When my son was young, we used basic behavior charts. The charts had behaviors listed down the side, such as: cleaning your room, getting ready for school, or completing homework, and he received stars for reaching goals. When he had received enough stars, he was given some type of reward. The charts worked, for a while. He became bored with the idea or we would forget to add a star. Some years before, my husband had worked as a sales consultant and would use games to help to motivate sales people. We decided to adapt some of those games to help my son stay motivated. We used the general concept of the games; modified them and changed games every few weeks to avoid becoming bored. These games can be changed or modified to suit your specific situation.
The key to using these games is preparation:
Decide on one behavior you want to improve or change. You might want to work on talking back, getting along with siblings, social skills, completing chores or homework, or getting ready in the mornings. It is important to pick just one behavior at a time. Asking your child to change several behaviors at one time can be overwhelming and the entire effort may fall apart. Once you have seen significant improvements in the behavior you chose, keep with it for a short time, then choose one more behavior and begin the work on that.
Be specific about your expectations. What do you want to see as the end result? The more specific you are, the more chances of success you will have. For example, suppose you choose “completing your homework.” What do you mean? Do you want homework completed by a certain time each evening? Do you want homework to be neat and put away in the schoolbag before you consider it completed? Are you including handing in homework or just completing it? (If your child has a problem handing in homework, this might be a whole separate behavior.) Write down exactly what you expect and what the end goal is.
Create the rules for the game. There are a few examples of games to play to help change your children’s behaviors below. Using one of these, or creating one of your own, decide how the game is to be played. Again, be specific and write down your rules. If you are playing the horserace game, will your child move back if they do not complete their homework, or will they just remain on the space they are at? What happens if they complete their homework, but not in the time allowed? What happens if they complete their homework, but do not put all their supplies away and the homework is not in their schoolbag ready to be handed in?
Decide on rewards and consequences. Will your child receive a reward at the end of the game? Rewards do not need to be monetary, although for teens, monetary rewards often work well. Some example of rewards might be: having a friend sleep over, renting a movie, going out for ice cream, getting to pick out their favorite dinner, staying up late or spending the day at the park. Use your child’s interests to come up with ideas for rewards. Will there be consequences? If your child does not follow the game or refuses to cooperate what will happen?
Deciding all of this in advance will help you to make this a fun way to improve behaviors.
There are five ideas for games below. For example purposes, I have continued to use the completing homework example, although all of these games can be used to work on any number of behaviors. I hope that readers will be able to add their own ideas on how they motivate their children.
Find small toy horses, many times these can be found at the dollar store. Use construction paper to cut out a racetrack. Based on your expectations, decide how many spaces you want to have. If you are using the example above for completing homework, and you want to include: completing homework, putting supplies away, and putting homework in schoolbag, you could use 15 spaces. (One space for each task times five days in a school week.) Each night your child would have the opportunity to move their horse 3 spaces. Place the “board” you created and the horse in a spot that it will not be disturbed except when your child is moving the horse, put also in a spot where they can see their progress. If they reach the winners line at the end of the week, they can have the reward.
This game is easily modified to use play cars instead of horses.
A Peaceful Home
This idea was shared by a father of two children, both with ADHD and was used to help his children learn to get along with one another.
Use plastic cups, one for each child and one for you. Place five dimes in each of the children’s cups. Make sure you have a few rolls of dimes on hand. Try to catch your children being nice to each other (or even civil). Each time they say a kind word, help someone else, not talk back or simply not hit each other (depending on your situation), add a dime to their cup. If they do yell, hit or speak meanly, take a dime away and put it in your cup. Decide in advance a day to end the game and then let your children spend their money on something.
Create five clues to search for treasure. Your clues can be simple, such as “look in silverware drawer” for young children, or more complicated for older children. Write each clue down and place in an envelope. Each clue should lead to the spot where the next clue is hidden.
Using the homework example, each night your child completes their homework, they will receive a clue. At the end of the week, they have a chance to have all five clues to go on a “treasure hunt.” On Friday evening, set out all the clues and one last one with a reward or prize. Let your child follow the trail of the clues to reach the prize.
This game is often good for older children. We used this game when my son entered high school and was afraid that he would not be able to keep up. Using a deck of cards, we gave each card a monetary value. For example, cards numbered 2 through 9 would be worth $1.00 each, 10 through K would be worth $2.00 each and A would be worth $3.00. For each A that he brought home (could be from a test, quiz, homework, projects, or any other school work), he got to cut the cards and received the value for the card. We would keep a tally mark for each A throughout the week and on Friday evening he would get to cut the cards and receive his money to go out with friends. This game gave him a boost of confidence as he made the extra effort to try to get the “A” and gain a card cut.
Paper Dolls and Tea Parties
This game works well for young girls. Make a paper doll out of construction paper. Use additional paper to make a skirt, shirt, shoes, socks, and hat. Each day that homework was completed, my daughter got to add one piece of clothing to the doll. When the doll was completely dressed, we took down the china tea set and had a tea party, complete with fresh baked cupcakes.
I hope that you find these games enjoyable for you and your child. Have fun and if you have any additional ideas for helping to motivate children with ADHD, please add a comment and let us know about them.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.