We all struggle with motivation from time to time. While lack of motivation affects everyone, parenting a child who lacks motivation can affect everyone involved. After all, you want what’s best for your child, and you don’t want their motivation to develop into a long-term problem as they get older. In this article, I’ll walk through steps and strategies you can take to motivate your child, that work.
How Can I Motivate My Child?
Motivation is the force that keeps us going even when we face a difficult task. The feel-good boost that we get after an achievement helps us realize that the task was worth it. When a child is unmotivated, it’s important to remind them that they are capable, and can achieve the task. Here are 11 tips and strategies to motivate and engage your child:
1) Nurture Your Child's Interests
There are two different types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to doing an activity, not for its inherent enjoyment but instead for a different outcome. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing an activity for its inherent enjoyment.
When we are engaged in intrinsic motivation, it results in better quality and engagement. Everyone likes to do things they are interested in. When you take part in your child’s interests, they are more likely to be engaged instead of not care about the activity or topic.
You can start by simply observing what your child likes. This could be a television show, book series, or games they enjoy. From there, show your child that you too are interested in those things. Talk about them with your child, and ask them questions about what they like about it.
Once you understand your child’s interests, you can incorporate them into the skills you want them to engage in. For example, if your child likes a certain character in a show, engage that character in homework activities. If they like a certain song, try dancing or singing together before going to complete a task.
2) Show Your Child Their Achievements
If your child sees what they’ve accomplished in the past, they might be more motivated to replicate that feeling. Try to take pictures and videos of your child’s achievements on your cell phone and show them to your child when they’re feeling discouraged.
Sometimes, the feeling of being unmotivated comes from discouragement and a lack of desire because of that. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have done this before successfully, and we are capable of doing it again.
3) Try Apps
There are various apps available that can help your child feel motivated and focus on different areas of life. Joon is a chore app for children ages 8-12 that helps motivate your child to focus on daily tasks and build habits. Joon combines the fun of video games and real-life tasks into one.
Children have to complete the tasks and responsibilities that their parents assigned them in the app before they’re able to level up in the game. Feedback also supports self-motivation, once we are able to understand what we are doing correctly and how to fix our mistakes, we have more motivation to do it again.
4) Avoid a Motivational Talk
As adults, we know that motivation and effort are key in life, and it’s natural to want to explain this to a child who isn’t showing that. However, this might just be frustrating and unsuccessful to hear as a child. Instead of trying to change their ways, try talking to them about the future, and how they can do things differently next time.
You can also ask your child to look at their performance, and ask them how they think they’re doing. This can produce self-reflection and may motivate them to change their behaviors.
5) Set and Hold Expectations of Them
A child must know what’s expected of them; this helps to establish concrete responsibilities and less room for acceptance of laziness. Talk to your child and explain what you expect them to do. For example, if you expect your child to wipe the dining room table after dinner, tell them before dinner and show them how to do it. If they do not complete the task, you may want to have a consequence in place.
6) Give Positive Praise for Tasks Completed
Research supports that receiving compliments (especially for effort and work ethic) may improve performance and help us learn. Positive praise is a powerful tool and helps children to alter their mindset. They go from having low self-confidence, to realizing someone has recognized them for their hard work and are doing a good job.
Even if the task is small, try these unique ways to praise your child:
- Your Effort Really Shows!
- You Made It Happen!
- What A Genius Idea!
- You’re A Real Trooper!
- It Couldn’t Be Better!
Note: If your child is struggling to stay motivated, try Joon, a habit-building app disguised as a game. Kids get points/ finish missions by completing daily tasks and chores. Try a 7-day free trial today.
7) Focus on Strengths Not Weaknesses
Humans naturally have a “negativity bias”, where we tend to focus on the negative aspects of life. However, to children, focusing on their negative qualities can be detrimental to their self-esteem and confidence.
Strength-based parenting is a style that focuses primarily on what is going right with a child before focusing on fixing what is going wrong. You can do this by observing and commenting on your child’s strengths. For example, “You looked both ways before crossing the street, that’s using great judgment”, or “I know that test was difficult, but you studied really hard and prepared; I’m proud of you!”
8) Provide Enough of a Challenge
Motivation comes from working toward goals that can be achieved. If a task is too easy or too difficult, motivation is lost due to boredom or being overwhelmed. For example, adaptive challenges like a video game. When playing a game, you want to know it will get more challenging as you level up.
Analyze your child’s current capabilities and look for areas where your child can be challenged. Then, provide feedback on their performance and ask them how they felt about the task, such as if it was easy or hard.
9) Take a Break and Engage in Another Activity
Sometimes, if a child is not motivated enough to complete an activity, they might just need a break and come back to it. This could be especially helpful if your child is getting frustrated, upset, or irritated from their lack of motivation.
Try giving your child a choice between two tasks, such as working on writing or math homework, and having them choose. You could also try giving them a choice of two totally different tasks, like homework, or household chores.
Doing this gives them more control over what they’re doing. Children have limited opportunities to make choices throughout the day, so this is a positive way for you to let your child make a choice that is still beneficial for them.
10) Encourage a Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset means you are actively looking to learn, grow, and be better. Everyone can have this mindset, however, children with ADHD may find it more challenging to have this outlook.
You may find that your child has a fixed mindset, where their goal is perfection and failure is a sign of personal weakness. A person with this mindset may say things like:
I can't do [fill in the blank].
I don't like [blank].
I’m so dumb.
I give up, I’m no good at this
This is too hard
I'll never be that smart/ capable/ successful
You can encourage your child to have a growth mindset by reminding them that we all struggle, have pain, and fail, but they are signs that learning is occurring and we are becoming better at what we are working on! Try to correct your child’s language once they begin saying things like this about themselves.
You can do [fill in the blank].
You may not like [blank] now, but you may like it in the future once you practice.
You are so smart.
You will become good at this, don’t give up.
This is challenging now, but it’s not too hard for you if you keep trying.
You are smart/ capable/ successful.
11) Seek Help
It’s important to recognize that your child’s lack of motivation is not your fault, and sometimes you need professional help for your child. It’s also important to seek support from family, friends, and others who care about you and your child.
There are certain disorders or learning disabilities (such as ADHD), that display symptoms such as lack of motivation, inattention, or hyperactivity. A professional can help you determine if you should seek further guidance regarding a learning disability.
Some people you may want to consider turning to are:
- Your child’s teacher
- A mental health professional
- Your child’s pediatrician
It can be overwhelming when your child lacks motivation, but there are ways to motivate them and encourage them in order to help them through it. Be sure to seek professional guidance if you are feeling stuck in it and would like more support.