How to encourage kids to find and use motivation

4 minute read

I read a great book once that talked all about motivation in kids. The book was long and written by “experts.” I love reading and learning new concepts from people dedicated to researching topics about child psychology, neuroscience, and anything blending the two.

However many books contain lots of evidence of theories and lack in practical advice. I often felt lost and craving advice.

What do I actually DO or SAY in these situations with my kids?

The one practical nugget of information that I gleaned from this book about motivation was to maximize the feeling of internal motivation in tasks that your kid already likes and then teach the kid to see that they can use the same process in tasks they don’t like and try to avoid.

This is not going to make a kid who dislikes writing all of a sudden like writing. But if the kid likes reading and researching about science then they have already practiced and strengthened skills to focus, use working memory, absorb knowledge, and apply the concepts. 

This helps them become more confident in their abilities. 

So, when they have to write a paper about something they consider boring you can remind them of the steps they use to get their science work done. Talk through some of the main steps in the process to get them to make the connection between the two types of work and then back off.

Do not micromanage. We need to set up and walk away.

Accept that parent motivations differ from kid motivations

Every kid has hobbies and interests that are exciting to them. But how do we take that and channel it into the “boring” stuff like homework and chores? Kids need to develop the skills to organize their time, words, actions, and decisions.

Adults are older and have more life experience compared to the kids. Of course we have developed fantastic ways to solve a math problem, write a paper, pack a suitcase, clean a room, etc. 

We have so much great knowledge to share! But if we force our methods on our kids they will not be received with the appreciation we are expecting.

How do you feel when someone tells you what to do? 

As adults we don’t like it either. 

So when I am trying to motivate my kids I talk to them in a way that forces them to outline the obstacle/problem and create ideas of how to move forward. They are more likely to follow through with a self-created idea than something I told them to do. 

As parents we still have quite a bit of sway in guiding this process so I am not trying to say that the kids raise themselves. The kids create, practice, and problem-solve. We guide, support (especially when ideas fail), and encourage.

Identify the motivation that comes naturally

For example, let’s say a child loves to play video games. The levels contain challenges, opponents, various tools you can use, and unexpected situations that one must navigate in an instant. This experience draws in many kids since the achievements can be exciting, even though they are virtual and intangible. But kids can spend hours and days trying to conquer challenges because the rewards are exciting.

Math homework is less exciting.

So how does an adult help the child see that they can translate their gaming skills to homework?

Ask the child why the game is exciting. I am sure you will receive a plethora of excited reasons. When the child outlines all the steps they took to beat a level in the game they will probably mention that they knew what tools to use, where to go in the game, where to avoid, and when to make certain moves.

Key items the kid self-identified: WHAT – WHERE – WHEN

Ask them if they knew that the first time they played the level. The answer is likely a, “No.”

Continue the discussion and lead the child to see that the did indeed CREATE their own process and strategy. The repeated experience gave them data. They used that data to decide what was important, what was necessary, and what failed.

All KEY steps in identifying an individual’s learning process

Now you will be the nerdy adult that tells them that doing homework is the same process. (Cue groans and eye rolls from the kid.)

Translate natural motivation to non-preferred tasks

Schoolwork has its own set of steps, tools, and pitfalls. In my opinion these items are too ABSTRACT and UNCLEAR to the child.

They have no idea where to begin. The have no idea WHY the work seems difficult or impossible. The tools and steps are UNCLEAR, no matter how many times a nice teacher has explained them.

Back to the math problem…

So be the adult and help them break down the task into pieces. Before anyone even attempts to solve the math problem make sure you both discuss what the student knows, doesn’t know, and prefers to do when solving math problems.

Talk through this information and make a plan of attack.

As much as this pains me to say (since I am a huge math nerd), the answer to the problem is not really important. (sigh)

The PROCESS the child takes to read, understand, assess, and tackle the math problem is much more important.

Identifying the individual’s learning process and then troubleshooting and tweaking leads to confidence, independence, and success.

And by success I don’t necessarily mean grades (the nerd in me also can’t believe I am saying this). I need to write a post on grades:  how I thought they defined me and were of the ultimate importance, until I had kids and grades became a source of stress, shame, and an inaccurate measurement of knowledge.

For now try to focus on observing the child to identify when motivation is present and when it is not. Start discussions about how you see the child learning and achieving in one area. Then translate those skills to the tasks that need motivational help – like homework.

If you have questions about homework motivation or need more examples please use the Contact Me form or send me an email. I am happy to discuss options and provide support.

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