When you get asked what motivates your child, it’s not exactly an easy question to answer most of the time because sometimes even you won’t know the correct answer.
But, it’s not too hard to figure out what motivates your child as long as you pay attention to what his preferences are and what makes him motivated to perform better.
You have to get into what your child’s interests are – what he likes and dislikes. It’s one of the facets of good parenting.
Finding that out is a good place to start when trying to figure out how to help nurture their motivation levels and direct it toward tasks he may or may not like doing.
It’s not such a simple concept that it could be generalized to just a couple of chapters in a textbook. – Everyone has their own unique learning style that needs to be discovered at an early age to help make it an asset in the process of child development.
Motivation is what determines the levels of self confidence and self determination in an individual. It’s what’ll help your kids do better in school and have a healthier mental growth mindset.
Of course, there are things like ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Dyslexia and the like that hinder that progress and only work to diminish a child’s level of motivation. In such cases, some extra attention has to be paid toward overcoming these challenges, along with plenty of positive reinforcement.
But how exactly does one go about doing that? Well, let’s find that out together by figuring out what types of motivation there are first.
The Two Types Of Motivation
When we divide motivation based on what drives someone, we separate it into extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
This is a form of motivation that is stimulated by outside factors – those that are imposed upon your child as a form of punishment for not performing a certain task, or a reward for completing it, even if it’s not to his liking to do so.
It’s the basic “carrot on a stick” principle where you dangle the prospect of a reward in front of your child to give him a morale boost to perform better.
Extrinsic motivation is a short-term one that shouldn’t be relied on too often to get things done, as eventually it’ll just turn your kid into someone who does things only if there’s a reward attached to it, rather than of his own accord because it’s something that he wants to do.
Okay, that may be a bit extreme, but the more a child is motivated by outside stuff, the higher the chances of him losing interest in doing hard work to achieve a personal goal.
He’ll have less hobbies and eventually laze about all day waiting to be pushed in a direction with either the promise of a reward or threat of severe punishment.
The idea behind it isn’t bad, mind you, but it should be used sparingly and mixed with the other form of motivation.
Unlike extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation isn’t fueled by outside factors, but rather internal reasons like the need and desire for self improvement, to learn a new skill, to fuel a passion, and the like.
It’s this form of self-motivation that helps people set goals for themselves that they aspire toward, and do things they normally wouldn’t find themselves doing – purely for the desire to meet those goals so they can set new ones.
It runs on internal motivation, something that, as a motivator, is not infinite and is bound to dry out.
This is why having your child running on purely intrinsic motivation is rather difficult as he’ll slowly start to lose interest in a topic or hobby if he’s not seeing much progress.
That’s why, in modern parenting, you start mixing in a bit of that extrinsic motivation, some form of reward to serve as a milestone for him, to help him keep going.
You do it in this way because your kids are less likely to have the good habit of strong perseverance as an adult would, as it most likely still hasn’t developed well enough in their young minds.
But, don’t worry, you won’t have to do the mix all the time. I’m sure your child is going to catch on by about his mid-teens if not earlier.
Doing a mix of the two tends to be a lot better for the sake of your child’s mental health as well as not forcing the issue. Swapping around every once in a while will ensure he doesn’t get overloaded.
How To Make Things More Motivating For Your Child
Now that we’ve covered the two types of motivation and benefits of both, it’s time to work on the applications of these in practice.
1. Set goals
As I touched upon earlier when talking of intrinsic motivation, having goals as milestones is a great way to help build on what motivates your child to do better.
If you see your child having problems in completing a specific task because it seems like it’s completely out of reach for him, sit down with him and help him organize a bit better.
Set the completion of the task as the long-term goal – the end goal. Meanwhile, find certain small tasks – milestones that he could portion the task off into – and set completing each of them as a form of short term goal.
This way, the task will seem less overwhelming. Instead of being burdened by one big picture, treat it as more of a puzzle with manageable pieces that are easier to master..
2. Be there for your kids
This has two meanings.
The first meaning that you should always be on hand to provide emotional support in case your kids may need it. The pressure to perform can sometimes be too great even for an adult, let alone kids, and they’ll need someone to help take the pressure off.
You’re their best go-to at any time. Make sure it stays that way and not only will you help your kid out through a tough time, but you’ll also be saving his mental health and helping build a stronger bond reinforced by trust in a healthy manner between the two of you.
The second side to “being there” is to do your best to provide your child with an environment in which he can work optimally on the task at hand.
A good example is to always make sure he has the appropriate study materials, the proper equipment for sports or a trip, the right tools to encourage further interest in his hobby, and similar.
These actions will grow your child’s level of respect for you by letting him see that you’re interested in what he’s trying to accomplish. You’ll also be helping fuel an interest of his that ultimately makes him happier and healthier mentally.
3. Let your kid be in the driver’s seat
What motivates your child to learn isn’t always going to be a fear of bad grades or the fear of failure, it’s wanting to do it on his own.
Sometimes your child gets stuck learning what he doesn’t want to because of an improperly placed punishment that forces him into it, and he ends up feeling miserable afterwards.
This one strikes close to home. I had to deal with this problem where I was forced to study a major that I simply wasn’t into at all and one that I simply couldn’t find the motivation for whatsoever, causing me to lose years of my life and making me feel worse off for it.
Don’t try piloting your child’s life. What motivates your child to learn isn’t going to be what someone else thinks is the right path. What matters is that he enjoys working on something he’s found interest in despite the difficulty.
The best route you can take as a supportive parent is to:
• advise him about the path he’s chosen,
• ask him about his plans and go over them with him,
• make sure he knows that you support his decision,
• let him handle the rest.
4. Don’t focus on speed and effectiveness, but rather on the content
By this I mean that you shouldn’t hurry your child up when he’s studying for something because it’s not about the performance that he’s exhibiting, it’s about mastering the content at his own pace.
It doesn’t matter if he comes home with a C as long as you see him making a conscious effort to go through the material, because it’s not the grade that’s important here, it’s your own child and his well-being, especially the mental part of it.
Learn to appreciate the effort that he puts into learning and be there to provide positive reinforcement by acknowledging his efforts, no matter how miniscule they may seem at times.
Even the littlest bit helps out immensely.
5. Discover what learning styles are dominant in your child’s learning methods
There are different ways in which people absorb information – styles in which different people absorb information better in different sets of environments.
In essence, there are 7 different learning styles:
Now sometimes only one of them is dominant while, in other cases, several of them rise out on top as a mix.
It’s up to you to help discover your child’s preferred way of learning and facilitate it as best you can, because it plays a very important role in what motivates your child to be better and do things more efficiently.
Try picking up on some visual and behavioral cues that your child displays during different situations.
Is he more agitated when there are a lot of people talking?
Does music seem to help him focus on a task?
Does he better grasp the material by reading it aloud?
For instance, I know that I focused and performed better both at college and while doing any sort of work by putting my headphones on and listening to some lo-fi music while chewing gum.
Little nuanced things like that can tell you a lot about your child’s learning style. It may take a while, but once you grasp it, accommodate his learning environment accordingly and you’re bound to see a marked improvement.
6. Support your child’s interests
Interests and hobbies are the crux of what motivates people to keep pushing forward to better themselves.
They can’t always be working on things they don’t like through the sheer motivation of “you’ll need this later.”
Sometimes what kids need is a reprieve – something that simply makes them happy and takes their mind off things, even if it does seem like more work in someone else’s eyes.
Learn what your child’s hobbies and interests are and support them as much as you do in learning or doing hard work that he finds less interesting.
By helping further grow their interest in his hobbies, you’re encouraging some good traits to develop in your kids like perseverance, creativity, resourcefulness, and others (depending on what type of interests they have, of course).
These are all traits that aren’t exclusive to the hobby at hand and will undoubtedly be applied to other facets of your children’s lives, improving their quality of life immensely and helping keep their motivation levels high.
Know that even a hobby like playing video games isn’t as bad as you may think. There are plenty of educational video games out there that you can provide for your kids to help them both learn and have fun at the same time.
A good number of them also help develop certain cognitive and mechanical skills, while some are just there to help people decompress after a long and stressful day.
Just keep an open mind about things and don’t criticize your child’s decisions without hearing them out first.
7. Allow your child to speak his mind
Nothing helps promote a healthy mentality (that includes motivation) like treating your child as an adult – an equal to you.
We are talking here about their levels of motivation – their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, not yours or anyone else’s. So it’s only natural that your child will have an opinion on the way it’s going from time to time.
The key here is to let him speak and hear him out. You’ll never get better feedback on how he truly feels about things than during these moments.
Always keep an open mind and help accommodate your child based on his complaints if possible. And if not, explain why not exactly to help him better understand the things he can and cannot influence.
Allowing him to have a voice of his own is going to help boost his self-confidence and morale, improving not only his levels of motivation, but also his overall life and social interactions.
8. Make things competitive (slightly)
While some kids are more of the solitary learning types, if you find them stagnating and complaining that they’re suffering from a lack of motivation, finding a way to spice it up by adding some competition can help revitalize that spark of theirs.
I’m not talking about you coming in to try and outdo them, but more of a healthy dose of sibling rivalry (if you’re having to motivate more than one child) or offering them the idea of joining a competition that’ll help test his skills against others.
Do make sure to teach him that it’s still just a bit of playful learning – that it’s not about winning, it’s about participating, and that losing isn’t as bad as it sounds because it’s still a learning experience and something that might push him to improve for the next competition.
9. Acknowledge his successes
Any improvement, no matter how small, should be commended. This way you show your kids you’re following what they’re doing and that you feel proud of the strides they’re taking.
It’ll make your kids feel acknowledged and that there’s at least one person who appreciates what they’re doing.
While I did say that it’s not important on how quickly your child absorbs information, but rather the content that his absorbing, any improvement on his performance should be recognized to help provide a morale boost.
It doesn’t even have to be a huge acknowledgement. It’ll mean the world to just take him out for some ice cream after a better grade on a math test or successfully making the athletics team.
What motivates your child varies from one kid to another and on how old they are.
Younger kids may get more motivated through simple rewards like candy and evading punishments for kids, while older kids are more likely to get motivated through some healthy competition and the need to succeed.
One thing is for certain, though. Positive reinforcement is a universal motivational tool across all age groups and it can come in many forms.
The most important ones are supporting your kid’s decisions, helping facilitate his hobbies by providing him with the necessary material, letting him have a say in what to pursue and focus on, and simply treating him like an adult while still being there for him.
Trust me when I say there’s nothing more important to your kid than knowing his parents are standing behind his decisions. It helps him build self confidence, self determination, and himself as a whole, ultimately creating one fully functioning and talented individual.
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