Why Your ADHD Child is Unmotivated

by Yafa Crane Luria


Do you have an unmotivated child?

  1. Every day I text my client, Manny, and remind him to go to his high school’s Counseling Office to pick up his necessary paperwork. Every day, he doesn’t do it.
  2. 11-year old Grayson has one chore – to empty the dishwasher. Does he do it? No.
  3. 17- year old Miriam won’t do much of anything. She sits in her room and texts and watches YouTube videos. She likes school and gets good grades, but she comes home and only engages in mindless activities.

Why are these kids so unmotivated to do even the simplest of tasks?

What the heck is happening?

We think: “They’re so smart and these things take no brain work at all. What gives? Am I raising a non-achiever? Will he become a hoarder, a slob? Will she even graduate from high school at this rate?”

Let me share my thoughts on why ADHD kids appear to be unmotivated some of the time. I think this will give you some insight into what’s actually going on, and then I’ll talk about what you can do to help, and how you can get even more information on the topic of the Unmotivated Child:

Lack of motivation is not a character flaw, a moral issue, nor is it related whatsoever to a person’s intelligence.

In my years of working with ADHD kids (and having been an ADHD kid), I believe that what appears to be a lack of motivation is actually an emotional disconnect.

I usually see three things happening to cause apathy:

  1. As in Manny’s case, his executive functions and his emotional maturity level are not on par with kids his own age. This is very common with ADHD. I asked Manny tonight, “Do you want me to stop texting you reminders for a while?” His answer was, “No. I don’t want it to become a case of ‘Out of sight, out of mind’.” I can see that he’s having a hard time and I offered a temporary out. But because I don’t berate him or turn this situation into a failure on his part, he knows that I will help him willingly, and so he asks for what he needs.
  2. Grayson is smart and athletic and popular and perfectly capable of emptying a dishwasher. I asked him why he doesn’t do it and he said he feels lonely doing a task when no one else is around. This is an authentic answer. It may sound ridiculous but he just told me that this ridiculous thing is real for him. Instead of scoffing or negating his answer, we arranged for his mom to help him – to come alongside him for this chore. He actually LOVES being around his mom and this makes him get the task completed.
  3. Although Miriam has been diagnosed with ADHD, this doesn’t appear to be her major health issue, or she is being treated successfully for her ADHD. What’s coming out is a co-occurring condition, and that is running the show. She’s good at school – she’s in her element at school. When she comes home, she’s in a different world and she doesn’t feel as good about herself there. It seems like she may be depressed or anxious, but we can’t know without a doctor’s diagnosis.

Eyes of child© Luca Chiartano | Dreamstime.com_252056

What can you do to create an atmosphere that feels motivating?

  • Come from a place of support, not fear. As we say in the Pacific Northwest, “Don’t future trip,” which means don’t make yourself crazy thinking about the future and what horrible things might happen. Stay in the present. That’s where your child lives 🙂
  • Don’t take apparent lack of motivation personally. First, I would argue that it’s not lack of motivation and, also, it’s not directed at you. It’s directed inward, even though it may display itself outwardly. If you see your child as struggling instead of seeing him/her as defiant, willful or unmotivated, it will help you and your child come up with solutions to what’s troubling him or her.
  • ADHD children are either invested in a project, task, or activity, or they are not invested. Our job, as parents and teachers, is to bridge that gap. Ask how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. Ask what they need, given that this task, activity or project needs to be done. Ask how it could be made more fun or more interesting. (We like FUN and INTERESTING).
  • Make sure you’re not de-motivating your children by making sarcastic comments that are really put-downs and criticism. Your mouth does not have to say what your brain is thinking!
  • You may need to spend more time in the beginning helping them build executive functions but don’t take over and run the show. At some point it’s important to “wean them.” Remember that one of the best ways to build executive functions is to engage your child in a conversation of “How would you do this?” or “If you could improve X, how would you do it?” or “What do we need in order to do X?”
  • Look into other causes. Check with doctors or coaches to see what else might be going on or where there’s room for a parenting strategy session.

xo, Yafa

Copyright 2017 Yafa Luria/Margit Crane All Rights Reserved


What troubles you about parenting an ADHD child or teen?

Let’s talk! No judgment, no salesy come-on. However you WILL receive a good deal of TLC and a slew of strategies. You can say anything. You can cry. You can swear. Your confidentiality is guaranteed, and I promise to listen and give you hope and relief. (You might even find yourself spontaneously doing a happy dance).

“Thank you Yafa. You’ve given me incredibly helpful tools! It was really a pleasure to speak with you. I’ll be back in touch in the coming weeks.” Stella R, Portland, OR.

“I really appreciate that I could be vulnerable and you didn’t shoot me down. I feel comfortable with you and your humor brightened the call.” Danielle A, Bellingham, WA.

“I talked with you a year ago, Yafa, and your voice is always in my head, guiding me. I just wanted to email and thank you.” April W, Queensland, Australia

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