It can be frustrating to feel like your child cares less about completing a school project or studying for an exam than you do. How many times have we resorted to bribing our kids with phone privileges if they finish their homework? While it might get the job done in the moment, it rarely works long-term. If our goal is to increase repeated positive behavior, we have to think differently.
How do we do that? By making the tasks we want our children to engage in more valuable to them than those we want them to avoid. That’s certainly not easy when starting homework on time is up against other distractions, like playing on phones or hanging out with friends. Engaging in new habits may sometimes require external motivators, but as students build these new habits, the effort required to maintain them will decrease, as will their awareness of internal motivators.
But how can you increase internal motivation for children? Alex Vermeer, professional researcher from MIRI, believes that increasing the expectancy of success and value of a task, while decreasing distractions and delays of rewards, ultimately builds motivation. If we want to encourage our children to reward themselves by accomplishing tasks, we must help them recognize the inherent reward – either the joy of doing or reward from completing – of the task, while they maintain focus and create deadlines to help them achieve their goals.
The question remains of how to put these ideas into practice. Although there might not be a one-size-fits-all approach, consider the following ideas:
- Inspire a growth mindset: Intelligence and capabilities are developed over time, not overnight. Developing a growth mindset helps students embrace challenges and persevere, embracing these times as opportunities to develop mastery.
- Try new strategies: Not all children learn the same way. Offer various strategies for completing tasks (such as watching helpful videos instead of reading text or taking small breaks and incorporating physical activity into study).
- Reinforce the power of asking for help: Remind your child that it takes courage to ask for guidance. In fact, this shows perseverance and accountability.
- Encourage self-compassion: Consider how affirming your child’s efforts and acknowledging their struggles can benefit their willingness to keep trying. Learn more about the relationship between self-compassion and motivation here.
- Take note of internal motivators: What are the natural positive outcomes your child can expect after they complete the task at hand? Brainstorm these with your child. The more awareness they have of these, the fewer external rewards they’ll need.
- Understand their buy-in: Learn what your child values and enjoys and allow them to choose their rewards (within reason). The long lasting impact will increase their sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, resulting in repeated positive behavior.
- Affirm, don’t praise: Your child is not just “smart” because they got an A. They are determined; they attempted various strategies, paid close attention to detail and developed mastery. Focus and comment on their positive internal characteristics.
You’ll experience ups and downs with your child’s motivation levels. That’s okay! Perfection should never be the goal; drive and determination are what’s important. If the struggles of your child’s lack of motivation are getting in the way, contact us and one of our executive functioning coaches can help.