Motivation From Within

My daughter, who is 8, is not interested in her studies. The teacher says she is daydreaming in class, and I have to sit in front of her to make sure she completes her homework. I’ve tried to leave it to her, but she doesn’t seem to care. What do I do?

Of all of the questions I get, by far the largest number are about motivating children. In previous articles, I have discussed the factors that influence motivation. But let’s try another approach.

I believe that all children are born motivated to figure out their world. They immediately begin to learn our language, discover how to crawl and walk and find ways to fit into the family structure. Nobody has to motivate them. They want to do those things for themselves.

So what happens to a child’s motivation during the school years? Unfortunately, it may be the parents who are trying so hard to help their children be successful. Parents resort to lectures, rewards and punishments. And children counter with a poor attitude. It’s the ultimate power struggle. And no one is winning.

It may sound overly simple, but my suggestion is to spend less time overseeing your child’s efforts and more time talking to her. Set aside time each week to have a real conversation with her.

Try these strategies:

Find a relaxing time and place. For example, sit on a porch swing, go for a walk or play a game of catch.

Practice active listening. This means you speak less and listen more. Smile, nod and give positive responses that encourage her to keep talking.

Ask open-ended questions that allow your child to share her feelings. For example, ask, “How could I help you feel more successful in school?”

End the conversation with one or two positive action steps. For example, say, “I promise to let you do your homework in your room, and you agree to complete your homework each night.”

Make these conversations a regular part of your lives. Put them on your family’s calendar if you must, but find the time to talk to your child.

You join the ranks of all parents who want to ensure that their children are motivated to be successful. This desire may stem, in part, from our own failures. I wish there were a magic potion that would “give” your child motivation. It just doesn’t work like that. What you can do is help your daughter find her internal desire, the one she had as a baby, and to use it whenever she recognizes the need.

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