Life Skills for Children A-Z – M is for Motivation

Keeping our children motivated is tough because it’s something we don’t have much control over. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can start helping to keep them motivated.

The problem is that many of us are so busy, we’ve slipped into the habit of being a little too controlling as parents and rely on extrinsic motivation (motivation by external forces, i.e., a parent or teacher) rather than helping “little Johnny” to develop his inner intrinsic motivational skills (motivation by “little Johnny’s” own wants, desires and needs from within). We think that simply because we’re telling “little Johnny” to do something because it’s important he’s going to want to do it. Classic examples of this are:

“little Johnny do your homework”   –   “OK Mum”

Yeah right! How often does that happen? The more likely response is:

“little Johnny do your homework”   –   “No! Why do I have to, it’s so boring”

Cue heavy Mum or Dad nagging, bullying and trying everything possible to motivate him to do the necessary.

The crux of the issue is that while it’s important to you that “little Johnny” does his homework, “little Johnny” doesn’t give a XXXX if his homework is done. Internally he’s not motivated because he simply doesn’t see the benefit in it.

Just because certain things are important to us, doesn’t mean they’re important to “little Johnny”. Our job as parents is to try to limit the nagging, bullying and coercion and create opportunities for “little Johnny” to work out that these things are important to him too and motivate himself “intrinsically”.

Here’s an example of an opportunity that presented itself and helped us to do this:

Our 7 year old “little Johnny” was writing dreadfully in his homework book -which also happened to be the way his teacher communicated stuff with us such as “no school until later the next day” or “bring extra glue” (she’d write it on the board, the kids copied it down).

I’d been nagging “little Johnny” for months to write neatly (I knew he could when he wanted to), and explaining how I couldn’t understand things sometimes. If I didn’t understand something from the teacher, I’d ring his classmate’s mum (a friend of mine) and ask what her son had written.

One day, my “little Johnny” brought his book home in a particularly sorry state and he couldn’t tell me what it said either. Later that day I did my usual and rang my friend. The message in the book was that they needed to bring sports stuff the next day as they were going out to the school sports field for an extra sports lesson. Now I know how important sport is to my “little Johnny” so I decided not to “rescue” him. I let him go to school the next day without sports stuff – boy did I feel bad. What a rotten mother!

He came home unhappy. He’d had to sit at the side of the sports field and read while all the others played because he didn’t have his stuff. He yelled at me for not giving him his sports stuff at which point I pointed out that I didn’t know he needed it because we couldn’t read the messy writing in his homework book. It had been his responsibility to write the information down so it could be understood and he hadn’t. He sulked.

The next day my “little Johnny” came home and proudly presented me his homework book. Inside were five little lines in his very best handwriting – I could have cried! I made a point of saying how nicely he’d written and inside I secretly suspected it would be a five minute wonder. It wasn’t! Day after day, my “little Johnny” came home with neat, legible writing in his book. The battle of tidy writing in the homework book was past history.

When I took my nagging, bullying and rescuing away (my extrinsic motivational attempts), I gave my “little Johnny” a chance to look inside and find his own desire/motivation to do the necessary (intrinsically motivate himself). He didn’t want to miss sport again and realised the way to achieve that was making sure we could read his book.

Every child is different and while in this instance my “little Johnny’s” motivation came from a desire not to miss out on sport again, it’s always something different. I have to “create” opportunities where I can but also keep an active eye out for opportunities whenever and wherever they present themselves.

Keeping motivated is a life skill that children need to learn to develop into motivated, CANDo adults. As parents, we need to stop trying to convince them to do the things that are important because we know they’re important. We need to start getting to know our kids better. Find out what’s important to them and then try to spot opportunities to “use” this knowledge to help them to learn to keep themselves motivated.

Your job is not to motivate your child, it’s to teach your child to motivate him or herself.

How about you? Have you had a break through in helping your child to motivate themselves? Why not share it by leaving a comment below or send us a CANDo email. You just might be giving one of our readers the help they need.

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