A Lego Space Shuttle, Legend the Beanie Baby Dragon, the “Age of Empires” computer game, an Orca whale stuffed animal, a Ferrari sports car model, an Abercrombie and Fitch camisole, iTunes songs, the Twilight DVD, an iPod, J. Crew corduroy slacks, and ribbon-tied, shortbread cookies from The Cakery bakery in downtown Burlingame, California. What do all these things have in common? Hint: This is not a holiday shopping list, as you may have guessed. All the items on this list were rewards either for my son Blake or my daughter Madison, as they were growing up. That’s right, rewards that acknowledged and celebrated their many efforts and accomplishments at home, in school, with relatives and friends, in community service, in extracurricular activities, and in sports, These were acknowledgements for doing something good -- big or small -- for something of which they were proud, at all the different stages of their childhood and teenage years.
In 5th grade, Madison completed her Harry Potter book report and created a mobile using a wizard hat as a centerpiece from which handcrafted figures from the Sorcerer’s Stone dangled. She wrote about the plot, theme and characters on construction paper squares that also dangled from the hat. She was creative and thoughtful. As a reward, I told her we would go and pick out another Beanie Baby for her collection that included iguanas, antelopes, bears, dogs and dinosaurs. Yet another colorful furry creature that would perch above her bed.
Blake practiced each day for a half hour on the piano learning one of Clementi’s Sonatinas leading up to the winter piano recital at the church. It was a complex and technically difficult piece to learn, requiring much patience. In addition, he had to wear a navy blazer and grey wool slacks to the recital and he had to take a bow in front of the audience. Our family celebrated later by going to the Cheese Cake Factory for dinner and I got him the computer game “Empire Earth” that he always wanted.
To tell you the truth, it doesn’t matter what the particular reward is. It does matter greatly that you decide to give it to your child and that the reward is something they love and want. It says simply: “I love you and I am proud of you. What you do is important to me” – all powerful words for a child with ADHD.
What are some of the other things that I rewarded? Blake organized his closet, sat politely through a long dinner party with relatives, finished the research and writing for his 8th grade English Share Project. We picked out a red model Ferrari that joined his silver Lamborghini and blue Porsche on his bookshelf.
In 9th grade, Madison organized a group of girls to help with community service work for our local greyhound rescue group. We did gift-wrapping with the greyhounds at Borders Book Store where we brought a group of former racing greyhounds into the bookstore, as part of an adoption event during the holiday season. The girls gift-wrapped books as the members of the rescue group talked to Border’s customers about greyhounds as pets and the urgent need for adoption. All tips and donations went to the rescue group, and I had Madison pick out “The Notebook” DVD she always wanted.
We all need rewards, recognition for our accomplishments, but I notice that children with ADHD need this symbolic recognition more frequently. They need something to strive for. Something to keep them going when it is hard to focus for hours on that biology or chemistry homework, studying for the SAT exam, doing the water polo drills and laps, or preparing for a part-time job interview.
Other people may chide me and say, the accomplishment itself is enough of a reward. But I politely disagree. True, an accomplishment stands on its own merit, but it seems as if our adult lives are all about results and returns on investments. What if our children’s results are not so stellar? What if your child tried really hard to do something and met with modest success – didn’t do well on a test, didn’t get selected as a starter for the team? As parents, can we take this one time in their lives and recognize their effort? Think of what that says to your child. It says I know how hard it was for you to do that, and I reward your effort – regardless of the results. That acknowledgement is crucial. Besides, there is plenty of time in the years ahead for the world to exert its influence.
P.S. Blake still wants those shortbread cookies even though he is in college.
Read more about ADHD on the CHADD website www.chadd.org and learn more about a young person’s experience growing up with ADHD on Blake’s website www.youngwithadhd.com