Wondering how to motivate your child but nothing has worked? These simple strategies are your answer.
Aaron used to sit in his desk every day and do nothing.
As his teacher, I would tell him to take out his notebook, pick up a pencil and copy what was on the board – which he did.
But when it came to trying to figure out math problems on his own or writing a personal narrative, he quit.
“C’mon,” I’d prod, “what’s the first step when adding fractions?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Ok,” as I stared at the other students working silently on their assignment, “How about you find the least common multiple of these numbers here?”
He did that and I said, “Yes, great. Keep going!”
I left Aaron to go check on the other kids. When I came back, I found him playing with bracelets inside his desk.
What was going on? This kid got it, but he had no motivation to attempt anything on his own.
How do you motivate a child who is simply unmotivated?
Why does a child have no motivation?
If you struggle with the same kind of behavior at home, know that you are not alone. Contrary to what society wants you to think, your child is not lazy or doesn’t suffer from any disorder.
They’ve just lost their sense of control.
The unmotivated child will come up with a barage of excuses and reasons why they can’t accomplish something because they honestly believe their own actions have no impact.
And when we realize that as moms, we become less angry and frustrated and more willing to help.
Kids need to know they can do it, but don’t think that means lots of praise.
We can develop our child’s internal motivation by encouraging her sense of control and strengthening her confidence in her own problem solving abilities.
Some of these suggestions will seem completely unrelated to the popular advice on motivation – but they are all important.
These aren’t manipulative tricks, but rather strategies that you can use to raise an intrinsicly motivated child.
How to motivate a child who is unmotivated
1. Encourage Kids to find their own answers
Has your kid ever asked you a question such as, “how do airplanes fly?” or “why is it bad to eat spoiled food?” and you’ve jumped in immediately with an answer?
Or course you have. I’ve done it countless times, too.
In fact, whenever I don’t know the answer I feel this lingering guilt that I didn’t pay enough attention in school and ask myself “WHY DON’T I KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS SIMPLE QUESTION?”
Whoa there… it’s totally ok when we can’t explain something.
A good thing actually, because it leaves it up to our kids to find the answer by themselves.
Next time your child asks you a question – even if you know the answer – pause.
Take a breath and say something like,
- “Hmmm… that is a good question. I wonder that myself. How can we figure that out?”, or
- “That’s an interesting question. What do you think?”, or
- “Huh, I wonder myself too. Why don’t you ask (insert someone who might know the answer here)?”
Not only are your motivating your child to find the answer, but you may also open up this whole new avenue of curiosity.
And a curious child is a motivated one.
2. Acknowledge a Child’s Struggle
“MOM! Can you help me put on my socks and shoes?” yells my four-year-old son from the living room.
“How about you try yourself first,” I suggest.
“NOOOO,” (collapses into crying) “I CAN’T DO IT.”
That stomach-wrenching guilt gnaws at me. Do I just not want to make time for him? Am I too self-involved?
And then of course, I go over and help him. Frankly, it’s easier giving in than dealing with my own inner critics.
Oh, how I am played.
Does this happen in your home? More than we like to admit, we jump in and help our kids when we know they are capable of accomplishing a task themselves.
Sometimes this is a painful thing to do, but in the end it will motivate your child to tackle future problems on their own.
Just this past week, my daughter struggled putting together her LEGO art cart that she built over the weekend at my parents’ house.
She completed it there with the help of her grandparents but the cart broke apart on the ride home.
“Mom, can you help me?”
I stood strong. “Sweetie, you put it together. It is so frustrating when something breaks I see how hard you are trying. I know that you can figure out how to fix it.”
Tears. Crying. Stomping up the stairs and slamming the door to her room.
And then, the final guilt nail in my coffin:
“I’ll just ask dad to help me when he gets home.”
Ack! I’m the mom who won’t play with her kids. She’ll hate me when she grows up.
Thankfully, my husband and I are both on the same page and when he told her basically the same thing, she finally buckled down and did it herself.
She fixed the LEGO cart. And even though there was a ton of crying, we showed her that we understood her struggle and felt confident that she could figure it out.
3. Give Choices
There’s a fine line between giving choices to encourage self-control and giving choices to manipulate.
I cross that line all the time. So, don’t worry.
Just remember the following guideline:
Do I offer two equally acceptable options?
If yes, then all is well.
Offering choices gives our kids practice in decision making.
It’s near impossible to motivate your child when they don’t have the confidence in exercising their own judgement.
You can ask, for instance, when they need to do chores:
- What would work better for you? Would you like to unload the dishwasher now or in 20 minutes?
For meal time:
- Would you like half a glass of orange juice or a full glass?
For playing at the park:
- We have to leave soon. Would you rather ride on the alligator or go down the slide one more time?
When kids make decisions, they reaffirm that they are in control. In the long-run, this will motivate your child to try new things, even if they may not work.
4. Don’t jump in with immediate solutions
I’m a fixer. I like to fix things.
When my daughter comes home from school and tells me about a problem she has with her friends, I immediately bite my tongue.
I can usually tell what’s going on and know how I would fix it. But, that doesn’t help my daughter nor motivate her to think of her own solutions.
Instead, I can ask her questions to encourage deeper thinking on her part.
- Why do you think she did that?
- How do you think she feels?
- How do you want to handle it?
Initially, you may get a lot of “I dunno…”
But, keep at it and eventually you will have a child who is motivated to create her own solutions.
When we teach our children to be self-motivated, we might feel a loss – like our baby is growing up and growing apart from us.
That’s completely natural. It’s OK to allow yourself a little pain.
But know by using these strategies, you are reaffirming your belief in your child’s abilities to take care of herself and that will strengthen your bond for the future.
This post comes with a freebie for you!
How many times have you been in a terse standoff with your kids and you had no idea what to say?
This bold chart has the phrases you can use to create internally motivated children.
Here’s what to do:
- Click on the image above (or click HERE )
- Enter your email address and first name.
- Check your email inbox for your chart of perfect phrases.