Surviving a Road Trip with your ADHD Child

I can think of few things I like to do LESS than go on a long road trip with my child, who has severe combined ADHD. But we’ve been working on our technique for a few years now and, thanks to frequent long-distance medical appointments, have had so very many opportunities to get this figured out. Here’s what’s worked for our family. If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments!!


You need to time your drive strategically. Will your child sleep in the car? Drive when they’re likely to sleep. Does your child take medication that wears off? Try to drive while the meds are in effect. Will your child absolutely not sleep in the car, ever ever? Don’t drive when they need to be sleeping. Since my ADHDer tends to launch out of bed, full of energy, regardless of time of day, we tend to prefer to start our road trips fairly early in the day. We are freshest – and most able to cope with hyperactivity – early on, so starting BEFORE his first dose of medication is usually a winning strategy for us. If at all possible, we prefer to try to arrive at our destination as the meds start wearing off.


Obviously, movement breaks are essential. Your family’s needs will vary, but we find that stopping every two hours works well. We get out and use the restroom, of course, but we also run around a little. We instigate a game of tag or follow the leader, or if the rest stop has a small playground, we get him using some of the equipment. Sometimes we pack a few outside toys (a ball, a frisbee, etc) and get those out for a few minutes. This is good for EVERYONE, not just those with ADHD!

Even if your child resists the idea of running around, they need to. Everyone needs to. Just do it.

Visualize the passing of time

While my other kids were able to conceptualize time to a certain extent, my ADHDer really cannot. Since he has a variety of diagnoses, we’ve not been too sure what causes this, but in talking to other people with ADHD, and other parents of kids with ADHD, it seems that this is a common theme. When I tell him we have 5 hours until our destination, and then he asks again in four minutes and I tell him it’s still 5 hours, he’s genuinely surprised by this. He’s not asking to annoy me. He’s not being a pest. He actually, literally feels like it might’ve been a significant amount of time because it FEELS like it has been.

As much as possible in his life, we try to make time more concrete and visible. We use a visual timer, for example. So, in the car, we try to use this same strategy. The visual timer doesn’t work that well, since ours only goes to 60 minutes, but our car’s GPS has a display that includes the estimated amount of time remaining in the trip. I almost always use the GPS for trips, even if I don’t need it, simply so he can LOOK at the numbers on the screen and see them counting down. (If I’m really honest, it’s not just him that needs to see those numbers counting down sometimes, lol. When we drive from Iowa to Utah, the grownups like seeing it, too.)

As we get closer, I use a timer app on his tablet or on my phone – it’s like a digital version of the visual timer, but can go for longer than an hour – and set it to about 10 minutes longer than the current GPS estimate. (Because I’d rather get there sooner than the timer.)

These things don’t totally eliminate the almost constant conversation about how far we are, but it does really help – he can SEE time moving, and he can somewhat answer his own questions. To encourage this, we also tend to direct many of his questions back to him. “How far are we from home?”  “Well, what does the timer say?”

Car Prizes

One of my kids’ favorite road trip things is the Car Prize. I started this about three years ago on a long trip. I decide in advance about how often the car prizes will come out. Every stop? Every other stop? Between stops? And then announce it in advance. “Alright, if everyone can keep it under control for another half hour, it’ll be car prize time!!”  (Use your own discretion here – there was a time when announcing this in advance would’ve just resulted in a total breakdown as the combination of excitement, a surprise, and the frustration of the car ride got to be too much.)

The car prizes serve two functions. One, they are something to look forward to that’s more immediate than arriving at your destination. Car trips are boring. This is something fun.  Two, they give the child something to do that’s new. I don’t buy boring toys if I can help it. I buy things that will take up some of the time, or that will provide some needed sensory input. The year my ADHDer was pinching everyone all the time because he needed that input, the car prizes were mostly just a TON of sensory type toys – playdough in a balloon, squishy toys, wax sticks – things that gave him that input he was seeking.

Car Prize ideas: mixed bags of cheap prizes like they sell for Halloween, or for doctor’s offices, etc.  Target Dollar Spot things when they go on clearance. DIY toys like playdough in a balloon. Fun edible treats if your kids eat orally. Wax sticks or reusable clings that can be used on the windows. Scented markers, or one of those pens with four ink colors in it. I also usually spring for a few more expensive prizes (I mean, like in the $3 range). I’ve found good prizes at party supply stores, craft stores, superstores, dollar stores, Amazon, etc. I am usually constantly keeping an eye out for cheap, fun, small things, especially after major holidays.

Note: some kids with ADHD and/or anxiety cannot handle knowing there is a surprise. My kiddo is getting better about this – and copes with car prizes fine because this is our routine. You’ll need to use your own judgement here. The goal is to make the ride EASIER for everyone, not harder, so if knowing there’s a prize coming up will mean your kid will just nag you to death about when does he get another prize, you’ll need to figure out how to make this work for you. (For example, for many things, my child can handle waiting, but he can’t handle not knowing what it is. For our most recent trip, I actually took him with me to pick out prizes. He knew what was in the bag, but not what he’d be getting each time. This is a compromise that works well for him. This is also what we do for birthdays and Christmas – he knows what the gifts are going to be in advance.)

End Prize

We ALWAYS have a prize for the end. And it’s usually not a physical prize, but it is something to look forward to. “When we get there and settled in, we can go to the pool!” if we’re staying at a hotel. Or “When we get there, we can go to Walmart!” (OK, because to my ADHDer, Walmart is basically heaven on earth. That child loves Walmart.) “When we get there, you can play with your cousins!” Choose something doable that your child likes – or choose something you need to do anyway that you can put a fun spin on. Getting groceries and picking out a fun snack, for example. Or, is there a playground nearby your destination that you can visit? Again, we’re mainly looking for something the child can look forward to.

This end prize, like the car prizes, is NOT a reward for good behavior. It cannot be taken away. It is a fact. It is going to happen, whether you feel the child deserves it or not.

I’m going to put a note here about visiting family. If you’re driving to visit family, DO NOT feel you have to skip this end prize because of judgy family. Your child’s needs are more important than Aunt Bertha’s. She’s an adult. She can cope if you decide that your child’s end prize is a half hour at the park down the street. Consider warning Aunt Bertha in advance. “Hey, Aunt Bertha! We’re so excited to see you! When we get there, we’re going to stop at your place really fast to unload the car and then we’re going to head out to the playground for a bit. Little Timmy is going to need to get out some of his little boy energy after so long in the car. Then we’ll come back and stick around.”

Strategic Food

Assuming your child eats orally, you can use food strategically during road trips. It starts with awareness of what your child will eat and how food affects your child. Don’t pack snacks that are going to set your child off. BUT you can pack treats (treat: something they love to eat that won’t negatively affect behavior) to use a car prizes. The key to making this work is to keep it a secret. I tend to save the food stuff for when we’re hitting one of those “everyone’s so irritated from being in the stupid car forever” phases. “Hey, look what I found! There’s just ONE for each person, but I have granola bars!!!” or whatever. Even though my kid isn’t really oral eating, he does have foods he likes to nibble at, and he get just as excited over, for example, a snack pack of Fudge Stripes as the other kids.


Kids (and adults) with ADHD tend to love novelty. When we know we have a long trip coming up, I start hoarding new things. That DVD we planned to buy anyway? I buy it in secret, hide it, and keep it stashed until our trip. Ta Da! It’s like a present, but not really because we planned to buy it anyway. I also usually try to find a few free apps for his tablet that he’s never seen before, maybe download a few new movies from Movies Anywhere. It’s not new stuff I bought – it doesn’t cost me any more money than I would have spent anyway – but it’s new TO HIM.


Even when – especially when – your child doesn’t seem to “deserve” your praise, he or she NEEDS it. And considering that kids with ADHD tend to hear FAR more negative messages than positive ones, kids with ADHD need it even more. Find things to praise throughout your trip. On our recent trip, I thanked my child for not hitting his siblings, for example. (I phrased it as “thank you for keeping your hands to yourself.”) Sometimes when things seem to be heating up a little, we thank him for being so patient so far, and emphasize that we know it’s getting boring, but in x time, we’ll be stopping again to get out.  You can almost always find something to praise.

Physical Space

If you can swing it, seat your ADHD child away from other kids. If your ADHDer is at all like mine, when he starts to get bored, he looks for ways to create excitement. An easy way to create excitement in the car is to start a fight with siblings. “ho, hum, I’m bored,” his subconscious mind says. “What can I do to spice things up? ooo, hit your brother! do it! hit him!! He’ll yell and then he’ll tattle and then mom and dad will get all angry face and there’ll be a lot of yelling and THAT will be exciting. Do it, Do it, Do it!!” Except this all happens in a flash with my son being none the wiser. He doesn’t know why he does it. Before he can blink, he hits his brother, and his brain gets that boost it was looking for, as the fallout from that creates some excitement. One trip, we bought a large piece of foam board and stuck it between the carseat that held my ADHD son and the booster that held my three-years-older daughter. That helped a lot. Since then, if at all possible, we move one of the kids to the third row in our SUV and seat the other two on either end of the middle row, with a cooler in between them. The other kids are close enough to talk or play together, but not close enough that he can hit them if the mood strikes.


I find I need to work on my own patience a LOT. Deep breaths. Consciously relaxing my muscles. Reminding myself that he’s not being naughty on purpose. Reminding myself that he doesn’t understand how time works at all. Reminding myself that he’s struggling, too.

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on how to survive a long road trip with your child who has ADHD! I know following these strategies has made a huge difference for our family.


Talking to your team about a blenderized diet

*I am not a doctor. I am not providing medical advice.*

You’ve done some reading, you’ve looked at formula ingredients lists, maybe you’ve talked to others who feed real food through a feeding tube, or maybe you’ve just realized that you’re human (or your tubie is a human) and there’s no medical reason you/they can’t eat food like all the other humans….

Image by silviarita from Pixabay

Now what?

Now it’s time to talk to your medical team. While some who feed real food do so without letting their medical team know, I personally believe it’s always best to keep your providers informed. However, the experiences of those who’ve made the switch to real food are so widely varied. Sometimes their medical providers are entirely on board from the start. Sometimes medical providers need a little convincing, but they’re willing to be tacitly supportive, if not actively supportive. And sometimes they’re just entirely resistant to the idea.

We’ve got your back, whatever happens. Keep reading for suggestions on how to start the conversation with your medical team, as well as some ideas on how to handle the response from your providers – whatever that response is.

My purpose here isn’t to talk you into a blended diet, or to provide you with research or factual information on the benefits of blended diets. I feel like Crunchy Tubie Mama does an excellent job of making the case for blended diets and providing tons of facts and research – I couldn’t even begin to duplicate that. Go check out her website, and consider joining the Blenderized RN group on Facebook.

Before You Even Think About Talking to Your Team

Do the research. Is it safe for you or your tubie to be fed food? Does your or your tubie’s condition have dietary restrictions? Do you know anybody with your or your tubie’s condition who eats orally? Does your hospital/your nutritionist, in fact, have patients with your or your tubie’s condition who eat orally?

How much do you know about nutrition? Do take some time to familiarize yourself with the basics of nutrition – even if you’ve been feeding oral eaters for your whole life. Get a sense of how many calories you need, how much protein/carbs/fat and where you might get those nutritents from, read up on how to ensure you consume a varied enough diet to make sure you’re getting sufficient quantities of the micronutriets, etc.

But while you’re doing all that, also consider that few American humans eat 100% of the RDAs of every nutrient every day. Some days, we oral eaters consume a LOT of Vitamin C, and other days not so much. Some days, we get enough calcium, some days we don’t. A little variety is pretty normal. Is it IDEAL? I don’t know. But I do know it’s TYPICAL.

Starting the Conversation

Don’t ask, tell. You’re not asking for permission. You’re informing your providers that you’ve made a decision and you’re letting them know. But you’re being very polite about it.

“I’ve been reading about using a blended whole foods diet with a feeding tube, and I plan to start doing that.” (If this feels too aggressive for you, you can go with a variation such as “and I’d like to start that,” but be careful not to say anything that at all sounds like you’re asking for their permission. You’re not.

From there, you can ask for their support and help. “Are there any specific dietary guidelines I should follow?”  or “I have a pretty good idea how I’m going to start, but if you have any suggestions, I’d definitely take them into consideration.”  (Notice the tone here – you’re taking what they have to say as advice, but you’re the one in charge. Notice that I didn’t type “Do you have suggestions on how I should start?” Important aside: be sure to have done enough reading by this point that you’re telling the truth when you say that you have a good idea how to get started.)

You’ll probably want to know what your calorie goal is, if you don’t already, and if there are any restrictions or requirements for your diet. (You can research this for yourself ahead of time – the internet is your friend here. How many calories would a typical person of your age, size, and weight goals consume? Do you have a medical condition that might impact this? Does your diagnosis have a Foundation of some sort, and does that Foundation have information on good dietary choices? For example, my kiddo is a kidney transplant recipient, and the National Kidney Foundation is a great source of information about nutrition specific to kidney disease.)

A good question to ask of your medical providers is “what would you recommend for oral eaters?” Remember, you’re going to be feeding the same diet you (or your tubie) would be eating if you (or they) were doing it by mouth – so you can follow the same advice they would give those eating with their mouths.

You could ask how many patients they have feeding a whole foods diet. “How many other patients in this clinic are using a blended diet, that you’re aware of?”

Above all – stay positive and upbeat here. You’re excited. You’re happy. You’re enthusiastic. You’re not going to let any nay-saying discourage you.

Bonus hot tip. Don’t use the word “internet” or, especially, “Facebook,” unless your provider is supportive right out of the gate. These words too often cause providers to assume you got your information from Uncle Bobs Info N Stuff dot com.

Push Back Against the Ignorant Advice and Concerns

On this specific subject, it’s like providers lose their minds sometimes. You might hear “a blended diet sounds great, but we’re too worried about clogs for that to be a viable option.” With a quality blender and the right technique – and sometimes using a strainer – clogs are rarely a problem. Assess this concern for your own situation. If you have a button, for example, and you DO clog it up to the point that it can’t be fixed, it’s a simple matter to swap it out at home. This is not a big deal. (And bear in mind that MOST clogs can be avoided or fixed.)

Another one is “oh, that sounds great, but your feeding tube is just too small for this to work.” Yes, this might be a valid concern, but chances are it isn’t. Most people over the age of 1 have a tube that’s big enough to handle real foods.

Or how about “a blended diet is too risky from a bacteria standpoint – formula is sterile.” Yes, formula is sterile until the jar’s opened, then it’s just like everything else. Are you using sterile feeding tube supplies (the feeding pump sets are not sterile)? Likely not. You’re using CLEAN supplies. If there are people with your diagnosis eating food orally, sterility likely isn’t a legitimate concern. Reassure doctors that you’ve cooked food before, you know basic food safety rules, and you’ll always always use an ice pack if you’re going to have your feed out for longer than an hour. (And then actually do all that, there’s no reason to give yourself food poisoning and then look like an idiot in front of your doctors.) (We’ve got some awesome products to help you out with this – insulated feeding pump bag covers, insulated syringe totes, etc.) If it would help your providers feel better, they can go over food safety with you.

If your Provider is on Board

That’s great! Ask them for resources. Ask them for guidelines on nutrients. They could hook you up with prepackaged blended foods (Nourish or Real Food Blends). They can help.

If your Provider needs Convincing or is Reluctant

You can approach this a few different ways. You can just get started and let them come along for the ride. Or you could try to talk them into being supportive. I personally tend to go path of least resistance on many things, and in this case I personally would just go ahead and let them come along for the ride, but if you want to bring in research, or ingredient lists, or maybe compare the nutrient info of their recommended formula against the USDA’s recommendations… go for it. Note, I’d try to avoid committing to following any specific recipe. A commitment to START with their recipe, fine. But don’t back yourself into a corner on this one. I’ve seen so many hospital-provided blended diet recipes, and it’s difficult to believe they were written by people with college degrees related to food. Don’t lock yourself into using these formula-duplicates.

If your Provider is Completely Against the Idea

This is tricky. I cannot tell you what to do, but you still have options. I decided, for us, to just do it anyway. I told them I was going to start giving real foods, let the subject go, started giving my child bits of baby food, and then let them know a few months down the road how it was going. I 100% knew that food was safe for my child, and I knew the dietary restrictions that went along with his condition. Another option is to find new providers. If you have other providers available – even if you have to drive a bit more – this might be better in the long run. I certainly don’t think any doctor who won’t support me in something like wanting to feed real food instead of chemicals, sugar, and oil is really worth my time or my money. We faced a bit of a battle at first with our providers, but they came around pretty quickly once we got started. We would not still be with them if they hadn’t.

Please note, I do not ever advocate LYING to your providers. About anything.

Does your Provider Have a Valid Point?

Some people truly are not candidates for using real food. FEW people, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. If your doctor seems to truly believe real food isn’t an option for you, you need to evaluate what they’re telling you. Be sure to get a clear answer about WHY you can’t have real food. If it’s due to your diagnosis, are there others with your diagnosis who eat real food (with their mouths)? What would they recommend if you were oral eating?

This is definitely something that requires a second opinion. Ask other blended diet users (not your doctor) to recommend blended diet friendly doctors in your vicinity, and make an appointment for a second opinion before making any final decisions.

HOPEFULLY at this point, your providers are at least tolerant of your blended diet ways, and you’re well on your way to experiencing the joy of blending up just plain ol’ food for your feeding tube! Enjoy!

Reducing Interruptions with ADHD

Everyone knows that having children means dealing with interruptions. But ADHD kids can take interrupting to a whole new level! Try this technique to reduce (or even eliminate?) interruptions. Though I titled this post “Reducing Interruptions with ADHD,” this is actually an excellent technique for ANY child – certainly not just the ADHDers in the world.

First, I’m going to describe the technique, then I’ll walk you through implementation.

We’re going to teach your child to get your attention unobtrusively and without talking. Whenever they want your attention, and you’re talking to someone else, they’re going to put their hand on your hand (or shoulder, or arm – you can pick a body part). To acknowledge that you know they want your attention, you’ll use your other hand to cover their hand. They will wait patiently until you can reasonably wrap up your conversation.

It sounds so simple and I also know you’re sitting there thinking, “yeah, sure, right, lady.” Stay with me here. It’s all in the implementation.

A child rests his hand on a man's hand.

Before you start. Before Step 1. You have to decide this is really a thing you want to fix. You have to want it bad enough to stick with it longer than you stick with your New Year’s resolutions. You have to want it bad enough to stay positive about it for months. Maybe months and months. You have to recognize that this is HARD.

Step 1. Explain to the child what the expectation is. “Hey, kiddo, we’re going to work on a new skill. When you want my attention and I’m talking, instead of just starting to talk, you’re going to put your hand on my hand. I’ll put my hand over yours so you know that I know you want to talk to me. Then you’ll wait very patiently and very quietly. When it’s your turn to talk, I’ll let you know.”

Step 2. Be positive and confident. “I’m sure you’ll do GREAT!!”

Step 3. Break the task into achievable pieces and Establish a reward. Most ADHDers respond well to external rewards – they don’t work so great on intrinsic or internal rewards. We use a home currency for reward purposes, and it works really well! For my kiddo, when we first started this, we rewarded for remembering to touch my hand at any point. Once he was doing that well, we changed so we only rewarded if he remembered without any reminders and without FIRST starting to interrupt. Now we’re working on the waiting patiently part, so we reward only for achieving BOTH remembering to touch my hand without interrupting AND remembering to wait quietly. “It might be hard to remember at first, BUT you’ll earn TWO fuzzies for every time you remember to touch my hand when you want my attention!”

Step 4. Help. A lot. Have low expectations. Expect this to take a while. We worked for a few months on just remembering to touch my hand. He’d stroll in and start jabbering at me and I’d just look whoever I was talking to direct in the face, pointedly NOT looking at Mr Interrupting, and I’d shove my hand in his direction. Sometimes I’d reach over for his hand and PLACE it on my hand. Yes, I still rewarded this.

Step 5. Train YOURSELF. Oh. My. Gosh. How many times did I forget he was supposed to touch my hand, and I just immediately stopped whatever conversation I was having in order to address him? Wow. Habits are hard to break.

Step 6. Be consistent but be Kind!! This is a learning process and it’s also establishing a new habit. New habits take a while to become…well, to be come habitual. Do NOT expect overnight success. My kiddo also has learning difficulties, so it’s hard to make a comparison to other kids, but we’ve been working on this for a year, and we’re still working on the idea that “waiting patiently and quietly” does not mean “waiting while narrating your experience out loud.” (He narrates his life a lot – so while he’s waiting, he says “I’m waiting. I’m waiting. I’m still waiting. This is taking ages and ages.” I’m not sure that his internal dialogue works quite the same way as most people’s, and that may play a role here in making this step particularly difficult for him. He also narrates many other aspects of his life.) If your kiddo forgets – when your kiddo forgets – you respond with a kind and gentle reminder. Not with discouragement or exasperation. Don’t make this yet another thing he/she gets in trouble for. Try for ONLY positive feedback, and gentle reminders. NO negative feedback.

Step 7. Slowly back off on the rewards. With Fuzzies, our home currency, we review what earns a fuzzy on a regular basis. Things that have become habits, he “graduates” from. “You’re doing such a great job on this!! I think you graduated!! You’re like an expert on X now! Yay!” Since we only reward a small handful of things at a time – the things we really want to focus our energy on – this allows us to move out the old things and make room for new things.

Step 8. Even after your kid has “graduated” from working on this, be ready for backsliding, for reminders, and to possibly add it back to the “actively working on” list. That’s just life. Even non ADHD adults do this – you forget a thing once, and then you forget it again, and before you know it, you haven’t been to the gym in a year, right? You kid’s just a person, too. He or she will forget from time to time.

Dealing with Doctors: Questions to Ask As you Self-Advocate

This is a reprint of an old post I have over at Teddy’s blog.

This is essentially an article about how to be a good patient. And I know you know I don’t mean the “shut up and do what they tell you” type of good patient.

Too many doctors these days are too busy to really take the time to sit and have a conversation with you. (Especially OB’s – those prenatal visits need to be longer than 10 minutes!) We have always chosen doctors for our family that will take the time, and we lucked out with Teddy’s nephrology team being so awesome because we were hardly in a position to be picky in the beginning  – though we certainly would have switched by now if we were unhappy. But I talk to too many people online who have questions – very serious questions – about their or their child’s health and they’re having to turn to the internet for information that should be coming from their doctors.

Yes, it would be nice if your doctor sat down and chatted with you for 10-20 minutes about test results, current concerns, what’s going on with you or your child, etc. But they rarely do. But that does not mean that they WON’T if you ask.

So ask. You NEED to ask! You should NOT have to search the internet for information about a test you’ve just had. Your doctor, who is looking at the results and went to medical school for the sole purpose of being able to discuss those results with you – should be able to provide you with information specific to YOUR case. You should not need to turn to Facebook with questions like “our doctor said x, what did she mean?” Your doctor, who is the one who actually said the thing, should be able to explain herself in every day language.

I am NOT discouraging you from doing your own research. Just the opposite, in fact. I’m saying that the Google can’t tell you, for example, what the unique set of lab results you have really means, and it can’t tell you how concerning they are in YOUR unique situation. Your doctor can. But sometimes you have to ask them to.

I know it’s difficult to come up with intelligent questions when you’ve just been handed some new information, but we’re not always given the opportunity to process before discussing with a doctor. (You should ALWAYS be able to call or message your doctor after your appointment with followup questions, though.) I know I usually need a day or two to do some research on my own before being able to formulate truly good questions.

But sometimes, you don’t need really good questions – you just need SOME questions, and you really need to ask those questions more or less immediately. Keep these easy questions in your back pocket. (Literally, if it helps. Take a notebook to EVERY appointment, and write these questions on the first page.)

– Can I have a minute?

– What does this mean?

– What were the results of this test exactly?

– What is the normal range?

– What does this test tell us? What doesn’t it tell us?

– Is this concerning?

– Does this need to be treated?

– What are our options? What are the alternatives?

– Do we need to treat this right away? What happens if we wait?

– What does this word mean?

– What is your recommendation?

– Can you please explain that again?

– Can you draw a picture or is there a drawing or photograph we can look at? (Super helpful – our urologist drew us pictures at several points when Teddy was in the NICU. I had the nurse make a copy of one of them for us. I laugh now, because the procedure was so simple in comparison to our knowledge base NOW… but at the time, we were overwhelmed and it was all new to us, and the picture was so important to our understanding.)

Those questions should give you a good foundation of information. I personally think the most important one is “what does this mean?” It’s all-purpose.

Using Home Currency As A Reward System

Yes, I used to be one of those parents who believed children should not be given external rewards very often. If you give external rewards, they become performing monkeys, and they stop doing things for their intrinsic value. And honestly, that worked out pretty well for two of my kids.

Then I had Tbear. ADHD plus other struggles. Turns out, “ADHD disrupts a person’s ability to manage their own behavior and act with future consequences in mind…If a task in itself provides motivation (such as video games, comic books, or TV) they have little or no problem sticking with it — but that’s because the activity contains its own rewards. Give these kids a task where there is no external reinforcement or payoff, and their persistence falls apart.” (

They need external rewards.

And, to a certain extent, we ALL need external rewards to persist in tasks that aren’t inherently rewarding. How many times have I sat down with myself before a really boring task and said, “ok, get this done in an hour and then you can go get some fancy coffee”?

But obviously, you can’t bust out a cookie or trinket every time your kid does something, right?

We’ve found using a home currency is PERFECT for our ADHD kiddo, and the other kids don’t mind it, either. Our home currency is those store-bought pompoms. We call them Fuzzies. But you could use poker chips. Plastic discs. Actual tokens. Honestly whatever you have on hand.

Each kid gets a jar. I decorated their jars with vinyl designs, but before I had a vinyl cutter, I just used Sharpie. Tbear is both the youngest and the most challenged – his jar is actually a bit smaller than the others, so he can fill it up faster.

Then we decide what earns fuzzies. We choose a few specific tasks that each child needs to work on – doing those things earns fuzzies. They earn fuzzies when they do the thing. What are some tasks? Currently, my older kids earn fuzzies when they go out of their way to be helpful to someone else in the family. When one of them was over-reacting to everything by screaming, we added “handles being upset without screaming” to the list. Tbear earns fuzzies for doing what we ask him to without arguing, and for cleaning up after himself without being told. For any new task, or any task the child is still struggling with, there is ONLY reward. ONLY earning fuzzies. We are clear with everyone involved what earns fuzzies. We keep a written chart on our fridge, so that nobody forgets (especially mom).

Once the child is succeeding at EARNING fuzzies with a task, then we (sometimes) add losing fuzzies for failing to do the task. If we ask Tbear to do something and he refuses, he loses a fuzzy, for example. Again, we’re very clear with everyone about how they could lose fuzzies. These things are ALSO written on our fridge list.

But what’s the point of the fuzzies? If you’re lucky, your child finds earning the fuzzy to be reward enough. Tbear went YEARS of just accepting that the fuzzy WAS the reward, and he LOVED earning them. It was kind of awesome.

Then he got wise.

Our rewards system is, like the earning system, divided by age group. The older kids have a more complex system. X number of fuzzies can be turned in for getting to take a walk up to the store and spend their own money on a small treat, for example. Or X number can be turned in for some free downloadable content on a game. Or they can choose to turn in a whole jar for ice cream from DQ, fancy coffee, a small toy or treat (in the $3-5 range), or $3 towards a future larger reward.

Tbear can only turn in full jars, and he always wants toys. I actually shop for the things I know he wants on eBay and try to keep a few on hand. He’s also matured to the point that if he finds something he wants while we’re out shopping, I can actually buy it right then, but put it in the closet until he earns it with fuzzies. Delayed gratification. So he’s working on skills WHILE working on other skills. We also occasionally get slightly more expensive toys (like $8-10) and he has to have TWO jars to earn that. This is REALLY hard for him, but I think it’s a good thing for him to work on.

And, you guessed it, the rewards are ALSO written on our refrigerator list. I personally think writing things down is really important. Everyone thinks they’ll remember, but then you get a month or so down the road, and one of the kids says, “don’t I earn fuzzies for x?” and then it’s CHAOS. Avoid that. Write it all down.