NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning DisabilitiesBy Annie Stuart
July 10, 2013
are often one part of executive dysfunction
. Here are some proven techniques that work well for motivating any child, especially one who struggles with executive function.Praise That Motivates
Decades ago, the self-esteem
movement made a wrong turn when it came to praise, says David Walsh, Ph.D., psychologist, teacher, and author of Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen.
It put too much emphasis on children feeling good about themselves, he says, and not enough on gaining competence.
Today, we have a better sense of what really works. Led by Stanford University’s Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., recent
research has shown that certain types of praise are more effective than others. Some effective strategies foster a fixed mindset—the
belief that abilities are set in stone.
Others foster a growth mindset—the belief that talents
can be developed. These tend to be among the most inspiring strategies: Dr. Dweck also found that describing the brain as
a “muscle” with the ability to develop can help motivate kids.
Follow these tips to give more effective praise:
the Effort. “Praising a child for innate abilities makes them risk-averse,” says Dr. Walsh.
“They don’t want to run the risk of losing that identity.” Praising effort, on the other hand, gives children
something they have control over – no matter their ability. “It turns out to be much more motivating.”
Be Specific. Rather than telling your child, “You’re
really good at math,” it’s more helpful to say, “Hey, nice job on those equations. You must have worked
hard on that,” says Dr. Walsh.
Praise kids for checking their work, too, adds Lisa A. Jacobson, PhD, NCSP
(Nationally Certified School Psychologist), a pediatric neuropsychologist with the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.
Try phrases like, “Found a mistake? Great!” With this, you’re encouraging your child to work hard and work
Be Sincere. “Children as young as seven years old know whether or not they
deserve praise,” says Dr. Walsh, adding that: “When they get it and know they don’t deserve it, they come
to two conclusions: One, I can’t believe you because you praise me for everything. Two, I must be really sad if you’re
praising me for that.”
Don’t Overdo It.
For children who struggle with learning and are at risk of losing their drive, it may be tempting to really pour on the praise.
But constant praise may decrease persistence and erode self-reliance. For better results, praise intermittently, says Dr.
A Balanced Parenting Style
Is there a parenting style that works better than others for children with executive dysfunction? Try to avoid
one extreme or another, says Dr. Walsh.
Too Much, Too
Little. One extreme is being overly involved, directive, and strict. Another is a laissez-faire or permissive
parenting style, which is paved with good intentions: You don’t want to put too much pressure on kids, so you let them
off the hook too easily. “But if you end up doing things for children that they can do for themselves, they don’t
develop that inner sense of competence and achievement,” said Dr. Walsh.
Just Right. A better way to build executive function is with consistent, firm, clear expectations
and consequences that are laid out in advance, says Dr. Walsh. With countless repetitions, he says, children and teens develop
the ability to manage themselves and direct their own energy.
Dr. Jacobson agrees: A sensitive and structured approach—customized
to the child’s capabilities—goes a long way toward maintaining a child’s motivation. “It’s not
just, ‘Honey, you’re fine, whatever you’re doing,’ but ‘Here’s what I expect, and let
me support you in the process.’”
Tips for Promoting Motivation
Here are a few other tips that may help:
it up. For younger children, Dr. Jacobson recommends building task motivation by interspersing work and
play periods. Use a timer, so your child can see when playtime is getting closer. Then set the timer for several minutes of
Offer choices. To the extent
possible, offer both young children and adolescents choices, says Dr. Jacobson. This includes what to do as well as how to
do it. Autonomy is motivating.
Find the sparks. Not interested in school subjects? Figure out what else your child is
interested in. Is she passionate about ponies? Ride that motivational horse, says Dr. Walsh, if only with reading materials.
Temper use of technology. Whether it’s video
games, television, or Facebook—an overuse of technology is likely contributing to growing distractedness in the population
at large, says Dr. Walsh. That won’t help motivate any child, let alone one with executive function challenges. Set
limits, and stick to them, but start at an early age for better results.