4 Things That Best Motivate Your Children

Any parent is familiar with the struggle of motivating their children toward excellence, whether in sports or the arts, their relationships with friends or faith, or simply getting them motivated to contribute to the family through chores and activities. How does a parent help a child get from slothfulness to motivation in a way that isn't belittling, discouraging, or downright nagging?

A quick search on the Internet will reveal all sorts of psychological insights, step-by-step mom blog inspirations, and so forth. But the question at the root is what motivates your child the best? Not necessarily a broad sweep answer, but something more customized to your kid's mindset and personality.

There are a few things to consider when attempting to find the equation to motivate your child best:

1. Every child is different. 

If you have more than one child, you will likely have to find multiple ways to motivate them. Think of it like taking your kids out to eat. They each have different tastes. One may prefer fast food, the other sushi, and the third may want a good ol' pepperoni pizza. Can we please them all? In one setting? Not really.

So this means recognizing and identifying your children's differences is one thing, but getting them motivated simultaneously can be tricky. Ideally, you can work with them independently from one another. But realistically, this isn't always the case. So, it's helpful to identify where your children are similarly motivated so you can generalize as much as possible while saving some time to help those who may lag behind.

2. If you expect discipline from them, you must show it yourself. 

So many parents have expectations for their children, but we first must look at ourselves and ensure we're living up to the same expectations. If you want your children to be motivated to fulfill their weekly chore list with responsibility and timeliness, then it's important that you do the same.

They will, indeed, learn from example.

It is a very confusing double standard when what we ask of them, we aren't willing or cannot fulfill ourselves. If motivation involves building self-control and self-discipline, then be sure you're also working on that and being diligent with those traits in your own life. And do it in a way where your children can see it and not only find your pep talks to be motivated credible but maybe even be inspired by your example.

3. Be gentle, be firm.

Motivation often comes through the loss of patience. Think about the last time you tried to be most effective in motivating your child, and then consider how many times the lack of response, lazy attitude, or complete irresponsibility lent toward you, as the parent, losing your patience. The preferred come-alongside parenting method flies out the window and in marches the parental four-star general who's barking orders to just get things done.

Sometimes—granted, not all—this is because parents confuse gentle coaching with being flexible and compliant with the child's demands or complaints. Be careful you do not confuse gentleness with acquiescence.

You are still the parents. So, in reality, you need the loving hand of a father or mother plus the firm control of a general, merging in a complementary method. You can be gentle but also be uncompromising and firm.

Getting your children to be motivated effectively probably won't be acquired from shouting, demeaning, or yelling in frustration. But then, it probably won't be acquired from suggesting, coercing, or deal-making, either.

Be uncompromising in your authority but do it in love.

4. Teach your children to enjoy the outcome. 

Speaking of deal-making or bribery, I'm not sure any parent has escaped the temptation or the act of convincing a child to complete a task with the promise of a specific reward. Sometimes, it's the inevitable, "if you just be quiet so we can finish this grocery shopping list, then I'll buy you a toy on the way out." It does work. But it creates awful habits and horrific expectations within your children. It also engages the element of entitlement, and as they grow, they begin to feel owed something if they do something.

This is simply not the way life works. Often, the only satisfaction we may get from being successfully motivated to complete a task is the fact that we successfully completed the task. Nothing more, nothing less.

We need to teach our children to enjoy the outcome of completion without an additional reward. This teaches children self-respect, self-discipline, and a healthy work ethic too. Your child may quickly lose motivation if they consistently lose every soccer game, which is the reward that has been focused on. Yes, winning is the ultimate success, but so is getting through an entire game and seeing improvement. Completing the season and not quitting, regardless of losses, is no small thing. This is an outcome they can be proud of.

We live in a culture of instant gratification. A culture that has taught our children that they deserve certain privileges and outcomes. It is important that while we learn to be effective motivators, we teach our children the ethics and morals that come along with them. Doing our best, integrity, considering others before ourselves, keeping our word, and so forth.

Is there a pattern of proven exercises to best help motivate a child? I'm sure you can find one that suits them, but be sure to cross-check it against the other aspects of motivation. It is so important to teach our children to serve selflessly, to do it with a good attitude, and to be content with outcomes that may not benefit them ideally. It's crucial for them, and it's important for our future communities and fellowship.

Keep in mind the best way to motivate a child is by being honest with them. That may mean being realistic and understanding and acknowledging that this isn't fun; it does stink, and it has little to no return. It also means that you can repackage motivation in a way that communicates that while this isn't fun, it can be rewarding just knowing we did our best. It does stink, but sometimes it's part of life to be responsible and take pride in that responsibility. And while there may not be a monetary or tangible return, there is a return on character and reputation.

So how do we best motivate our children?

-Set a good example.

-Be straightforward and honest.

-Don't compromise.

-Teach integrity and ethics.

It sounds like parenting is a high calling. The world will be grateful to you when you learn to motivate your children this way. It is honoring not only to the people around you but to yourself and the Lord.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Inside Creative House

Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!


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