“Work Hard, Play Hard” is Bad Advice for ADHD Children

by Yafa Crane Luria


tired boy staring by greyer babySometimes old phrases and adages don’t work anymore

Exactly 6 months ago (!!) I wrote a blog post about how much I dislike the phrase “Just do your best!” and how it’s not motivating AT ALL. I can’t even say “Do your best” without sounding snarky. You should read the post. I’ve learned a lot from my clients.

Another phrase I have come to loathe is “Word hard, play hard,” and its cousin, “Work hard, play harder.”

Is this really helpful for someone with ADHD?

How is this helpful? It reinforces that those of us with ADD/ADHD are better off when we push forward and bust down walls, but that can get tiring and repetitive and then I don’t want to bust down any more walls. I just want to do something mindless (NOT homework, NOT chores, NOT trying to explain myself to my parents).

Mindless isn’t the answer either (If that’s your definition of “playing hard”). In fact, countless articles extol the benefits of a peaceful heightened awareness for people with ADHD. Some suggest meditation, mindfulness, or yoga.

For me, the problem lays with the dynamic of work set against play.

What we forget is that, for those of us with ADHD, pitting work against play is a set up for misery and longing. All work becomes dull and lifeless if there’s no aspect of play, and all play becomes tinged with some sadness because the mandate to eventually get down to work is always looming in the background.

What’s the alternative to working and playing hard?

What’s most helpful for ADHD children (and adults) is a bit of play and a bit of work every day. Why not? Why does the weekend have to be for fun and the weekday for work? That’s a lot of sucky days for a kid. This set-up can (and has) created a resentment towards school and learning.

Learning is awesome. All kids love to learn new things. All of them. But if learning is always presented as something that only happens at school then it sucks the joy out, because more and more schools are turning into factories of test-taking non-thinkers.

Ask yourself: what can I do to make school more fun for my child instead of the same old tired routine?

Make each day a game of strategy

Why not create games for our kids to play each day?

  • How fast can you get ready for school?
  • How many eggs (hard-boiled) can you juggle? (And then help make some egg salad sandwiches or deviled eggs)
  • I’ve hidden jelly beans. How many can you find throughout the school day?
  • Can you write a nice note to someone and give it to them without them even knowing?
  • Write every homework assignment in your Agenda/Calendar/Planner today and you get to pick out dessert on the way home.

There are so many possibilities.

Parents, we need to awaken our funny bones!

Kids learn by watching adults and parents are the main adults in kids’ lives. We need to perk up, re-learn how to be playful, find our sense of humor.

In 1962, the journal “Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe that contained the following passage:

All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.

Author Isaac Asimov was quoted saying,

The day you stop learning is the day you begin decaying.

 Let’s change “Work hard, play hard” to “Put a little work in your play and a little play in your work.”

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

“Thank you for your encouraging, enlightening suggestions.” Jill E, Seattle, WA.

Thank you for ‘being there’ to share your wealth of knowledge and personal experience with us who are ‘floundering’ and ‘lost in the forest’ when it comes to ‘dealing with special and difficult circumstances’. Gratefully yours, Rochelle H, Alberta, Canada xox ((((BIG HUGS)))

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