What is Their Motivation?

What is Their Motivation?

We encounter all kinds of children at our karate school. From ones that have no fear to others who are afraid of their own shadow. Kids that don't like to do anything to others that love to do everything. Children that love to be challenged to others that are likely to quit at the first sign of difficulty. So what can we do to keep kids motivated and interested in doing things when adversity strikes or the task becomes difficult? How can we help our children to always try their best at everything they do?

The one thing to remember is that there is no single solution for every child or even for every task. Every child and task is different and pose multiple challenges and solutions.

So how do you motivate your child to do everything?

Please read on to find out my thoughts and suggestions. 

Try using rewards less often

A friend of mine was toilet-training his daughter, he offered her a small piece of chocolate each time she peed in the potty. Out of candy one day, he told his daughter he would have to use "pretend chocolate" for her reward. She hopped off the potty, smiling, but nothing was in it. "What's the deal?" he asked. She replied, "I made a pretend pee."

Pretty smart kid. Most children are smarter than we might want to think. Clever kids can often work their way around any reward system.

Rewards can sometimes help get kids over the hump but most times they are short lived. What happens is the behavior becomes dependent on the rewards and will stop when the rewards stop or don't seem to be enough to perform the task requested. Adults go to work to get paid, but if the pay stopped, they would stop going to work."

This is true even if an activity is pleasurable. I read an article about rewards for children by researchers at Stanford University and they found that when children who enjoyed drawing with markers were paid to do so, they quit using them when they were no longer paid. In other words, the reward somehow extinguished their passion.

While using bribes in the short term isn't harmful for things like getting your child to stop having a tantrum on an airplane, external rewards won't build your child's character or impart the value of keeping their room organized or getting to sleep at a decent hour. What does? Encouraging them to follow the lead of what makes them feel good inside -- such as satisfaction in a newly learned skill or a job well done. They’re not only more successful in the long term, they’re also more happy along the way, and inspired. When a child learns to ride a bike, they are usually so thrilled with their new skill and eager to do it, it can be hard to persuade them to stop. That feeling of mastery is tremendously motivating.

Have Meaningful Conversations

One-on-one talks with your child are crucial for tapping into helping your child to understand why you are asking them to do something and getting them to do it.

Many times you will hear a parent say that their children listen better to one parent or the other. Why is this? I bet if you looked closely at this you would find one or the other parent provides more feedback for what their child has done or is doing than the other parent. They listen and talk more to their children than the other parent. 

If your kids talk about the task at hand from the start, then consider trying to see things from their point of view. Then talk about the importance of the activity in a way that is respectful. If your child doesn't want to clean her room because she's tired from soccer practice, say, "Why don't you take a rest and after dinner you can straighten up your room so you can find everything you need to do your homework?" Refrain from using language such as "should" and "must," and offer to be there to help when kids truly need it.

Asking your child how it feels doing a particular task while she's doing it can also contribute to the kind of happy atmosphere that makes kids want to cooperate. Questions like, "What do you think about doing your homework by yourself?" and "How does it make you feel having finished that homework now?" can lead kids to insights they might not have had otherwise about their accomplishments. Another effective strategy for getting children to turn a bad habit around: Show empathy by asking how you can help. Things like this help put the parent and the child on the same side against the problematic behavior, rather than setting up a battle."

When kids start to act out and behave inappropriately try to find out why they are doing what they are doing. Ask them why did you choose to do that? Most times when things like this happen we automatically jump into behavior correction by disciplining them in some manner. Rather than go right to discipline try to find out why a child performed the inappropriate behavior. Look for reasons why they might have behaved poorly. It could be they are hungry or tired. Sometimes it is just something simple and maybe providing a snack or rest at appropriate times can curb this type of behavior. Ask your child what they would do if you acted like they did? Kids' solutions for problem behaviors often work better than parent-suggested ones, because children are invested in having their solutions work."

Giving your kids feedback during these conversations about the way they're handling their responsibilities can also motivate. Rather than dangling a trip to the park as a reward for doing homework, try catching your child on a day when she's finished it at a decent hour. As you head out to the park, point out that the natural consequence of getting her homework done early allowed time for fun later.

Embrace Their Imperfections

Most young kids actually enjoy select chores if you can relax your standards about how well and how quickly they get done. How many times have you seen young children beg you to let them help with this or that only to find that after a few times of doing the task they lose that desire. Many times they lose the desire is because we get too picky on how they are doing the task rather than just being happy that they are doing it.

Focus on the fact that your child got his comforter off the floor -- instead of that it's hanging unevenly -- and praise the effort. And if there are certain jobs your kids love, make sure that they get those jobs. If your child shows desire to do something let them do it their way and praise them for doing a great job. Possibly help them and they will see how you are doing it and they will try to follow your lead.

As for the jobs your kids dislike, using a little creativity can make them more appealing: Use a puppet to ask your child to please clean up her shoes, or challenge her to race Daddy to bed. Offer a choice where possible, even a limited one such as brushing teeth before bath time or after; this gives kids a feeling of autonomy, an important component of tapping into internal motivation. Heavy-handed efforts to control children sometimes lead to unnecessary power struggles that end in words like You can't make me! (followed by: Oh yes I can!). None of us likes to feel controlled, especially children. Children like to believe that what they are doing was their choice rather than an obligation.

Consider Their Capabilities

When giving your child a task, make sure to consider what they are really capable of doing and how well you believe they can do it. Many times we know how we want something done and expect the child to perform as if they were us. Again, always compliment the child even if they don’t do the job exactly as expected. Rewards and punishments are irrelevant if the child can't do what we want them to do. Always consider what their capabilities are.

Recognizing a child’s strengths and weaknesses is important. We are always trying to get our students to try their best. I want them to try their best at everything they do but realizing sometimes that they really are trying their best but it isn’t very good is important. Do your best to explain and help them to do things better without complaining chastising or disciplining them. This will help them to be more motivated to get better at the things they don’t do so well.

Express Appreciation

Let's say your child woke up when the alarm went off and got ready for school on his own. Or he stayed in bed all night rather than waking you at 3 a.m. and hopping into your bed. Be sure to let him know how much you appreciate his efforts and don't forget to add how nice it was to ride with him to school without feeling rushed, or how well-rested you feel from that uninterrupted night's sleep.

Kids want to please their parents, that sense of connection is powerfully motivating. Praise your kids when you mean it, but be careful about how you praise; focus on effort and growth more than outcome. Also, when they hit the home run or land the lead in the school play, be careful that your pleasure doesn't swamp theirs. We want the excitement to be theirs, so it isn't all about us.

Lead by Example

It's pretty simple: If you want your kids to stop fighting so much with their siblings, rather than offering them candy or other rewards to "be good," try to resolve your conflicts with your spouse in a loving and admirable way. To help them remember their manners, make sure you say "please" and "thank you" to them too. And when you're on the phone and your child wants your attention, don't tell her "just a sec" if it's going to be more like 20 minutes. These things teach your children that you're going to put them off for as long as you can get away with and that you don't keep your word. Playing loosey-goosey with time also means that your kids probably will too, so don't be surprised when you tell them it's time to leave a party or clear the table, and they say "just a sec" and don't mean it either. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say, can be highly motivating indeed.

Some final thoughts:

Getting your child to like doing things they are not very good at is easier than you think. Make sure to allow your children to make decisions, have input and letting them take ownership of what they do without complaining and disciplining them for what you may consider a poor job. Allow them to make mistakes and then help them to discover how to correct what they have done and talking them through the solution. Make sure to take note of the things they do without being asked. Praise them but don’t overdo it.

Use rewards sparingly they can actually be a detriment to getting kids to do what you want them to do.

It's also important to remember that character strengths like curiosity and self-control can be taught. They don't appear magically as a result of good genes. There's a lot we can do to influence their development in children.

Children need to encounter failure. Why?

They need to experience the process of making mistakes and failing, and then bouncing back and recovering. As they grow up, they're going to be much better at facing setbacks. I've learned that it's possible to let kids fail but still to be emotionally present for them. It's a hard balance to reach, but it's exactly what kids need.

Yours Truly for Awesome and Amazing Kids,

Sensei Randy Kopke


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