How are you motivating your kids? My guess is if you’re reading this, you’re struggling with this very question. Why weren’t we taught about motivation in school? If you never learned where it comes from, how in the heck are you going to be able to properly teach your kids to be motivated, to be mentally tough & do things they don’t want to? Well, most don’t teach it. However, we still expect them to be motivated or want to do things on their own & not have to be told every single time.
Here is a typical breakdown of what the motivation research says on how we all make choices (young or old):
Option 1: Rewards & Consequences. If you do this, you’ll get this. If you don’t do this, then this will happen to you. They are seeking compliance & you want a task done.
Option 2: Guilt. Children doing something because if they don’t, they’ll feel bad. As adults, we often lead them to this guilt, & they certainly don’t want to disappoint you.
Option 3: Value. Children doing something because it’s important to them. They may do something tough, but they choose to do it, & they know why they are doing it.
Option 4: Doing something because it’s what they’ve always done. It’s all they know. “Isn’t this what I’m supposed to do?” It’s a habit. It’s not good or bad, it’s just why they do it.
Option 5: Love it. They do something because they love it. It’s genuinely fun & they look forward to it.
Which one do you identify with? Which one would your kids? It probably varies depending on what the task is, but you should look at which option do your kids fall under the majority of the time? Once you identify how they are making decisions, it helps you understand why they aren’t “motivated on their own.”
To motivate more effectively, measure more than results or outcomes like: grades, score, times, etc. We need to measure progress & execution of a task, then comment on these items. Kids tend to focus on what they are struggling with, but if you switch to celebrating success (each time an assignment is turned in, every night they’re in bed on time) you are now encouraging something they can control & are capable of. If they feel a loss on control, they no longer want to do the task. Teach them how to define success too- how hard they study, how they pay attention in class, their attitude after an error. This way the grade isn’t the only determining factor of success.
Based on motivation theory, they are going to give more effort & be driven if they see what it looks like on a daily basis as well. Every behavior is learned. What is being modeled in the home determines what they act like. If a parent says: I don’t know why you have to do this many math problems or you’re doing it because I said so, why would they be motivated on their own to do those things?
Here’s another tip: ask them why they are doing their sport or why they do the things they do on a daily basis? When they discover why they participate, they’ll have more power to do it. Also keep in mind, the brain doesn’t like commands. Once we tell them to do it, they become unmotivated. Children want to matter & want their opinions heard. Be creative when letting them know you want something accomplished. We often only help them understand why practice matters to get better, but we need to help them understand why homework is important or why chores matter if we want to them to be motivated to do the things that aren’t always fun.