to keep all the steps organized at once.
- Ask them to just focus on getting started, not finishing. The discomfort of starting non-preferred tasks usually dissipates after they get started and make some progress. Allow them to take short breaks as needed.
- Provide them with just enough support to achieve a successful result. I promise they will learn to do the task independently in time.
Taking time to appreciate this often missed and misunderstood invisible effort can open new doors to helping you support your child.
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