In a Slump? Tips for Boosting Motivation for Remote Learning in Kids with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

November is a tough month for kids with ADHD when it comes to staying motivated at school. The novelty of the new school year has officially worn off, summer seems like a lifetime ago, and holiday distractions are about to come on in full force. Most kids with ADHD who are attending school remotely are struggling with motivation more than ever. To top it all off, parents are also especially burned out this year and are in motivational slumps of their own.

Under the circumstances, it might feel overwhelming to even think about strategies to boost your child’s motivation, when you are struggling to get motivated yourself. Fortunately, there are some quick and simple things you can do that can have a big impact on your child’s academic motivation. They all tap into three keys for keeping kids with ADHD motivated: novelty, physical activity, and interest.

Novelty: ADHD brains thrive on novelty. When something is new, kids with ADHD are effortlessly engaged and focused. Creating novelty when your child is stuck at home all day can seem challenging, but even simple changes can make a big difference. So, consider picking one or two days out of the week when your child can choose a different location for their schoolwork. You can set parameters around the location (e.g. not in front of the TV, not in an area with a lot of distractions, or not entirely unsupervised), but otherwise, let them choose where to work (even if it’s on the floor). You can also add novelty by letting your child pick music to listen to while they are working, mixing up the order of their daily school routine, allowing them to write with colored pens and pencils, or supplementing their school assignments with fun videos or audiobooks.

Physical Activity: All kids need physical activity to stay alert and motivated throughout the day, but it’s especially essential for kids with ADHD. When kids with ADHD don’t get enough physical activity, their ADHD symptoms become much worse and their motivation drops dramatically (check out my earlier post on the benefits of exercise for kids with ADHD – link to post 49 here). Kids naturally get a lot of movement throughout the day when they attend school in person. When they’re at home, you need to schedule time for burning off energy to compensate.

Of course, this gets harder in November when the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler. Still, whenever possible, make it a point to get your kids outside. When that’s simply not an option, get creative with their inside activities. Websites like GoNoodle and CosmicKids have great activities to get kids moving. Board games like Fitivities and video games like Just Dance for PS4 are very popular right now. And old-school favorites like obstacle courses, relay races, balloon volleyball, and Nerf basketball are still always a hit.

Interest: Kids with ADHD are naturally motivated and engaged when they are interested in the topic they are learning about. While they simply can’t be interested in every assignment, there are ways to build individualized “interest-based learning” into any curriculum. Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s current struggle with motivation. Ask if they can modify some assignments to make them more aligned with your child’s interest areas. Ideally, your child’s teacher will have a conversation with your child about the things they are most interested in, and will be flexible enough to modify some of their assignments to fit within these topic areas.  

Staying motivated while attending school remotely is difficult for kids with ADHD, but using some of these simple strategies can help. When it comes to your own motivation as a parent, remember to take it one day at a time and celebrate the small successes that happen each day.


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.


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