Kids with ADD Need Positive Reinforcement

Kids with ADD Need Positive Reinforcement
In working with children who have Attention Deficit Disorder, there are parents and educators who believe that it is important to point out a child’s shortcomings, in order to motivate them to do better. Research published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions in 2015 suggests otherwise. The research conducted at the University at Buffalo suggests that positive reinforcement actually works better than criticism to provide motivation for the child with ADD/ADHD.

In particular, extrinsic (external) reinforcers work very well. Extrinsic reinforcers are those reinforcements are outside of the child. These provide motivation, especially for the child with Attention Deficit Disorder. Larry Hawk, the principal investigator who wrote the paper stated, “It was greater motivation to obtain external rewards that drove the effects we observed."

While positive reinforcement works for many children, it appears that children with Attention Deficit Disorder are more influenced by external reinforcers than kids without ADD. Kids without Attention Deficit Disorder will often do their best work when asked to. No other reinforcement is needed. Kids with ADD respond differently.

If you want to help a child with Attention Deficit Disorder work better, find out what the particular child finds reinforcing, then supply it. Remember, the trick is to find out what that child wants. It is not reinforcing, if the child doesn’t want it, no matter how great the adult thinks that the reinforcement is. This is the reason that many students don’t work well for grades. They just don’t find grades that reinforcing, perhaps because the payoff might be years into the future. Now a candy bar, money, or an hour playing video games is another story! Sometimes, a reward can be a treasured adult saying, “Good job!� or “Well done.� When you tell a child, “I see that you tried your best,� that recognition can spur a child to be motivated to continue to give his best effort.

While providing extra words of encouragement or tangible extrinsic reinforcers might seem like “spoiling� a child, which is not true for kids with Attention Deficit Disorder. Many of them need the extra reinforcement to be able to do their best work. In the same way that we wouldn’t withhold medication from a person with diabetes, so we need to make sure that kids with Attention Deficit Disorder get the reinforcement that they need to excel.


University at Buffalo. (2015, July 30). Positive reinforcement plays key role in cognitive task performance in ADHD kids. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 18, 2016 from

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You Should Also Read:
Attention Deficit Disorder and Rewards
Rewarding Children and ADD
Tangible Rewards to Intrinsic Rewards and ADD

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