Helping Your Teen Get Motivated
with Dr. Norrine Russell
A lack of motivation isn’t a character flaw. There’s always a reason why someone isn’t on task or meeting expectations, and it’s virtually never that they just don’t care. When it feels like your child is unmotivated, ask yourself, “What’s getting in the way?” In this episode of the parenting ADHD Podcast, Dr. Norrine Russell shares how to take a deep dive into a seeming lack of motivation to determine what is preventing your child or teen from getting things done.
DR. NORRINE RUSSELL
Dr. Norrine Russell began Russell Coaching in 2009. Her passion for providing support to frustrated students and weary parents is fueled by her own experience of raising two complex children who are both neurologically atypical (her children’s diagnoses include autism, mood disorders, ADHD, giftedness, and learning differences). Dr. Russell knows firsthand the exhaustion parents face as they day in and day out seek solutions for their out-of-the-box children. She is committed to supporting the psychological well-being, education, and family life of all her clients.
Dr. Russell has a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University with a focus on psychology and education. With twenty years of experience creating positive youth development and parenting education programs, Dr. Russell has extensive knowledge of child development, learning styles, special needs, and positive parenting philosophies. She blends this knowledge to provide students and parents with comprehensive support and the tools they need to grow and thrive.
Thanks for joining me!
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Dr. Norrine Russell 0:03
Move from my kid is lazy, and my kid just doesn't care. My kid is apathetic and unmotivated to what's getting in their way. And how do we help them shove that roadblock out of the way?
Penny Williams 0:22
Welcome to the parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host Penny Williams.
I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD a Holic and mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. In this episode, I am talking to Dr. Norrine. Russell, about motivation and teens how to help your teen get motivated. And I know that this is such a valuable conversation. So many of us have this struggle with our teens with ADHD and maybe autism. And it's going to be valuable to you if you have a child who's not a teen yet, because you can always work on setting the foundation and working toward things going better when they are a teen. So this episode really is for all ages. Thank you for being here. Dr. Russell, I so appreciate you sharing some of your time and your wisdom. Will you start by introducing yourself just let everyone know who you are and what you do.
Dr. Norrine Russell 1:37
Absolutely. And thank you for inviting me on Penny, I'm really looking forward to being with you today and sharing some things with your listeners. And I'm very impressed with your podcast and the quality of Yes, you've had. So thank you for that. I am a mom of two a typical kids. I also have a student coaching practice that is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, which is where I physically AM. And we work with students across the United States, Canada and the UK. And in that coaching practice, we primarily work with kids who are neurologically atypical in some way, lots and lots of kids with ADHD, lots of kids with autism, also those who have learning differences, who are gifted, and of course, lots these days who have mood disorders and struggle with anxiety and depression. And our focus is to help these students to build the skills that they need in the area of executive functioning and social and emotional skills, so that they can be successful in school and in life. So I've been doing that for about 12 years. And before that I worked as a nonprofit CEO. And then before that I actually was in academia at sweet Briar college. And then at University of Minnesota,
Penny Williams 2:58
I love that you brought up anxiety and depression, because I don't think many people understand that that's also very often a learning challenge. It gets in the way of learning it gets in the way of meeting expectations sometimes, and social and emotional learning is such a big piece of being able to be successful in an academic setting. And it's another thing that so often we just forget about or we don't understand the importance, I think that a lot of teachers weren't taught that these things are learning challenges and are important in kids being available to learn. So I love that that's part of your focus.
Dr. Norrine Russell 3:40
It absolutely is. And I think that a year and a half ago, we thought that the virus was going to be so problematic for kids. And I think there was a lot more attention paid to mental health. But I really think it's my belief that this is going to be around for a long time. And what is really going to happen is it is going to bring out of the woodwork some of the mental health challenges that we have been ignoring in this country for children and teens. And it does it absolutely gets in the way of functioning. First of all, if a child is anxious or depressed, it really decreases their flexibility. And it decreases their motivation. So 100% when we start coaching with a student, we want to have a full picture of what is their background? What is their history, and we want to make sure that we are understanding how that anxiety and depression plays out for that student. It definitely affects education.
Penny Williams 4:37
Absolutely. I grew up with while I still have social anxiety. And so just going to school was really taxing, and I was anxious the whole time and it was so hard to be focused just to focus when you're really anxious as hard. So it's definitely a big piece of it and I see more and more kids with anxiety whether that means be somewhat short term because of what the world's been going through, or lifelong anxiety, I just see more and more anxiety in our culture, I think. And maybe that's because we've started talking about it more, which is amazing. But I'm glad that you're also focusing on that, too. Let's talk about motivation. This is a subject that is so problematic for so many parents, I think we've focused maybe too much sometimes on motivation, and we're not really getting to the root of it. Because it's not really that surface sort of refusal or avoidance of doing schoolwork, there's a lot more behind what looks like an unmotivated kid, right.
Dr. Norrine Russell 5:38
Yes, absolutely. And that I think is a good place for us to start, you raise the question of what's behind an unmotivated kid. And that is, I think the central question is, what is getting in the way of that student being motivated, because the natural human state is to be productive, to be engaged, right to be able to be productive in some way. And so if your son or daughter is struggling with really not being able to be motivated, sort of across the board, we have to look at what's getting in the way. And this might relate to our comments just now about anxiety, depression, and mood. But there are some things that are part of the puzzle of ADHD and or autism that can get in the way. And so I think it's important for listeners to understand that, first of all, the pathway in the brain between the frontal lobe and the motivation center for kids with ADHD, really, research seems to be indicating is not as strong as it is in neurologically typical people. And so I don't know about you, but if I didn't wake up and feel motivated, and then start to think about that with my frontal lobe, and that information highway was going back and forth. I'm not sure to be motivated either. And so that I think can be a challenge. I think impulsivity, of course, can be a challenge for ADHD kids in terms of getting motivation and sticking with it, oh, I'm going to impulsively decide that something else is more important, as opposed to sticking to the thing that if I paused or I was talking with my coach or teacher or parent, I would say that is my most important thing. I get distracted, and then I get impulsive. And that's hard. And sometimes, our ADHD kids are hyperactive, they have more need for movement or talk or interaction. And that gets in the way of sticking to kind of nose to the grindstone type of work. And so when you're watching your teenager, and it seems like they're unmotivated, I think the most important thing is to be curious, be a data collector, see what's going on? I know, when I watch our kids who have autism, a lot of what's going on is this rigid, sort of inflexible looking behavior. And underneath that is really an anxious paralysis. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. And so I just froze, right? And it's not really a lack of motivation. But it looks like a lack of motivation. He's not getting his homework done. She's not studying for tests, he won't go talk to the teacher, she just doesn't care. Whereas in reality, there's this anxious paralysis underlying that. And so I think, be curious, be observant, listen, ask low key questions, really dig down and figure out what's going on? That is creating this perceived lack of motivation.
Penny Williams 8:46
Yeah, I think parents have to put aside the word motivated or unmotivated, and say, Okay, if I can't use that term to describe this behavior, how do I describe it? And then that leads you to look underneath it, to be able to say, I have to figure out what is fueling what looks to me like motivation. And it can be so many things, as you were just saying, and, we sort of attach a character judgment, to motivation. If someone's unmotivated, that's a negative thing to say about them. And that can be really harmful for our kids to for talking to them about how unmotivated they are. It's not helpful. It's much more helpful when we're diving deep, and we're really looking at what is going on what is happening. What's the barrier, right? What's the hurdle that is making this a challenge. And I think motivation too, can be other things entirely. Just disinterest or just not understanding why you have to learn a particular thing. For my son, he would get hung up on that. In high school. I'm never going to use this kind of math again. If I ever had to do it. I would just you Use the calculator or computer. So I really don't understand why in the world, I have to do this right. And I could say that he was unmotivated. But I could also see that he just needed help making connections, he needed help finding his interests and focusing maybe more on those not every subject is for every kid even as well.
Dr. Norrine Russell 10:19
Absolutely 100%. And I think having honest conversations about that, that's helpful to our kids, I say to my own kids all the time, I can see why you're not interested in this, I can see why it seems like a waste of time. I get that, right. You genuinely feel like this. And you have some reasons, and I don't really disagree with them. The other side of it is there are often things that just simply have to get done. And there are skills that you learn, as you get those things done that you don't prefer to work on, that are lifelong skills and lessons. Yeah. And so I love what you've said, though, about if you can't describe it as motivation, how do you describe it? And I think that is just a wonderfully helpful conceptualization of how do we help parents move from my kid is lazy, and my kid just doesn't care. My kid is apathetic and unmotivated to what's getting in their way. And how do we help them shove that roadblock out of the way? And that's really where I think we have so much potential as parents, like, yeah, you don't feel like doing this, don't launch them into, but you've really got to get it done, stay in that place of empathy and stay in a place where you're problem solving. I think the other piece that I see that sometimes gets in the way for teenagers is parents are really clear on what they want their kids to be motivated to do. Right? Parents will say, I need them to Xyz, I need her to understand why she has to be ready for swim practice. I need him to understand why he can't fail tests. You know what, I think we have to back up a little bit and help the student figure out the why. Right? And so rather than focus on the what, and the how they're going to get it done. And when it needs to be done by let's figure out the why a little bit of why is this important? What would this do for you? You can figure out we're smart as parents figure out how to work with that egocentric adolescent brain? What's in it for me? What will this do for me, there's nothing wrong with that it's developmentally what's happening. But if we can work with the adolescent brain, instead of expecting them to be 40 year old adults, I think we'll get a lot further in helping the teens figure out how they can get this done, as opposed to just the parent pushing and pushing and pushing to get the thing done. It's not about the thing in the moment, right? It's about teaching your son or daughter, how do I get things done that I don't want to do?
Penny Williams 13:12
Mm hmm. But that are important. Yeah. And I love in the examples that you were giving, you kept saying, I need you to do this, I need. And that's such a big clue for us as parents, if we're saying I need this from you. It's our stuff, right? It's our stuff that now we have tangled up with our kids stuff. And so now we're just complicating our kids stuff, and what they need to do or what they need help with doing. We've put our own anxiety on it, which comes naturally, I think, we're mandated that our kids must go to school, and they must do well. And they didn't really need a high school diploma. Right. And, and that's an anxiety that we have as parents, but as soon as that doesn't go, well, that anxiety gets put right on our kids, which is totally natural, but totally unhelpful.
Dr. Norrine Russell 14:02
Well, and you know, Penny, I think, when you are parenting, let's say, for the sake of argument or discussion, typical kids or kids who are very resilient, or kids who are without any learning difficulties, right, you can rest on that pushing place a little heavier, right. But we know for our kids with ADHD, who often have more than ADHD going on, and for sure, for our kids with autism, that that kind of pushing parenting doesn't work. And so of course, we go there. That's what we see all around us. That's often what works, but it's not going to work with our kids with ADHD, and autism. And honestly, I think when they get to be teenagers, the conversation we need to be having with them is is this important to you? Why is it not important? Why is it important? really explore both sides. A bit, because more important than whatever the thing is, is the decision making that underlies? Am I going to push through this? Yeah? And then how do you get yourself to do things you don't want to do? share some examples, what are things you don't want to do? Like, I don't like to sit down and pay the bills, I don't like to fold laundry, I don't like to clean out the car. This is kind of how I do it. And when I get it done, we can figure out the same thing for you with logging into virtual school. And taking the test, these are normal life experiences that every single adult has to deal with. So let's talk it through. As opposed to you need to get that done by Friday, your teacher is texting me, you're gonna get kicked out a virtual school, your coach is going to not write you a recommendation,
Penny Williams 15:50
Yeah, I can spiral so easily, so easily. And with like, I don't like to pay bills, but I do like to have a warm, comfortable home, or I do like to have food on the table for dinner, giving them I think that help of making those connections sometimes can be really valuable, too. It's really easy for neurodivergent kids to not be able to connect kind of the big picture. And that can really help them saying okay, there's a lot of things I have to do that I don't like, which sometimes also isn't well received, at least in my own family. But this is the reason that I do them. Because there is a reason why. And it's not just because you have to there's more of a reason to it. I don't like folding the laundry and putting it away. But I do like, having clean clothes and not smelling bad when I go out somewhere with other people. Right?
Dr. Norrine Russell 16:49
Right. Right. 100%. And I think too, we as parents tend to assume that either we ourselves, and certainly our teenagers have to feel motivated to do something. Whereas research tells us exactly the opposite, right? Start the doing, and the motivation will build. So if for example, this weekend, I know I've got to clean out and organize the garage. Well, I'll tell you Penny, that is something I do not want to do right now. My kids, we live in the south, so there's no basement, right. So my kids have been out in the garage doing various different things this summer workbench painting, crafts, art, you name it, it's a hot mess out there. And I don't want to do it. So I'm going to start with a couple of high the rewarding tasks, I'm going to get out the leaf blower, and I'm gonna blow all the dust off the garage floor. And that is enough that it kind of gets me going right. And then I go and I do the trash. I don't think about the whole project at once. Because if I did, I would just sit down and cry just the same way my teenagers do. But I do one thing. And then I say what's the next one thing, and what's the next one thing. And so I think teaching our teenagers and sometimes even our tweens, you may not feel motivated to do this. But don't wait for the motivation. Figure out how to develop the skill of task initiation and do one thing, and then the next thing and the next thing and the motivation may come to you. And so sort of reversing that cause and effect assumption, I think is an important thing for us as parents and to teach kids.
Penny Williams 18:29
That's so good. It's so good to start with a task that gives a lot of pay off. Like taking the blower and getting rid of all of the dust. When you see payoff, you're much more likely to be motivated to do the next thing. And so getting our kids to start with something that gives them maybe a little bit of a reward quickly or a little bit of Oh, I can do this even Yeah, can be really, really successful.
Dr. Norrine Russell 19:01
Yeah, let's get those endorphins going right. Let's get those serotonin synapses firing. Oh, I did this. It looks great. When we're helping kids at the coaching practice, we'll say, what's the one thing you think is going to be hardest to get done this week. And we will start on that in the last 15 minutes of coaching. And then when the session ends, we'll say, look, you got 10% of that done, you got 25% of that done, you got the outline done. And then there's this synergy that happens right when it going it's much easier. And the other thing that I think we sometimes lose sight of that we really shouldn't with our kids with ADHD and autism is that there is a huge benefit to being with and doing width. Right. So in a perfect world. I want my 13 year old son to keep his room clean all the time, right. That's my perfect world. The closer Always in the laundry basket, that shoes are always on the shelf, the doors are always closed. That's my perfect world, clearly is not his perfect world. But if I go in there, and I start my usual routine of yelling and screaming, how many times you're 13 years old? Why do I have to tell you, what, all I get back is the same negativity. But if I go in there, and I start picking up shoes, Penny, what happens? You start starts, right? And so, which experience do I want as a parent? You know what? Okay, magically, I would love for the room to be clean. But my second choice option is going to be go in there, pick up a pair of shoes, let him see that I'm doing that he'll pick up the blanket in the pillow next, he'll close a drawer. And you know what, we will be able to get that done without any conflict. It's the same reason we actually offer a virtual study hall at our practice where kids can sign on every week night. And they can kind of have I think people call this the body devil, right? Yeah, they rewarded. What do I need to get done? What's my goal? The coach who's proctoring checks in every 15 minutes. How are you doing? We make it pleasant. When I used to do this in person in Tampa, Monday nights would be cookie night at Panera and I would get them all cookies, and they would sit down and they would do their work. There's nothing wrong with getting yourself started by some kind of feel good pleasure. Get the snack bag of m&ms put on your favorite music, text a friend and say, Hey, I'm going to settle down, like, into my studying, let's Snapchat for five minutes. There's nothing wrong with starting with something positive to get you motivated. It doesn't have to be punitive or draconian. Like you did you get started on your homework right now. It's already 835. You know what? Yeah, like, get the cookie out, sit down, pat them on the shoulders and say, let me know what you need,
Penny Williams 22:00
Let me know what you need. Yeah, the more we push, the more they push back. So and I was just having this conversation on our monthly parenting group 30 minutes ago, with some parents, as we have to say, Okay, I want to support you, and I'm willing to help you. And if you want a need that you come tell me, because the more I push my team, the more he's not going to do what I ask him to do, right. And so we want them to know that we're in their corner, and we want to help and we can, but they have to want it or it's not going to work out. It's not going to help.
Dr. Norrine Russell 22:35
Well until you think too, sometimes our kids with ADHD or autism, they just sometimes need a little more time to process that. Right? Totally might be saying, okay, you know, dinner's over your home from lacrosse. Let's get going. I'm panicking. Maybe I have a little anxiety. Maybe that's not what I was expecting. In the moment. Maybe I impulsively say I'm not doing any homework, whatever it is. Mm hmm. But when we can model cooling off and taking some time, walk out of the room, go do something else for 10 minutes, come back and say, what do you think? Is there anything you do need to get done tonight? What can I do to help you? I think sometimes we rush our kids with ADHD, and especially autism, and then they freeze and they check out and sometimes they get very angry with us. And we need as the adult to adapt to their pace. Because in that moment, we are going to teach them how to work their own brain. And again, there's lots of brain development that's still coming at 15 1617 their brains aren't mature until the mid 20. Sometimes 30 even right. And so there's no point in rushing.
Penny Williams 23:52
Yeah. And that brings up another good point to it needs to be done in their time. So if you have a child who absolutely needs a break after school, then honor that they need a break after school and homework can be done after that, I'm very type a get it done. I just want to get things over with and get them off my plate. And so I would want my son to do homework right away. Partly because of the struggle that we had. Right? That was for me to I wanted to just be done with it. But that wasn't his timing. He does really needed a break. He needed a snack. He needed to not think about school for a little while. And I had to learn to say okay, homework needs to be done today. When are you willing to do it? And where are you willing to do it? He was never the sit at the table or the dust kid ever. He was the lay on the floor cat and he was upside down on the sofa with the feet in the air reading his book kit. You know when and that was fine. However he could get it done. Had To be okay. And I think that's a really important piece of it too. And, you know, sometimes that helps with motivation or helps with, you know, the task initiation. I'm cool. If you want to lay under the table with a blanket and get your reading homework done. Oh, okay, well, I can do that. Whereas if I tried to make him sit at a desk, instantly, he's going to procrastinate and want to push back against that
Dr. Norrine Russell 25:25
Well, right. And it comes down to what's the why, what is it that we really are trying to accomplish? It's not really important if they sit at the dining room table or the kitchen counter, or at a desk, or if the pencil sharpened? That is not the important thing. What we're trying to do is to help them understand, how do I get myself going? How do I feel good about my efforts? How do I do the thing that is my job in life right now? My own daughter, honest to goodness loves to lay on the floor between her bed and the wall. There's probably eight inches of space. Mm hmm. I'm telling you, I would feel so claustrophobic leg in there. Yeah. And she doesn't turn the lights off. And she doesn't open the blinds. And I'm like, Oh, my God. Like, I feel like you're a rabbit in a, this burrow right now? Don't sunlight? Don't you want some space to spread out? No, absolutely. That is not what she wants. My son wants to sit cross legged or lay on the floor. And there's a lot about parenting kids who are neurologically atypical or neural diversion that requires us to let go of our expectations. And I think the same is true when it comes to motivation. What's the ultimate end game? Right? What is it that you want, it's probably not getting this five point homework assignment done, it's probably not getting this one thing, sign. It's teaching habits. It's helping your kid develop resiliency. And most of all, it's staying connected to your child and being their best advocate. And sometimes things aren't going to get done. And that's okay. And I think that's an important thing for us to recognize in this. Sometimes you're not going to be successful at helping your teenager find the motivation to get something done. And you know what, it might not be the end of the world, it might feel like the end of the world to us type A parents, but it's not going to be going to the world and so make peace with that some things aren't going to get done.
Penny Williams 27:29
Yeah, totally. And I think the parent child relationship has to come first the relationship you have with your child, and your child's mental and emotional health. And then whatever schoolwork can be done after that, but I have learned very early on, I had to be about my relationship with him and connecting with him. And really seeing and honoring who he is and where he is, in order to then help with some of that schoolwork and stuff, that stuff helps the other stuff be a little less painful and get done. But some days, were just off days. And I said, You know what, homework is just not a thing for you today. And it's okay. We all need breaks sometimes. And teaching our kids to be able to advocate for themselves, when they just really need a break is a really positive thing.
Dr. Norrine Russell 28:21
Oh, 100% I mean, we are so on the same page, and you and me and every mental health professional, right? Your connection with your child, and their mental well being come before schoolwork hands down every day. I know when my son was struggling last year with some severe episodes of depression, went to school. And that was just set up to be different than he thought they wanted him to work on a virtual platform for the morning. And he just couldn't wrap his brain around that that day. And the guidance counselor, who I think is just one of the wisest, kindest people I know, said, let's take a break. Go home for a couple hours. Feel free to come back this afternoon. Let's try it again. tomorrow. We'll explain it again. But we don't have to push and force this. And I like you think that I have learned that lesson very clearly over the last several years that you cannot force or push a kid with ADHD or autism anxiety to do something because it's the right time to do it right then and there. I was a good student. I was in many ways a rule following girl, but my kids are good kids too. They just don't always understand the rules. And they're not always able to do the rules in that moment. But they are good human beings.
Penny Williams 29:44
Yeah, and we still have to focus on that. My son is bright and funny, and he cares so much about other people. And he wasn't so great at school and that's okay. That's totally okay. And that's part of that. Letting Go Like you were talking about and just making peace with some things. And I'll tell you when I learned to do that, oh my gosh, thanks for so much easier in general, so much easier, we have to take the pressure off of not just our kids, but ourselves too. Right.
Dr. Norrine Russell 30:13
Right. And so when it comes to this motivation question, I think reflecting for a minute in our own selves, why is it important to me that this child do this? Right? Why is it important to me that my son or daughter accomplishes this? What's the real timetable for this? Is it something that can be extended? Is it something that can be modified? I see their peers around them doing x? We'll do we maybe have, some extra time to get that done. But reflecting on why is it that this is important right now? And then creating space for that teenagers brain development and figuring out how do we sit with them and be with them as they learn how to work the brain they have?
Penny Williams 31:02
Yeah, with them is such a good point to end on. And I thank you so much for being with us and sharing some of your wisdom and your expertise. And I hope that everyone listening will connect more with you and your work, and potentially even work with your organization on some coaching, and any information. So everything we've talked about in this episode, as well as Dr. Russell's links and ways to connect and work with her more will be in the show notes for this episode. And the show notes are at parenting, ADHDandautism.com/143. For Episode 143, thank you so much again, I greatly appreciate it. I know everyone listening does as well. Some of these things are so hard to sort of shift as parents and it helps so much to have someone on who really gets it, you have your own kids, you're living some of the same challenges and a similar journey. And it's just so valuable, that you share your story as well. And I so appreciate that.
Dr. Norrine Russell 32:16
Thanks, Penny, it's been a pleasure to be here. And we do always have an offer when I'm guessing on these podcasts for your listeners, that if they feel like their student might benefit from coaching, we do an offer for your listeners where they would receive 20% off the first three months of academic and ADHD coaching for our practice. And we work with students from middle school all the way up through college. So if that's something that any of your listeners are thinking, wow, maybe that could be our missing link. Feel free to go to Russellcoaching. com.
Penny Williams 32:52
Awesome. And you can find that link in the show notes too. If you're driving or doing something else right now. We will definitely have that connection for you. And I love that offer is amazing. I thank you so much for that. And we'll in this episode now, so I'll see everyone next time.
Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and Mama retreats at parentingADHDandautism.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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