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What You Focus on, You Get More Of

Did you know that by the age of 12, children who have ADHD receive 20,000 more negative comments from adults compared to their neurotypical peers? Think about the impact that has on self-esteem, confidence, learning potential, and the ability to trust oneself and others. It can also have long-term effects that negatively impact emotional regulation, self-talk, shame, and more.

However, noticing the positives and using encouragement when your child is doing what is expected or starting to do what is expected is a more productive way to help children learn what to do. This is a form of positive reinforcement.

Using positive reinforcement sends feel-good neural chemicals to the brain, which then activates the reward center. Over time and repetition, the brain links the reward to the task, which increases the likelihood of that behavior. It also takes out nagging as well as the “don’t tell me what to do”.

Focusing on the positives supports executive functioning skills such as:

  • Sustained and prolonged attention
  • Working memory
  • Goal-oriented persistence
  • Stress tolerance
  • Task initiation
  • Flexibility

There are different ways to show positive reinforcement. One supportive way is through connection: using eye contact, presence, caring touch, and playfulness. Implementing connection is vital for our “emotional state” or limbic system in the brain to support emotional regulation and resiliency. When children (and adults) feel positively connected, we then have better access to our “executive state” or prefrontal cortex, which stores all of the executive function skills.

It is also helpful to be specific, intentional, and encourage effort when giving positive reinforcement. This creates a clear understanding of what behavior you are reinforcing and focuses on hard work. Some examples are *high five!*, “You are working so hard on your math homework – you’ve got this!” or “You are being so gentle with your siblings- way to go!” *hug* or even, “You started to clean your room – Look at you!” And yes, even if you had to remind them what feels like a 100 times.

Below are some ideas on how you can implement positive reinforcement throughout the day:

  • High fives/hugs
  • A silly dance
  • Play a fun mini-game
  • Creating a special handshake
  • Use a caring phrase
  • Validate feelings
  • Laugh together
  • Incorporate a child’s interest

Even as we grow older, positive reinforcement does more than just feel good, it is needed to support our biological need for connection. So I am wondering: how many positive moments can you catch?

Alicia Kohls, M. Ed., PCAC

Alicia Kohls, M.Ed, PCAC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach