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How to Motivate a Child Who Doesn't Care: Proven Techniques for Parents to Ignite Their Passion

February 6, 2023
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    It's no doubt many parents struggle to motivate kids from time to time. To a certain extent, this is expected, but for some children, lack of motivation is more severe. 

    When it comes to consistently unmotivated kids who seem as though they don't care, parents may find themselves worried and at a loss as to what to do. It is possible to help an unmotivated child, which often involves taking a new approach to motivation. So, what can you do?

    In this article, we'll talk about understanding motivation, how to motivate a child who doesn't care, and specific tips you can use to help your child. Then, we'll discuss how to seek professional help and what Joon can do for your child's motivation and behavior.

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    Understanding Motivation

    There are two primary types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic. Understanding the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can help you learn how to motivate a child who doesn't care. You may notice that your child lacks intrinsic motivation for certain tasks, like schoolwork. What does that mean? Here's a quick definition of both terms:

    Intrinsic motivation

    Intrinsic motivation comes from inside. When you are motivated to do something because it feels fun, enjoyable, or interesting (as opposed to an external reward or specific result), you're likely experiencing intrinsic motivation. For example, someone could be motivated to sing simply because they like singing - not because they'll get something for doing it.

    Extrinsic motivation

    Extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards. When you're motivated by a specific outcome or prize, you're likely experiencing extrinsic motivation. Examples of extrinsic motivation would be going to work to get paid, doing homework to get praise, or doing chores to get a is

    How Can I Motivate My Child?

    A significant part of helping an unmotivated child is finding out why they are or appear unmotivated. If your child has ADHD, be aware that the condition can impact motivation. Specifically, dysfunction in the dopamine reward pathway means that children with ADHD may have less intrinsic (internal) motivation. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to motivate kids with ADHD, but it does mean that different approaches can be necessary.

    Tips To Motivate A Child Who Doesn't Care

    There are ways to motivate children who don't seem to care. The parenting approach that works for motivating your child might vary from that of another, which depends largely on the root of the problem. Some of these tips work best when a parent uses them together, paying close attention to how their child operates and reacts. With that said, here are some helpful tips for parents wondering how to motivate a child who doesn't care.

    Don't complete tasks for them

    As a parent, your actions speak volumes. Doing a child's tasks for them shows the child that they do not need to do it themselves, which is not what you want to convey. Instead, it is imperative that you set expectations and stick to them.

    Control expectations and explain why they matter

    Maintain reasonable expectations for your children and communicate what you expect effectively. Setting up routines, deadlines, and clear instructions are ideal because they outline exactly what the child needs to do. Don't just discuss your expectations once; do it repeatedly and consistently.

    Some parents find that it helps to validate how their children feel and explain why a particular task matters. For example, if a child says they don't want to clean their room, you might say, "I know you don't like cleaning your room," then explain why cleaning matters.

    Try Joon to help

    Joon is an app and game designed uniquely for children with ADHD or related disorders and their parents. Using Joon is a hassle-free way to implement a reward system for your child. How does it work?

    Parents download the Joon Parent App first and create a custom task list for their children. Tasks (also called quests) can include household chores, homework assignments, self-care tasks, or anything else you want to add. Kids connect with the Joon Pet Game app. When children complete real-life tasks, they get rewards in Joon Pet Game that allow them to take care of a virtual pet. 90% of children who use Joon finish all the tasks their parents assign.

    Many parents say that their parent-child relationship has improved because of Joon. Even better, Joon is backed by science and a host of professionals, including child psychologists, teachers, and occupational therapists.

    Click here to download Joon and get started.

    Discuss your child's behavior calmly 

    Power struggles tend to do more harm than good. If you're like most parents, you feel passionate about helping your child become a successful person. When faced with an unmotivated child, many parents enter an unintentional power struggle or get more heated than they realize when they speak to kids. Even if this could've been you in the past, you can turn it around now. Speak to your child in a calm tone when you discuss your rules and expectations.

    Ask your child what's important to them

    Most often, children are motivated to do something. For your child, that could be music lessons, a sport, or learning about a specific topic. Observe your child and notice what they do just because they want to do it. What you notice might give you a way to connect less desirable tasks to something a child likes (e.g., turning a math problem into a game by counting objects a child's drawn to).

    You can also use this information to motivate your child through effective rewards. So, if your child enjoys learning about cars, a car-related reward like car stickers, toys, and other objects could be an ideal external motivator.

    Allow children to earn certain activities (such as video games)

    Reward systems are helpful for many children, especially those with ADHD. Just as consequences and discipline matter, positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. Offering experiences as a reward can help you motivate your child to get things done. It is a great example of how to use extrinsic rewards, especially since some parents are hesitant to use objects or find that it doesn't work for their child.

    Letting a child play video games, watch TV, or go to the park, can all help you encourage unmotivated children. The key to using activities to aid a kid's motivation is that the activities you choose must be things your child will truly look forward to.

    Some parents use a token system to let kids save up for bigger experiences, like concerts.

    Address perfectionism

    At times, kids shy away from a particular activity due to perfectionism. It may seem strange to say that perfectionism would lead someone not to do something, but perfectionism can actually be a major reason why people put things off or don't do them at all.

    In life, people experience failure repeatedly. Take famous actors who fail in a past performance but go on to win an award for a future performance as an example. However, children do not always necessarily understand that repeated failure can be - and usually is - a part of learning. As a result, they may be afraid to do something if they know it might not immediately lead to success.

    When your child sets out to complete challenging but achievable tasks, let them know that it doesn't need to be perfect. Engaging in the process and doing the best they can is what matters.

    Sharpen children's executive function skills

    It is no secret that ADHD affects executive function. If your child has ADHD, you want to ensure your child has the tools they need to help them encounter success. We talked briefly about the importance of expectations and how routines, clear instructions, and deadlines can help. Consider using tools that aid executive function, like checklists, timers, calendars, and apps. Physical activity, mnemonics, and managing ADHD symptoms through appropriate treatment are often valuable, too. 

    Modify tasks to make them fun and doable

    Modifying tasks is another way for children to boost executive function and overcome a lack of motivation.

    Kids and adults alike are more apt to start or finish a task if they don't dread it. Just as it's valuable to motivate kids with rewards, there's no shame in motivating kids by making tasks easier or more fun. To make tasks easier, you might break them down into smaller steps, explain them in a different way, or teach kids ways to make them more simple.

    Similarly, to make tasks more fun, you might turn them into a game or change them up in another way (e.g., watching videos developed to teach history, math, science, or reading skills).

    Note: Is it hard to get your child motivated? Try Joon, the to-do app for kids that doubles as a game. Joon promotes self-motivation, confidence, and independence in kids with ADHD. It's rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the app store, with a total of more than 3.6k reviews from parents like you.

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    Look for potential underlying factors

    Sometimes, conditions outside of ADHD affect a child's motivation. Looking for potential underlying factors can make a world of difference in understanding your child and what will help them out the most. Undiagnosed learning disorders, iron deficiency, and other conditions can have a serious impact on a child's success in school and other parts of life.

    Get your child evaluated if you suspect a learning disorder like dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia, a mental health condition, or another diagnosis, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In those with ASD, pathological demand avoidance could influence a child's lack of follow-through with demands.

    Undetected disabilities aren't the only possible underlying factor that could affect a child's motivation. In some instances, feelings of powerlessness, stressors such as their family's conflicts, and other factors can also have an impact on where a child's motivation goes.

    Address stress in their life 

    Unaddressed stress can have an impact on a child's behavior. Notice whether your child's lack of motivation worsened at a specific point in your child's life. For example, after your child moved from elementary school to middle school or following a major life event. If applicable, look out for other changes that occurred during this time. Perhaps, your child's lack of motivation is paired with an uptick in symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, or seemingly constant anger.

    Your child's happiness matters, so don't leave possible stressors to disappear on their own. Effective, healthy coping skills for stress must be learned and aren't something most are born with. Seeking professional help can be a game-changer when kids feel stressed out consistently or face other challenges in their life.

    Seeking Professional Support

    Lack of motivation to engage in necessary activities can have a serious impact on a child's life. If your child's behavior and motivation do not change, it is likely time to speak with a professional who can help. What seeking professional support looks like might vary based on a child's needs. Most often, parents can start by speaking with their child's doctor or another professional they see. 

    Talk with your child's provider about what you notice, and make sure to give as many details as you can. That way, your child's care team can help you take the next appropriate step. If a lack of motivation is connected to a disability, for example, a child may undergo an evaluation or get a referral to someone who can help, or they may see a therapist about life stress. 

    No matter what, don't give up. Many factors can contribute to a lack of motivation, and it's possible to overcome it, even if it takes trial and error.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.