What To Do If Your Child Or Student Isn’t Interested In Any Activity

This headline of this article was the topic at a recent webinar.


You as a parent may be willing to work and put in time with your child. But your efforts will come to naught if your child is not interested in reciprocating and interacting with you.
This could create a tremendous amount of stress on you as a parent.


This stress was evident in some of the questions I received for the webinar.
Take a look


If a 9 year old child is not interested in any activity, I need to push him to be in a group activity, he likes to be alone and wanted to live in his own world. pl suggest


One issue I face with my child is that he starts an activity but leaves it unfinished. How can I help him in completing activities on his own


My daughter is 22 year old… doesn’t want to do anything ,she has ability to do anything…how to motivate her… please suggest me


How to create interest in activities? my son 8 years old is not interested in any activities be it art, cooking, games , sports, academics.


(copied as received)


Traditionally, we might have used reinforcement to get the child to pay attention or participate in an activity.
However, my experience has taught me otherwise. Using edibles and toys becomes more like a transactional act which cannot be sustained in the long run.


This image elucidates what I’m trying to say.


Without using physical or edible reinforcers, how can we help children to be more ‘interested’.


These 10 pointers may help you connect the dots for your child.


1. Focus on roles, not activities


As a parent, you may be focused on your child completing an activity perfectly.
I know I did. I also know it caused my expectations to rise and every time they were not met, I would feel overwhelmed with grief.


It helped when I shifted my focus on ‘roles.’


Let me try to explain through examples.


Example 1: Focus on activity


Steps involved in this task:
PREP. Scrape dishes to remove leftover food – use a rubber spatula or paper towel. …
FILL. Fill sink or dishpan with clean, hot water. …
WASH. Wash “in order,” starting with lightly soiled items. …
RINSE. Rinse suds and residue with clean hot water. …


Example 2: Focus on roles


A. Show your child how to scrape left overs.


Demonstrate with a couple of plates.
Invite him/her to participate. If s/he does, that’s terrific. If not complete it yourself. (over time your child will be more willing to engage)


B. You can soap each dish. Your child can rinse. (Demonstrate both roles to begin with)


C. Slow down the activity. Connect with each other. Any time your child is stuck, don’t be afraid to help him or her.


D. You can dry the dishes. Your child can put them away.


This picture says it all.




Don’t miss the sense of enjoyment that togetherness brings.


Remember, once you focus on roles, your mindset will change from task completion to both of you interacting and connecting with each other


2. The process is important (more than the product)


This time you spend with your child will not come back again.
Make it count. Spend it meaningfully by focusing on the process.
Use the activity to build a connection between you both.


When you do so, your child will also learn skills in a natural way.


3. Substitute instructions and prompts with a regulatory chant


Instead of giving your child an instruction of ‘soap dishes and now rinse them.’


You could demonstrate and say ‘soap’ as you soap the dishes and say ‘rinse’ as you rinse the dishes.


Over a period of time, fade away the regulatory chant.
As the name suggests, this chant will make your child feel competent, hence calm.


When I work with Mohit or my students, I don’t find the need to use instructions.
I use declarative communication  and that suffices.


4. From co regulation to co ordination to collaboration


Co regulation means taking small adaptive actions based on the reactions of others to avoid communication breakdowns.


Simply put, this means that in any interaction, you and your child have a role and you follow through on your roles based on your observation of your partner. Both parties keep the interaction going.


A higher level of this would be that you keep up pace with your partner. If you and your guide are walking side by side and your guide picks up speed, so will you.


Or if your guide stops to talk to a neighbour on the street, you stop and wait for your guide.


This is co ordination.


Take it a notch higher.
You and your guide could be involved in creating something together. You both contribute in terms of your thought process. This is about collaboration and co creating.



For example: A mother and her son were decorating boxes that they had painted. Both contributed and planned together about how they would decorate the boxes, which materials they would use etc.


This would be an attempt at collaborating.


5.Work through experiences


Research shows 75% of what we learn by doing (experience based work) is retained, as compared to solely visual or auditory methods of teaching.






This works beautifully with children/adolescents/ adults on the spectrum


activities-for-children-with-autism (1)


In this experience based framework of making aloo tikkis, Mohit was an active participant. Look at the skills worked on:


a) decisions of how much oil is good enough for frying tikkis
b) when is it hot enough to fry the tikkis?
c) mashing potatoes and bread (consistency and skill)
d) which masalas to add and how much is good enough
e) skill aspect of making round tikkis


Note: We did not work with a written recipe to follow instructions. The aim was to think and problem solve at each step.


Don’t miss the smile of competence.


6. Do you have these 4 quadrants in place?


Untitled 3


Sometimes, you may struggle with what to do.


These quadrants are: co participatory activities, physical activities, academics and literacy and leisure activities.


Working these 4 quadrants will bring a sense of balance to your life.
You can also systematically build these up so you have a diverse mix of activities.


7. Expose your child to more activities


Once you’ve got items in each of these quadrants, think of how you can build them up.


Here are a few examples.


This is a plan for building physical activities.


Untitled 4


The image below is a list to add more leisure activities.

Untitled 5


These have to be built up systematically and consistently.


8. Does your child feel competent?


Once your child or student engages in an activity by taking active responsibility, they should feel good about themselves.


In RDI terminology, we call this encoding the feeling of competence.


You can do this in a few ways-


a) take pictures of you and your child engaging in an activity
b) take short selfie videos to show how you both felt
c) write/ type about what you did
d) review with your child


All these will help your child feel good about taking responsibility. To believe in oneself, one needs to feel good about oneself.


Parents, you can help your child do this.




9. Build intrinsic motivation


From competence flows intrinsic motivation. When your child works for something because they want to, you will not have to take the responsibility in pushing and prodding them as much.


They will be motivated to follow through.





Build be giving your child time to problem solve. Let them know it’s okay to make mistakes. This is a difficult for parents to do. But once it becomes ingrained in your life, you’ll automatically follow through with it.


It’s alright to work for external reinforcers in day to day life. After all, we work to earn and to live well.
But there is more beyond external rewards. When we strive with all our hearts to give our best to every situation, that’s a sure shot sign of intrinsic motivation.


Competence and intrinsic motivation are closely related. In fact, they’re 2 sides of the same coin.


10. Resilience is the offspring of intrinsic motivation


A truly resilient child is one who is able to manage their emotions when they face adversity (so they can keep working towards their goal). Resilient children start by facing their feelings about the situation and contain any disappointment, frustration or anger.



This is a goal for every child- neuro typical or not.


Be persistent. Follow the rest of the pointers above and within a few months you will notice how your child has gradually become resilient.


I’ve seen it in all the families I’ve worked with using the RDI Program.


The Key is to remain consistent and believe in your child.


Don’t give up- no matter what.




Feel free to attend our free, weekly zoom webinars.
Reach out for information at saiconnections01@gmail.com, saiconnections2004@gmail.com


Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.

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