Motivation for kids is like it is for adults; a deciding factor when it comes to accomplishments and success, irrespective of the goals. Motivating children should seem like an easy task yet in all practical ways it might seem difficult to motivate a child towards effort and hard work. If you have a self-motivated child you’re one of the lucky ones, but others might need a bit of prodding to take responsibility and reach their full potential. What exactly makes them tick and how do you navigate the roadblocks when your child finds the going gets tough and wants to give up. We don’t have a foolproof plan but definitely some suggestions that could work.
Often parents might use threats, fear and punishment to push a child towards accomplishment. Does it work? Yes, but only in the short term. It usually ends up in a power struggle with the child, accompanied by unpleasant experiences. In the long run, not only does it become ineffective but can also damage any motivation the child had to begin with. The intrinsic motivation which is the motivation that children feel from within without external rewards is crucial and to find that, we need to change manipulation to motivation. Jennifer Nacif in her talk “How to motivate your child?” talks about finding the unique element that motivates each child. Each child is unique in their personality, traits and therefore also in what motivates them.
Set goals: Small, workable goals. The concept of SMART goals that adults often use can be useful in helping children too. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Guide your child to set short term and long term goals, using a step by step plan to achieve them. Kids are more likely to work towards goals they consider achievable than what seems too difficult to accomplish. So challenge them but just enough to motivate them and not too much to make it feel like a herculean task. A task that is too easy also can disinterest them so gauge their ability and set appropriate goals.
Celebrate the accomplishments: Appreciate their accomplishments, appropriately. Give them plenty of encouragement as they achieve the smaller bits in their plan to reach the bigger goal. Appreciation can go a long way. Ensure you praise the effort they put in, irrespective of the outcome, as this makes it clear that it is their effort that matters and is in their control. When we praise children for their talents or their intellect, they are less likely to focus on skills that need more effort. Use rewards appropriately. If it’s a task that requires a minimum effort and the child does it freely, avoid rewarding, as this can make them dependent on a reward to do it the next time. When the rewards stop, so can the desired behaviour.
Discover their passions and interests: This one approach can help you in so many ways. Not only does it help understand what your child enjoys but also helps you establish connection and bond with your child. Knowing what they like, their strengths can give you a better picture of what can motivate them. Spend time knowing what they are passionate about and encourage their interests. If a child has absolutely no interest in a particular activity, even the most consistent bribing and punishment can bring little success. Rewards and punishment become irrelevant if we expect our children to do something they simply cannot do.
Make it fun: Healthy competition is good. Build up some excitement in the atmosphere and it is bound to transfer to your child. Give them a sense of power, choices to choose from, involve them in the planning so they feel some sort of control. As parents, you can inspire them by showing them that learning and mastering a skill can be fun and instil a sense of accomplishment. Instead of focusing on a task as something they have to study, create an atmosphere that presents the task as a learning opportunity
As with many other behaviours, children can also learn motivation from watching us. By default, as parents, we become role models to our children. So if you want them to never give up, persevere in their efforts or take up challenges, model it for them.
Motivation cannot happen overnight, so being patient helps. Spend time getting to know your child and understanding their personality and you and your child can accomplish a lot in the process.