I have a 5-year old and a 2-year old. Lately, I have been thinking about the subject of how to raise motivated kids, particularly with my older child.
My son is a pretty independent kid and generally doesn’t resist tackling a project or homework. (Although I sometimes get “I’ll do it in five minutes.”)
But the motivation I’m talking about is deeper. How do you get children to want to strive and work at something on their own? How do you get them to set a goal and work to attain it? How do you instill self-motivation?
I recently chatted with Georgia-based psychologist and motivational speaker Dr. Alduan Tartt.
He said the trick to having a motivated child or that so-called inner drive is to help kids find their element. “You might have a child who is unmotivated in school, but when it comes to sports has intrinsic motivation.”
Tartt advises parents to expose their children to a variety of activities and see which ones “click” for them. “It’s like trying on clothes,” Tartt says, “and see what fits.”
When a child finds there is something he or she is good at that can build self-confidence that carries over to other areas of their lives.
Tartt recommended I pick up a book called Drive by Daniel Pink. The old style of motivation was based on a carrot-and-stick approach. For example, if you do a good job at your workplace you’ll get a raise. If you don’t, you might get fired. But that no longer works because people really want to love what they do. People would be willing to take a $20,000 or $30,000 pay cut for something they love.
How does this translate and apply to children? Well, part of it is finding what excites them and using it as “teachable moments.”
My son is really into super heroes. For handwriting practice he enjoys writing out the names of his favorite characters.
The same concept applies to older children.
Tartt says some high schools are changing their approach with class systems that resemble college “majors.” Students focus on an area like communications or humanities that they are truly interested in starting in 9th grade.
But what if there are tasks that have to be done that a student just doesn’t enjoy? You might have a child who loves reading but loathes math or vice versa. In that case the carrot approach can work. “We’re talking about positive reinforcement, a reward,” explains Tartt.
“Finish your math and you can watch television. Eat your veggies and then dessert.” Tartt says this can work especially well with young kids. But he cautions, be sure that it’s earned. Don’t give the “pay” before it’s earned.
Another way to encourage self-motivation in children is to teach “positive thinking.” This is an area that he says very few people are teaching to children. The idea is simple enough: What people think about themselves determines the outcome.
This can be taught to children at a young age. The child facing a challenging assignment who says “I can’t do it,” should be taught to think otherwise.
Tartt believes positive education can really help students facing standardized tests. It’s something that can be taught like meditation or physical activity. Teach them to believe in themselves and they will.