Most people would agree that self motivation is an admired character trait, and one that seems to lead to a successful, well intentioned life. As parents, we desire to instill this quality in our children. We might think that homeschooling would be simpler and more effective if only our child was self motivated. What we probably mean, however, is that we want them to be self motivated in the things we value. I have spent the last decade working on guiding my children in the area of self motivation. Let me share with you some of the things I have learned.
Every child is already self motivated. If they want to get out of doing a certain chore they were assigned, they will stay focused on doing their best to avoid it! If they desire to attend a particular event they will relentlessly pursue making that happen. If they are playing a game that they are intent on winning they will ignore distractions and lock in on the goal.
The challenge for us as mothers is to direct our child’s motivation in a positive direction.
Influence and Inspire
You can’t make your child care about something. They may obey you, but it does not mean they would make that choice on their own—and pushing them to “get motivated” could quickly turn into a power struggle. So what can a parent do? We can influence and inspire our children to make positive and productive choices.
Take time to observe your child. Is there something that you could add or remove from your child’s life that would help him to be more excited (and therefore more motivated) about each day?
Every once in a while we revamp our chore chart, and when we do we always ask our kids their opinions and try to accommodate their preferences. Part of raising our kids is holding them accountable to the basic things that we must do in life (whether we like it or not!), but let’s work with them to make it as enjoyable as we can in the meantime.
Consequences Are a Good Thing
As much as possible, let your child make their own choices and face their own consequences. This is the fastest way to help your child find their own way when it comes to motivation. Be an investigator instead of an interrogator. Instead of scolding: “Why did you wait to do your math lesson until the end of the day when you’re tired? That wasn’t responsible!” Try: “I noticed you chose to do your math at the end of the day instead of in the morning. Now that you’ve tried it both ways which do you prefer? What do you think you’ll do tomorrow?”
In the areas where I am making an effort to encourage independence in my child I maintain a more hands off parenting approach. My husband and I have already set up boundaries about what we allow in our home. This includes the people we allow to have influence over our kids, screen time management, healthy food in the pantry, etc. We have made an effort to set our children up with an environment that makes it easier for them to have success, so we feel comfortable loosening the reins and letting them make their own decisions whenever possible. It’s an important step towards adulthood.
The Responsibility Is Theirs
As parents we can be tempted feel responsible for our children’s outcomes in life: the road they take, the choices they make. While we do help, assist, encourage, and empower… that’s where our influence ends. At a certain point we must realize that they are in charge of their own life. Keeping that perspective helps us deal correctly with them as they go through life. We want them to have natural consequences (good or bad) because those are the best teachers. If you are pushing your child to become motivated, it is likely that the only thing that will come of it is that they’ll be motivated to resist you. Kids have a natural desire to become independent, so when someone is pushing them against their will they will often grow resentful.
When a child takes on something new, such as learning an instrument or other skill, allow them the space to do it at their own pace. Beware of falling into the temptation of nagging them to practice or quickly correcting their beginning attempts. It will likely begin to grow a level of resistance within them, rather than encourage them to want to try harder.
It can be hard to allow your child to take the lead, especially if you have spent money on this new hobby! Yet I urge you to do your best to avoid nagging. Talk to yourself if you need to: “My child is learning a new skill… I’m going to turn them loose, let them make decisions on their own, and be ok with the outcome!” Remind yourself that the goal is bigger than just the present skill learning. You are walking with your child and supporting them as they become adults. Part of growing up is coming to the understanding that when new skills are being learned or improved, you will either become self motivated or fail. Either option has potential to teach important life lessons.
When your child stumbles upon something they love, you will know it! You will not need to convince them or bribe them to pursue knowledge in this area. They will want to seek it, and your role will be to support them.
Be a cheerleader
If you notice your child showing self motivation and responsibility say something positive about it. Be excited about the things they’re excited about. Find ways to encourage their passions without being over-involved or overbearing.
Our children are baby stepping their way to adulthood and we have the privilege to watch it happen. It’s an exciting journey!