Parents: What do video games, homework and ADHD have in common?

Editor’s note: This month’s Edge Coach guest blog was written by Ann Imrie-Howlett. Anne was one of the original twelve Edge Coaches and has been a great support to the organization. Thank you Anne!

How many times have you told your child to go and play a video game? I suspect never–the issue is more than likely the opposite–you can’t get them to stop to playing video games!

Think about how your child gets involved in gaming. They can play for hours postponing food, drink, bathroom breaks, accomplishing difficult tasks despite failures and setbacks in their single-minded quest. Imagine if this same focus and perseverance was applied to other tasks such as school work and music lessons.

You can use the experience found in video game playing to help your student understand how to engage drive and motivation.

Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive” identifies autonomy, mastery and purpose as important to staying motivated and encourages people to ask themselves before beginning a task:

  • Does the task attract me?
  • Is the energy I will have to put forth to accomplish the task realistic?
  • Will I be successful?

The appeal of video games is clear to see. Every game includes the ingredients for motivation: they are attractive, take a realistic amount of energy and chances of success are good. There is immediate feedback and immediate cognitive rewards. How does this translate to homework?

As players work through the game’s levels, they begin to understand the essence of the game and what works and what doesn’t. Every misstep teaches them what not to do again. They are always clear on their endgame, on what constitutes achievement and they are allowed to develop their own strategies to reach it. Mastery is clearly established in the feedback loop which is immediate and definite.

Translate this experience to homework, I believe what may be derailing students could simply be the lack of clear short-term goals with purposeful objectives and the absence of immediate feedback and reinforcement.

All human behavior is motivated. A student’s refusal to do homework may actually be motivated by fear of failure, fear of embarrassment or perfectionism. Homework should have components of choice—when, where and with whom. The feedback loop has to be closely tied to the work’s completion so adjustment and corrections can be made in order for lessons to be learned.

When attractiveness, effort, and ability to accomplish the goal are present, the student will more likely to motivated.

Here are a few suggestions to try:

Autonomy +Attractiveness
  • Give choice about where and when homework will be done
  • Encourage doing homework with a friend (study buddy)
  • Encourage variety about where homework can be done—kitchen, dining room table, public library
  • Allow them to use music with ear buds to block out distracting noise
  • Music should not have lyrics
  • Provide challenges with a timer
Mastery + Effort
  • Assist in breaking larger assignments and study efforts into smaller segments
  • Study notes should be made now (little by little) to avoid unrealistic effort and being overwhelmed at the end of the quarter.
  • Always allow for free time and rest—studies have proven that long stretches of studying only decrease the retention and effectiveness—retention is improved when studying is done in 30 minute intervals with short exercise breaks in the middle
  • Check to be sure the tasks are clearly understood
  • Give feedback as soon as possible
Purpose + Goal
  • Find areas of natural passion and talent
  • Discuss times when they have had the perseverance to overcome obstacles and use those ingredients
  • Break goals into smaller, more achievable units so feedback and recognition is more immediate


Other ways to support your student include:

  • Assisting in problem solving ways they can make their homework appealing – have a study buddy, work in a new location, time the work, begin with some exercise.
  • Encourage your student to work for a defined period of time and then relax.
  • Clarify that they understand what to do and what is expected of them.
  • Ask them to check to see if they materials to do the work at hand before they start working.
  • Discuss with them times in their past, perhaps in sports, when they have worked hard and achieved that sweet feeling of success.

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  1. Ben

    Cognitive rewards are a huge incentive to adolescent behavior. These rewards are instantly gratifying like video games. Great article and I will do a little further research on this. Thanks again for posting.