Growth Mindset and Motivation

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

When you think about ADHD symptoms, things like distractibility, impulsivity, or hyperactivity usually come to mind. But along with these “typical” symptoms comes another challenge: low motivation. Kids with ADHD often struggle to muster up the motivation they need in order to be successful, particularly when it comes to schoolwork. Perhaps not surprisingly, research has shown that factors like motivation, the desire to improve, and persistence all greatly impact academic performance.

But when you have a child with ADHD, what can you do as a parent that will really make an impact on your child’s motivation for schoolwork? There are several behavior management strategies that help to improve motivation on a moment to moment basis. I’ve talked about some of them here in this blog – including setting up routines, using rewards to motivate kids to try new behaviors, and strategies for helping your child engage with reading. These strategies are essential components of effective ADHD treatment plans, and can go a long way in helping to set your child up for success.

However, these behavior plans do little to address underlying motivational challenges. To truly address motivation and particularly motivation as it relates to academics and school, you need to also consider your child’s mindset – or the way that he or she thinks about his or her abilities and potential to improve. I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s seminal work, The Growth Mindset and how it helps all kids – including kids with ADHD – rethink success and failure and how they think about their own learning and intelligence.

Individuals with a Growth Mindset believe that the have the ability to improve their intelligence and abilities through hard work and the use of good learning strategies. This belief is backed by decades of science showing that we do in fact have the ability to “grow our brain” and improve our intelligence. When children are armed with this knowledge, they are motivated to work hard and tackle challenges because they believe that they can improve and overcome obstacles with effort. In contrast, individuals with a Fixed Mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities cannot be changed. When faced with a difficult task in a subject that they are “not good” at, they will shy away from the challenge and instead put their efforts into hiding their weaknesses and avoiding the task at all cost. Sound familiar?

Kids with ADHD may be more likely to get stuck in a Fixed Mindset than kids without ADHD. After all, they’ve had years of experience with their ADHD symptoms getting in the way and preventing typical learning strategies from working for them. So, they’ve inadvertently collected a great deal of evidence supporting the notion that nothing they do will help them improve in the areas that are hard for them. In addition, neuroimaging studies have shown that the part of the brain that controls ADHD symptoms (the prefrontal cortex), is also responsible for motivation and mindset. In other words, they may be biologically predisposed to fall into a Fixed Mindset more quickly.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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