Rewards Might Work Like Medication for Kids with ADHD

Posted September 8, 2010 by

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Interestingly, a new study conducted at Nottingham University in the UK found that immediate rewards in the form of points in a video game had a similar effect on brain activity in kids with ADHD as stimulant medication does.  Based on EEG results, the team found that both the rewards and the child’s usual dose of stimulant medication resulted in the normalization of brain regions and improved task completion, though the medication yielded a slightly higher effect.

The researchers at Nottingham University stated that it may be difficult for parents and teachers to provide tangible rewards immediately.

However, other research shows that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder actually respond as well or better to social reinforcement than they do to tangible reinforcers like points, tokens or money.  This means that a smile or a brief word of encouragement may achieve significant benefits for a child with ADD or ADHD.

For some families, instituting some simple changes  in your parenting approach could reduce or eliminate the need for medication for some children. Positive words, a smile or encouragement can be given to your child immediately and may work to effectively improve the behavior of your child with ADHD or ADD.

Years of research and current professional guidelines indicate that behavioral interventions should be tried first before medication except for children with severe symptoms.


Dr Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities and is the creator of the Total Focus Program. Dr Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, which reaches 3 million parents each year. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

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  1. Ferina (Edit) Report

    I am a teacher and I observed self-esteem problems which make children weak at his education these types of articles must give some logical ideas to parents to judge their children behaviors.

  2. Alexis (Edit) Report


    From an ADHD mom perspective, first of all, bless you for wanting to help and being so understanding to all. I would advise that you choose your words carefully in offering assistance and make sure they are totally clear that you are coming from a place of wanting to help them with their heavy load of three young kids, two of which are special needs, rather than critical of their current approach. We parents can get hyper-sensitive about this, and as a parent of special needs kids, I often feel that people with average kids just don’t get it.

  3. Worried Mom (Edit) Report

    Dear Kim: You can be a positive influence in your grandson’s life. Perhaps because he is the oldest, you can take him on outings that would not be appropriate for 2 or 4-year-olds, like the movies (if he is able to sit still for 90 minutes) or a trip to the park or somewhere he would like to be. If you give him lots of positive reinforcement (smiles, compliments when he does the right thing, etc.), it will be a good thing. You can spend some time with him on weekends and help him with his homework. It’s very hard to interfere with how the parents act, but if there’s a seminar on dealing with ADHD in your hometown, you might ask your daughter and son-in-law if they can get a babysitter and accompany you so all of you can get tips to help this boy to have the best life he can. You are wonderful to want to help. I wish you and your grandson the very best.

  4. denim (Edit) Report

    My 7 year old grandson gets very angry at himself when he doesn’t do what he knows is the right thing to do. How do we help him keep his self esteem while he learns to control himself better?

  5. Kim (Edit) Report

    My grandson is going on 10 years of age and has been diagnosed with ADHD and is currently taking medication for it. My question is how can I get his mother and stepfather to be patient with him and try something other than punishment for bad grades and lying to them? They have two other children that are younger ages (2 and 4 year old) giving them little time for one on one time. Also one of the younger children has had open heart surgery twice and alot of their attention is devoted to her (understandably) but the child with ADHD just gets negative attention most of the time. What can I do?



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