Try, Try again: Raising Motivated Children

By Jenny Palmiotto

As a parent, one of your most important jobs is to prepare your children for life and impart to them the tools they need to grow into happy, successful adults. Among these tools, perhaps one of the most important is the ability to motivate oneself. Motivated children learn the value of hard work, take pride in their well deserved accomplishments, and grow up to become motivated and sucessful adults. However, many parents find the task of raising motivated children to be difficult. Don’t become too frustrated, every child is different, some are harder to motivate than others, and the difficulty you may face is not a reflection of your ability as a parent.

The first thing you must realize is that you cannot force motivation upon your child. Motivation comes from within, it is about self-determination and the desire to accomplish something for its own sake. Many well-meaning parents have tried to motivate their children with a carrot and stick system of incentives and consequences. “Clean your room and you can go play with your friends.” “Do your homework or no dessert.” While these techniques may be effective in the short term for getting things done, they don’t foster the sense of motivation that you are trying to achieve. The end goal for the child becomes the reward or lack of consequence, rather than the accomplishment itself. Instead of rewarding or withholding for a job well done or lack thereof, try rewarding your child for their effort over time. For example, if a your child consistently does well on her schoolwork, show her you recognize her accomplishment and persistence, and reward her with something she enjoys. This helps make the reward secondary to the sense of accomplishment and motivation she receives from getting her work done.
Some children have difficulty experiencing the feelings of accomplishment after achievement. As a parent, you can spotlight this experience by noticing it and labeling it. You can also make your own internal voice explicate, meanings share your self-talk. Demonstrate how you encourage yourself, how you show yourself gratitude, and how you feel when you accomplish something. Additionally, when you are proud of your child, rather than saying, “I’m proud of you” consider shifting to “You should be proud of yourself.” This helps your child anchor the experience of accomplishment.

Children, especially young children, are naturally curious about the world around them. As they grow up, they explore the world in their own way as they learn about their environment. This natural desire to explore and learn provides a great foundation on which to build motivation and a sense of accomplishment. A great way to tap into this curious nature is provide your child with toys and games that demonstrate cause and effect. Playing with these toys helps a child learn that actions cause reactions. This basic truth gives a child a sense of control over her environment and promotes the motivation to further grow and explore.

If you’re still struggling for ways to motivate your child, think about what motivates you. What really gets your attention and drives you forward? Everyone has something they are passionate about, whether it be art, music, science, sports, or whatever it is that brings you joy. Children are no different in this aspect. Find what your child is passionate about and encourage them to pursue their passion. If your child shows an interest in music, take him to piano lessons. If your child is an athlete, let her join a soccer league. There isn’t an easier way to find motivation than enjoying the things we love. If your child isn’t sure yet what they are passionate about, encourage him to explore a few different options. Just remember to allow them to find what they are passionate about and try to avoid the urge to make them passionate about something they aren’t.

Some children will be more difficult to motivate than others, and some will be even more difficult still. For those parents with children who have a hard time accomplishing tasks and staying motivated, you may need to consider the possibility that your child is suffering from learning or attention problems. If this is the case, the first thing you must realize is these children are neither lazy nor slow. In fact, they are often quite intelligent. Their problem likely stems from a lack of confidence. The presence of a learning disability, ADHD, anxiety, or autism can make tasks such as regular schoolwork difficult and therefore an extremely demotivating experience. The process for motivating these children isn’t entirely dissimilar to motivating children without these difficulties, they simply require a bit more structure, encouragement, and likely a slower pace.

The bottom line is you cannot force someone to care about something, you can only help them learn to care. Motivation is one of the most important and difficult lessons a child needs to learn to feel self-confident, be productive and contribute meaningfully to society. Some children learn this lesson better than others. If your child still has difficulties with motivation, it is not a failure on your part to seek outside assistance. Let the professionals at The Family Guidance & Therapy Center of Southern California help. Contact us at 619-600-0683 to set up an appointment.  We are here to help you have MORE GOOD DAYS.

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