Helping Children with ADHD Develop a Growth Mindset

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Children with ADHD typically struggle with motivation and often have difficulty persisting with challenging homework assignments and projects. These difficulties are largely due to ADHD symptoms, but they can be exacerbated or helped by other factors, including a child’s mindset. A growth mindset is one’s belief that their intelligence and abilities can be improved through effort and practice. With a growth mindset, children believe that their knowledge and skills are never static and can be improved over time. In contrast, children with a fixed mindset believe that these characteristics are set in stone and will not change no matter how hard they try. Not surprisingly, research has shown that a growth mindset is associated with improved academic motivation and effort and a fixed mindset is associated with reduced motivation and effort. 

Children with ADHD have a tendency toward a fixed mindset in part because of biological differences in the regions of the brain associated with mindset, motivation and goal setting. These children often have repeated experiences where they tried to be more organized, make fewer mistakes and get better grades, but failed because they lacked the skills and support they needed. For children with ADHD, having a fixed mindset also makes them more likely to avoid challenging tasks and try to cover up their weaknesses (rather than work to improve their skills).  

Fostering a growth mindset in your child can help to counteract some of the negative academic experiences and criticisms that they encounter because of their ADHD. It can help them find the motivation to persist in the face of challenges and work hard to achieve their academic goals.  

Fortunately, mindsets can be changed! As a parent, here are a few steps you can take to help your child shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:  

  1. Teach your child that they can grow their brain and improve their intelligence and academic abilities. Children grasp this concept more easily when you describe the brain as being like a muscle. Just like muscles grow stronger when we exercise our bodies, our brains grow stronger when we exercise our minds. We can do this through engaging in challenging tasks, making mistakes and correcting them, and putting effort into things even when they are hard. 
  2. Help your child develop new skills and strategies. Working hard, persisting and tackling new challenges are only effective tools when your child has the skills and strategies they need to succeed. Children with ADHD often have deficits in organizational skills, academic skills and the ability to focus. Work with your child’s teachers, therapists and tutors to help your child develop and strengthen these aptitudes. 
  3. Provide opportunities for positive challenges. Help break the cycle of avoidance by giving your child opportunities to engage in difficult activities where they have a high likelihood of being successful. Look for challenges where your child has the basic skills to gain small wins and where they can easily improve with a little effort and practice. Point out your child’s progress and praise them for their growth mindset approach to persist even when things became difficult.
  4. Give targeted growth mindset praise. This includes praising your child when they:
    • Approach rather than avoid challenges.
    • Try out new strategies.
    • Demonstrate persistence in the face of obstacles.
    • Improve and learn from their mistakes.
  5. Share in your child’s joy when they achieve their goals. Your genuine enthusiasm for your child’s success when they achieve a goal that is important to them can be hugely rewarding and motivating and will encourage your child to continue using growth mindset strategies in the future.  

Helping your child shift their fixed mindset toward a growth mindset will take effort and patience. Their mindset won’t shift overnight, but over time, you will see your child’s motivation and persistence begin to improve. They will start to internalize the message that with hard work and effort, nothing can stop them from achieving their goals.  

Check out Huntington’s webinar, Fostering a Growth Mindset in Kids with ADHD, for more ideas on how to help your child embrace challenges and recognize that they can improve their academic skills and performance with effort and hard work.  


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.

Article Topics