I love my kids and I want them to work hard and achieve everything imaginable. Sure, they’re young, but they’re never too young to get a head start, right? Still, it often feels like they have other ideas. YouTube instead of softball practice. Playtime instead of chores. Anything instead of homework. So they need a little push. Who doesn’t once in a while?
And that’s where the trouble starts. See, when it comes to motivating them, I go in with the best, most loving intentions, but end up recycling the same typical, useless strategies. Everything regresses from there, and it never ends well.
I’m a good dad. Maybe I’ll try partnering: “Hey, it’s time to do your homework. I’ll help you get started. Show me your math.”
No good? Maybe bribery will work better. “If you spend the next fifteen minutes cleaning your room, I’ll take you out for ice cream.”
What little liars! Now they say they don’t want ice cream: “Look, you either get your shin guards and cleats, or I’m taking away your iPad.”
That’s it. I’m finished messing around: “I said NOW! Get it done NOW! Faster. Faster. Faster. Nothing motivates you!”
As a parent, it’s difficult to not have answers. I want my kids to succeed, achieve at the highest level, reach their potential, and I want them to do all those things without being told. However, it so often feels like they don’t want the same things, and it’s hard to know the right ways to drive them to want it. I’m just tired of yelling. It makes me feel like I’m failing as a parent.
So many of us struggle to motivate our children. Maybe you, too, struggle with your kids when it comes to homework. Or maybe you have greater difficulty getting them to help with chores. Or is it getting out of bed on time? Or setting goals? Or taking responsibility? Or taking any risk whatsoever? While I don’t wish these struggles on anyone, I admittedly take comfort in knowing there are others out there who understand the difficulties.
We’ve all struggled to motivate our kids at some point. That’s the first of many things I took away from my preview of the FREE online Motivated Child Summit running Jan 28-31, 2019. Friend, colleague, and summit host Renee Jain told me once that it truly does take a village to raise a child. The trouble is, society, some time ago, decided to eliminate the village approach, which often leaves us, and our children, feeling very alone. Watching the summit, I quickly learned that there is still a village out there, they understand what we’re going through, and they want to help.
What else did I learn at the summit?
- More often than you’d expect, our kids really want to do well and achieve. That’s right! Turns out that, despite appearances, our kids are not inherently lazy, and they really are born motivated to achieve. Dr. Adam Price, author of He’s Not Lazy, discusses at length how high pressure, fear of failure, and a drive to protect self-esteem is causing kids to check out, shut down, and avoid work that they fear might expose them as imperfect. Rather than risk the embarrassment, they avoid working hard at achieving goals (even their own goals) and instead work hard at appearing to not care. The task then becomes proving to kids that failure is not only acceptable and nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also the only true path to success.
- It simply takes certain kids longer to get certain things done. It can’t be helped, and sometimes it can’t be changed. And that’s really okay, if not even normal. Dr. Ellen Braaten, author of “Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up,” has focused her career on understanding and treating children with attention issues, including something she calls processing speed. What shocked me is how she was able to reframe my perspective on what speed really means for intelligence. “Most scales of intelligence include some kind of measure of how fast we get something done,” she explains. “Now, intelligence really isn’t about speed at all. Intelligence is about how we use our words, and how we use our intellect. But in our culture, it’s part of an IQ test, because we kind of think that smart people are fast. And it’s not the case at all, and we need to keep that in mind.” Now Dr. Braaten is quick to point out that if you’re really worried about your child, it’s important to take them to a professional. However, there is also a point where it’s healthy to acknowledge that perhaps your child moves a little more slowly, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean they’re unmotivated, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re not smart.
- Everyone battles their kids over homework, but few battle their kids for the exact same reasons. What this means is that there really is no shortcut, catchall method to getting kids to study after school. Every kid is different, every subject is different, and every parent is different. Child therapist Natasha Daniels points out that one of the most important things you can do to help your child get through their homework is to listen to them. Are they too tired? Do they struggle in math? Are they distracted? Do they need a video game break between school and homework? Or is it something else all together? The point is that a conversation is a valuable first step toward homework motivation. And while you’re at it, if you really want to learn how to motivated them in all walks of life, try to find out more about what they love outside of homework. What drives those passions in them. “Pull on that thread,” and perhaps you’ll learn more about what really makes them tick, and tap into something that can grow bigger.
- It’s not always fair to tell kids they can achieve anything with hard work. This was a huge surprise for me, and even as I write this, I’m still having some difficulty. Can I really say that to my kids? How is that the right message to send? Dr. Angela Duckworth explains, “First of all, the Olympic athletes I’ve interviewed, and the NBA and NFL coaches that I work with, say that real champions don’t think that way. They don’t look for guarantees. They’re looking for a kind of excellence that’s really within themselves. Are they the best person they could be on that day? I think there you can promise your child that if they work hard and if they have focus and they’re doing something they love that they will continuously improve. You’re not guaranteeing them a particular job or particular salary or a gold medal but I think what you’re guaranteeing them is a very fulfilling life.” I love that sentiment.
- So what works best? It’s neither carrot nor stick. Again, I was confused. If neither rewards or punishments work for motivating kids, why do I, and millions of other parents, default to those methods? Sherri Fisher, founder of Learn and Flourish, tell us the reason is that “either of those will work in the short term, and then, all of a sudden, it won’t.” So, as parents, when we threaten or entice, we’re immediately rewarded with results. The problem, is the results don’t last. Science actually proves that those methods decrease motivation, because the kids are paid off or spurred on using things that are completely unrelated to the task itself, instead of letting them learn the rewards inherent in completing the task (or the determinants inherent in not completing it). Then what is the best, most sustainable approach to motivating our kids? What Sherri Fisher calls “little wins.” But for more on that, you should probably just listen to her interview.
There’s no reason not to register. GoZen has poured their souls into this event, and now they’re giving it away for FREE. All you need to do is register, then tune in January 28th through the 31st. With 20 experts and hours and hours of content, I highly recommend reviewing the schedule of speakers so you can plan on attending the sessions that matter to you most. I hope to see you there!