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How to Motivate Children

I want my students to succeed. I only see my students a couple times a week. Parents on the other hand wrestle every day with how to get their kids to care about the important things: schoolwork, chores, listening, brushing their teeth… the list goes on. How can parents motivate their children to be more responsible?

First, keep in mind is that even though they are children, they are individuals. Each child is a person with needs, desires, hopes, and a personality. Parents must acknowledge and respect the individual person their child is.The goal should be to help them grow into the best version of who they are rather than try to transform them into who we think they should be.

Second, don’t expect your children to be “perfect.” Their brains are still developing and don’t reach their peak until their early 20s. Balance the standards you set for your kids with the truth that, no matter how good they are, they are still kids, and as such need continual guidance and grace.

All children need guidance, love, encouragement, and a proper education. They need clear boundaries and consistency from parents. Discipline applied inconsistently can be worse than no discipline at all.

By “discipline” I don’t mean just “punishment.” There is certainly an element of providing negative consequences to improper action or behavior, but keep in mind that you can’t punish your child into good behavior. Children, generally speaking, don’t respond to punishment the way parents would like. In fact, negative consequences taken too far can turn into a battle of wills between parent and child, or create an atmosphere of resentment in the home.

Punishment shouldn’t be used to motivate good behavior; rather, proper discipline shows the child that actions indeed have consequences regardless of how we feel. Bad actions and behaviors lead to negative consequences, and good actions and behaviors lead to positive consequences. Give consequences to show your child the result of their poor choices, not to try to force them to suddenly care about doing the right thing.

Likewise, give positive consequences (rewards), encouragement and praise when they do something right. Show the good that comes from doing what they should. This is most effective when parents understand what their children genuinely care about and think about all day. What drives this individual? What lights a fire inside them? Remember that children are individual persons with hopes and desires like anyone else. Communicate with them. Listen to them. They need to know you’re invested in their lives and you care about them.

A big mistake parents make is giving the impression to their children that their love or acceptance is based on a “pass/fail” grading system. Personally, I haven’t met a child who has been given such an impression who felt like they had a passing grade.

So much more can be said about this topic than I can fit here. My goal here is to provide a perspective on how to begin the process. Remember, the parents’ job is to guide, teach, prepare, love, and show their children that they are ultimately responsible for their own choices.