How Can We Motivate Our Children?

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As a parent, it’s my personal mission to teach my children to be productive and respectful citizens—which means my work is never done. I’ve realized that parenting is not cultivated around a step-by-step process. Instead, it requires a tremendous amount of dedication, the process of trial and error, and ultimately personally accepting the good with the bad.

I find that a lot of parents establish goals for their children. These goals can be a wide range of tasks—simple chores around the house or the requirement to complete homework and/or class projects. In many cases, parents lean on their child’s ability to observe appropriate behavior or assume that what is expected is common sense—without providing a game plan. I read an enlightening article on Leading Turtle that discussed the importance of cultivating your child’s growth mindset. The article said, “Kids with a growth mindset realize the more they try and learn, the smarter and more talented they become. It’s what they learn and the effort they put in that leads to success.” Which got me to thinking and questioning whether or not, as a parent, was I parenting my children or setting unrealistic expectations instead?

Instead of merely assigning our children tasks to do, we should be leading my example and cultivating their learning experience. For example, now when I ask my daughter to complete her homework assignment, I sit with her and learn too—I give her my undivided attention, put my phone down and rid myself of any distractions, I ask her questions about the assignment, and incorporate other building block conversational starters during our time together. Ultimately, I recognized that me asking her to complete an assignment means that I need to set a good example myself by giving her assignment my undivided time—just as I expect her to do.

I am not perfect and recognize that as a human being, I am going to make mistakes. With my youngest, oftentimes I expect her to observe how her older sister handles day-to-day tasks—and ultimately my instinct is that she’ll mirror those actions. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth or the reality. You’ll hear parents tell older siblings that it’s their fault that a younger sibling acted out because they’re replicating their actions. While this may be somewhat true, if parents would work on developing executive function skills, a lot of behavioral issues could be avoided. Lilla Dale McManis, Med, PhD, discusses in her book Why Kids Need Support Getting and Staying Motivated to Achieve Goals, that it is imperative for parents to recognize the mental processes that make the skills attainable—planning, organization, focusing attention, working memory (such as recalling steps and instructions), time management, and self-regulation and self-control.

Teaching life skills is part of a parent’s duties. In her book, McManis said, “Knowing that helping children practice these skills will strengthen their development means you can work with your child at his/her level to set and attend to goals. As the brain matures and becomes more organized, promoted by having facilitation from you, you’ll begin to see your child improve in executive function. Along the way you can turn more of the goal setting over to him/her.” Through all this, lies the lesson of persistence—which is another essential component of parenting. Overall persistence is more of a characteristic than a skill because the support a child gets or lacks in receiving will strengthen or weaken their level of persistence. McManis said, “Goal theory research is pretty clear that for motivation to be in place, goals need to be concrete and specific. If they’re too general or vague, then a child isn’t going to be able to get a handle on what the goal is, much less how to make progress toward it.”

Instilling the importance and strategy behind goals is imperative. Oftentimes, as adults, we take for granted that children understand the process of achieving goals; however, it’s important to teach them the dynamics of what a goal really entails and the steps involved. Therefore, utilizing rewards is a great way to demonstrate how goals can be met—and will work as great motivational milestones.

Parenting is not simple. There will be days when you nail it and other days when you’re left scratching your head, but it’s important to try your best and utilize all of the resources and knowledge available. Personally, for me, reading great works from professionals like Lilla McManis or a personal blog from a fellow parent, keep me in check and inspire me to be the best parent I can be. So, the question we began with is how can we motivate our children? I believe the answer is to always be willing to be physically and mentally present.