Self Esteem

Building Resilience Begins Here: 6 Motivation Strategies for ADHD Families

“If there’s an ocean of inadequacy, there must be islands of competence.” Celebrate your child’s strengths and foster a nurturing environment by following this expert advice on building resilience in children with ADHD.

Group of group of children working together to assemble a puzzle.

Building resilience in children with ADHD begins with this: identifying their islands of competence and celebrating their strengths at school and at home, says Robert Brooks, Ph.D. In a recent ADDitude webinar, Dr. Brooks received hundreds of questions from parents and educators working to boost motivation by fostering greater self-esteem and independence. Here, ADDitude editors provide answers to some of these common questions and links to relevant resources.

Islands of Competence for Children with ADHD

Q1: “How can we encourage our children with ADHD to be more accountable without passing judgment?”

Children with ADHD typically lag behind their peers in maturation due to executive function deficits. Instead of playing the blame game with your child, ask yourself: “Is there anything I can do to help them acquire and hone the skills they need?” Teaching key skills at a pace that matches a child’s executive functioning age can help foster independence and accountability.

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Q2: “How can we address fear of failure and instill confidence in teens and young adults with ADHD? It’s like my son is giving up before he begins.”

It’s estimated that, by the age of 10, a child with ADHD will receive up to 20,000 critical comments. Years of accumulated negative feedback can manifest as low self-esteem in teens and young adults. Creating an environment that celebrates their achievements, however small, can encourage a resilient mindset over time. Sharon Saline, Psy.D. recommends daily check-ins where your family shares “one happy and one crappy” experience for the day. Your child will discover that everyone faces obstacles and makes mistakes — an important first step toward building a growth mindset for lifelong learning.

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Q3: “What specific strategies can we use to help a child overcome strong avoidance motivation? Screen time and gaming are the only things our kid responds to these days.”

Children motivated by avoidance may be protecting themselves from situations that lead to humiliation and emotional or physical exhaustion. Making friends inside a video game, for example, might be easier than doing so at school or through sports. Figure out what your child is motivated to avoid and explore how gaming might feed into other strengths and interests such as coding or graphic design.

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Q4: “How can we integrate ‘islands of competence’ into my 5th grader’s IEP?”

Dr. Brooks suggests attaching a list of your child’s strengths to their IEP. Start a conversation with a teacher or school official about how their islands of competence are (or could be) incorporated into purposeful activities at school.


Q5: “How can I determine if my intervention will help or hurt my child’s resilience efforts? I feel like I’ve already messed up with my negative comments.”

It’s never too late to explore new parenting strategies. Consider using the PRIDE approach: Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, Enthusiasm. And, make sure you’re building on your own resilient mindset.

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Q6: “What are some goal-oriented activities a child can do to feel like they are contributing, besides chores?”

Figure out what your child likes to do — playing to their interests will help nurture a sense of purpose, self-esteem, motivation, and dignity. Then create opportunities for them to help out in some manner. Check out this ADDitude resource for ideas: “15 Summer Activities That Build Stronger Self-Esteem, Independence & Academics.”

The content for this article was based on questions submitted by live attendees during the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Nurturing Resilience and Motivation in Children with ADHD: The Search for ‘Islands of Competence'” [Video Replay & Podcast #408] with Robert Brooks, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on June 28, 2022.


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