Last night I led a group on “How to motivate your unmotivated child.” Some of the areas of motivation we talked about were how to help children find life purpose, autonomy and mastery.
Parents can help their children develop talents and skills that they feel proud of and that others can appreciate – this helps them develop a sense of purpose that in turn improves their motivation to be a significant part of society which then leads to taking care of themselves mentally and physically.
If you realize your kid has some predisposition or love for music, dance, sports, academics, art, creativity, relationship building etc. – help them see and develop these aspects of themselves and point out the specifics of what they do well. We learn in community and kids may not realize their values or talents until others value them.
People enjoy feeling like they have choices. We find meaning when we make choices – which then lead to motivation. Most people don’t like being bossed around and kids definitely don’t like this either. However, when raising kids and dealing with children, adults can present limited healthy choices e.g. would you like spinach or broccoli for dinner tonight? Or would you like to take swimming lessons or baseball lessons next year? Because children’s brains are still developing and their capacity to make the best choices are still forming- - it’s completely necessary for parents to provide these options for them and not let them come up with all the options themselves. This prevents the child deciding that they are going to eat candy and fast food every night of the week!
Children need to be presented with tasks that challenge them at the appropriate mental and physical levels. There are many ways that children are failed regarding this area. Either tasks are too easy (so no effort has to go into them and they are rewarded for doing very simple tasks) or they are too challenging and the kid can never accomplish it or have the satisfaction of failing and trying until they succeed. There are many resources that can help you know what your child should be able to do. E.g. you wouldn’t shame a 3 month old for not being able to walk, so you shouldn’t shame a child who has been sitting and playing video games for most of their life, for not being able to perform in a sport like a kid who has had years of coaching/practice. However, what you can do is teach this child the basics and begin to practice and reinforce the skills they are learning. Focus on the accomplishment that comes with learning a skill e.g. being able to run for 10 minutes straight is a huge accomplishment if you’ve never done it before, so focus on what went into making that happen and how you keep developing and growing.
As a personal example the ways I’ve seen these concepts play out in my life, as an adult is that my life purpose was established pretty early. I was good at sports – specifically swimming, loved relating to others and building friendships and having adventures. My parents, friends and community reinforced these talents socially. I was able to develop my skills by having a family that supported my swimming and sports training through coaching and swim team and allowed me to develop my social connections. They allowed me to have close friendships and adventures with which also satisfied my need for autonomy. These core things have helped me retain levels of motivation and drive throughout my adult life. They have led to the choices I’ve made in career and my personal and social relationships. Never underestimate the messages we pass on to children at very early ages. They are the core building blocks for life.
Modeling a healthy life for kids and also teaching them how you overcome life’s challenges, which are inevitably a part of life, teaches your kids resilience and ingrains in them an internal sense that all will be alright (no matter what is happening externally, socially, culturally) and that they can achieve and/or work towards whatever it is they want in life. Physical and mental health is so closely linked – so having motivated children will definitely improve health in more ways than one.
Let me know your thoughts and ways that you’ve worked to help motivate yourself and your children.