Guest Blogs

The Thing Kids with ADHD Crave the Most Is…

My daughter recently demanded positive feedback from everyone in our family. In a world where kids with ADHD are often criticized, parents must remember how important positive reinforcement is.

Hi! My name is Ben. I am 37 years old, and I play with LEGOs. For a while, I used my kids as an excuse to play with my beloved bricks, but no longer will I live a lie: I confess, I’m a LEGOs maniac, and I’m proud of it!

I have kept my love for LEGOs at bay for years due to a relentlessly busy schedule. This past winter, due in large part to an unprecedented number of snow days, I was able to rekindle my passion. LEGO just opened their first store here in Indianapolis. Talk about serendipity! What has all that to do with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and encouragement? I’ll tell you.

A week ago, my youngest daughter, Annie, said, “Daddy, let’s play LEGOs!” My heart leapt! My little girl had become a LEGO maniac like her daddy. To christen our first daddy-daughter building session, I broke out a fresh new LEGO kit I’d been saving for a special occasion just like this one. Nothing like the feel of fresh LEGOs right out of the box! No scratches, no teeth marks, no unidentifiable sticky spots…but I digress.

To make sure that Annie would complete the toy in the kit, I gave her a small one with only 50 pieces. Even so, I was concerned about her being able to put it all together. I laid out all the pieces, opened the instructions, and was tremendously pleased when she quickly found the pieces needed for the first step and snapped them together.

“Great job!” I exclaimed and was rewarded with an ear-to-ear grin. Before she could get distracted, I reminded her that she still had a few more steps to go before finishing the toy. She successfully completed step two, and once again, I was impressed and ready with praise. Without hesitation, she dove into step three and, upon completion, proudly showed me her progress. I gave her a big smile without saying anything. She looked slightly confused, then disappointed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked her. “Looks like you did everything right. Go on to the next step!”

She looked at me with consternation, shaking her head. “Daddy! Tell me I did a good job first!”

For the next 10 steps, after each had been completed, she would look at me and command, “Daddy! Say, ‘Good job’!”

When the final product was completed, Annie made sure to go around and show off the toy to the rest of the family, demanding praise with no shame. Her lack of self-consciousness made me think about how kids have a way of being transparent. They can’t always express how they feel or what they need, but when they do discover something tangible — like the fact that receiving praise makes them feel great — they are not shy about asking for it. Even as we grow up and learn to recognize that demanding praise is inappropriate under most circumstances, how many of us actually ever stop craving it — especially from our parents? I think this especially applies kids that get more discipline than praise, as do most children with ADHD and other learning and behavioral challenges. If you’re used to hearing that negative feedback, you might crave positive reinforcement more than ever!

For me — and hopefully for you — this is a simple reminder to remember to praise your kids…no matter if they are 4 or 44. Being a disciplinarian comes easily to most of us, and spotting behavior that needs to be challenged is second nature. Offering encouragement and telling our kids, “Good job!” requires creativity, effort, and vigilance. It’s too easy to take good behavior for granted and accomplishments as due course. Ultimately, discipline and encouragement are two-sides of the same coin — both must be present to maintain a balance and help our kids grow up with a resilience that’s necessary to facing life’s many challenges and living life to its fullest.