Table of contents
Share Post

This has been a hot topic of debate among professionals in the field for as long as motivation has been a topic of study.  There are many schools of thought, and you may get a different opinion depending on who you ask.

ADHD and Rewards

In individuals with ADHD, rewards can trigger a dopamine response, a chemical reaction in the brain that plays a crucial role in motivation and pleasure. This chemical reaction, in turn, facilitates the completion of mundane tasks.

Dopamine levels are lower in people with ADHD.  In this, people with ADHD cannot derive any pleasure from boring things.  On top of that, they generally aren’t “big picture” thinkers, so they don’t see the benefit of completing the task in the long run.  Also, they tend to struggle with pushing through hard things.   Therefore, having rewards in place can provide the immediate release of dopamine that is required to push through a boring or challenging task.  

Rules for Rewards

  1. DO NOT reward intrinsically motivated activities (for example, reading, playing piano, playing sports)
  2. DO reward activities that are not intrinsically motivated (chores, getting ready for work/school, cleaning room, laundry)
  3. DO focus rewards more on experiences and less on money or tangible items

The idea is that some activities will never be intrinsically motivating.  Therefore, providing a reward for doing this behavior will not detract from any intrinsic motivation that may accompany it.  For example, a child may never enjoy loading dishes into the dishwasher.  However, the behavior is more likely if a reward sheet is given for completing weekly chores.

        ★ Consider: Using incentives appropriately can lead to academic competence. When tasks are done repeatedly in a carefully constructed way, they become more proficient and automatic.

What Are Some Appropriate Rewards?

  1. Verbal Praise: Positive reinforcement through verbal acknowledgment of good behavior.
  2. Privileges: Granting special privileges like extra screen time, choosing a favorite activity, or staying up a bit later.
  3. Stickers or Tokens: Using a sticker chart or token system, accumulating stickers or tokens leads to a larger reward.
  4. Special Outings: Planning a special outing to a favorite place for achieving certain goals.
  5. Activity Time: Allowing extra time for a preferred activity (e.g., playing a game) after completing tasks.

✳ Caveat: Try to refrain from using money or gifts as rewards.  You will likely end up in the never-ending circle of “If I do this, can I get this?” Unless it is set up as a way of completing tasks to earn an allowance.

✳ Caveat #2: Also, refrain from using food as a reward.  This creates a relationship with food that leads to seeing certain foods as rewards, which is not a healthy system of beliefs.