Have you ever spent more hours than you should putting off something you hate doing? We all have. The truth is, lack of motivation is an issue that affects everyone, but it can be particularly difficult to deal with in children.
Problem is, motivating an unmotivated child gets harder with time and children’s lack of motivation and can stay with them for year.
So, what does the behavior of an unmotivated child look like?
- Children lacking motivation would rather play video games than do their homework
- They rarely stick to something until its successful completion
- An unmotivated child prefers activities that do not require much effort
- They do not seem to care about what they are learning in school (or about many other activities)
- They are frequently defined as “lazy”
- Children without motivation find everything pointless or irrelevant
- They rarely take any initiatives and seem to take on everything half-heartedly
- Unmotivated children blame everyone else for their performance and/or behavior
- They do not seem to care about anything
- Children experiencing a lack of motivation put little effort into all the activities they undertake
- An unmotivated child has poor self-esteem
- You are constantly in conflict and must often repeat instructions when dealing with a child lacking motivation
It is said that motivation must originate from the heart, and that most of the attempts to motivate kids actually demotivate them.
While the latter is true, the former has been proven wrong on many occasions. Researchers and psychologists such as Carol Dweck have shown that the use of certain words and the adoption of certain practices can help the unmotivated child.
Dealing with motivation in children is a tricky affair because lack of motivation lies at the crossroads between behavior and demoralization.
By behavior, I do not mean that your child’s lack of motivation is a behavioral problem, but rather, that the way they relate to and connect with the people, and the situations they encounter every day, undoubtedly impact their behavior.
Tackling your child’s lack of motivation therefore means tackling discouragement and demoralization.
If your child has no motivation, you know by now that telling them that they “need to work harder” does not increase their motivation. However, years of motivation research have made it possible to identify strategies that can help motivate the unmotivated child.
Here are 11 strategies to help parents motivate their unmotivated children:
1) Paying attention to your unmotivated child’s interests can increase their motivation
We all like doing things we find interesting and your children are no different. They will be more motivated when doing things they enjoy.
How to motivate your unmotivated child
• Observe them to find out where their interests lie
• Show interest in their interests, even if they differ from what you would like them to be interested in
• Find ways to link their interests with the other skills you would like them to develop. For instance, comics can be a great way to practice their reading skills and gain new knowledge, or encouraging them to practice their music lessons with a friend can help motivate an unmotivated child.
2) Remember that success is everyone’s innate desire
Unless if they’re dealing with specific and often undetected disabilities, most people want to succeed in the activities they undertake. Repeated failure can therefore give rise to frustration and discouragement and can lead to behavior such as tantrums, or even constant anger and anxiety.
Children who encounter too much failure can develop learned helplessness, which means that they can learn to perceive themselves as failures. In other words, a child may lose their motivation because of a lack of confidence in their ability to achieve specific goals.
It is this lack of confidence that can drive behavior such as avoidance, stress, “laziness” and a “don’t care attitude”.
What is the best way to motivate your child?
• Ensure that your child has opportunities for success.
• Help your child view themselves as a successful person by talking about their successes
• Set reasonable expectations with challenging but achievable tasks
• Make sure your child knows exactly what they are expected to do. For instance, if your unmotivated child often struggles with homework, make it a habit to go over and explain what they are expected to do every time they have an an assignment.
You can also try positive reinforcement.
Many bad things have been said about using positive reinforcement to motivate kids. Some people say that giving your child something in exchange for good behavior is bad. I disagree.
There are literally hundreds of studies that have shown that positive reinforcement is one of the most effective tools that you can use to change your child’s behavior.
That said, most of these studies have found that this strategy is often applied incorrectly, meaning that it may actually reinforce the negative behavior you are attempting to eliminate.
If a positive reinforcement strategy is used right, it can eliminate even the most problematic behavior. If you’d like to try it out, this guide will give you the step-by-step process you can use to help your child replace bad behavior permanently, without having to “bribe” them.
3) Provide opportunities to motivate your child
Our son developed an interest in creating videogames after watching videos developed by kids his age. These kids had used the free scratch software developed by researchers at MIT.
How do you motivate an unmotivated child ?
• Exposing your child to others’ achievements in their fields of interest is a good way to motivate them. However, this does not mean comparing your child to others or expecting them to achieve the same things as others.
• Remember that providing opportunities to see others succeed – which can be achieved through movies, books, stories, etc. – can help reduce your child’s lack of motivation
4) The “motivation talk” will not motivate an unmotivated child
One thing science (and no doubt many parents!) has found over the years is that the “motivation talk” rarely works, and that’s rarely with a capital R. Despite your best intentions, talking to your kids about the importance of effort is not likely to make them “change their ways”.
How do you deal with an unmotivated child ?
• Instead of focusing on their past performance, focus on their future performance – “what do you think you can do differently?”
• Instead of speaking for your children, encourage them to assess their performance by themselves. Remember that there are several age-appropriate resources capable of helping your child reflect on their performance and develop a growth mindset.
• Instead of the “motivation talk”, let them know that you know they have what it takes. You could say something like “you just haven’t figured it out yet but I know you will”.
5) Offering encouragement and support can help motivate your child
It’s normal to get frustrated when our kids show a lack of motivation. Not knowing how to motivate them gets us even more frustrated!
The important thing to remember is that kids’ lack of motivation may often be explained by a number of things: lack of confidence, lack of participation in decisions concerning them (when homework should be done, when videogames can be played, consequences of not sticking with expectations…), frustration, disappointment, and so on.
How to get and keep your child motivated
• It has been said that failure and success are two sides of the same coin. Everyone experiences failure and most people experience failure repeatedly before they meet with success.
Talk to your child about your failures. Let them understand that failure is a part of life. Let them know that their failures do not define them – they make them stronger.
Successful failures abound – people who encountered much failure before becoming the celebrities they are today. Talk to your child about those failures. Let them know that the struggle is real for many people.
• Comment on ALL the positive changes you observe even if they do not immediately lead to an improvement. If you see your child put in greater effort, say it.
If you see them trying harder, say it. If you see them trying a different approach, let them know you’ve noticed. Remember, though, to praise the effort and not the child.
Success can mean so many things. There are so many areas in which your child has been successful. Remind them of their strengths and accomplishments. Help them see themselves as successful.
This step-by-step guide will give you easy tips to help your child become more confident, self-reliant and independent. It has numerous examples of practical ways you can help support them every day.
6) Don’t forget that kids will be kids
Wouldn’t it be great if our kids responded to our every instruction and did things exactly (or even better) than expected?
The reality is that kids do not have the same conception of things as we do. They do not necessarily understand why they have to learn about certain things and telling them those things “are important” is unlikely to change their perception.
What motivates children ?
• Find ways to make whatever your child is learning interesting. If they’re taking music lessons for example, working on a song they like may be more motivating than having to stick to a specific workbook.
• There are so many ways to learn the same thing. If your child has a hard time staying focused or finding interest in a particular activity, try different ways to tackle the same activity.
There are good movies that teach history, your child can be taught to count using LEGOs, and children’s executive function skills can be developed through fun activities that also boost their concentration.
• Remember that kids will always be more motivated by things they enjoy, and that’s hardly surprising. Cut your child some slack and let them enjoy the things they like. Remember that expecting certain things from them can cause more harm than good.
• Don’t let criticism and disappointment be the only thing they remembers of their childhood.
• Change your perception of your child’s behavior. Some amount of procrastination and a lack of motivation is normal in kids and adults alike. Why would your child be any different?
7) Focusing on your child’s strengths can help motivate them
There is evidence that strength-based parenting can help increase your child’s happiness and satisfaction in ways you never thought possible.
How to motivate your child
• Place your child’s strengths at the center of your parenting approach. Remember that your child needs to encounter success (even in a few fields) rather than to perceive themselves as mediocre in all fields.
• Even the most destructive children can undergo a transformation once they find where their strengths lie. Do not forget that recognizing your child’s strengths helps build their self-esteem.
8) Let go of the driver’s seat
Why is kids’ motivation such a big issue? Why do teachers and parents struggle to motivate kids? Science says that one of the main reasons we struggle with our kids’ motivation is because we want to “dictate” everything that our child should do.
We want to dictate when they should do their homework, when they can watch TV or play videogames, when they can see their friends, and so on. But here’s the thing: the more kids feel they have no say in decisions that concern them directly, the less likely they are to stick to those decisions, and there is evidence to prove that.
Tips and strategies to motivate your child
• Don’t do everything for them – you’ll only teach them to become dependent.
• Letting your child participate in the decision-making process will work wonders for their motivation – you can trust me on this.
• Remember that negotiation is a powerful tool which can help resolve your family’s conflicts and reduce power struggles.
9) Be clear about your non-negotiables
Did you know that science has found that your expectations have a great impact on your child’s behavior and performance? Problem is, our kids do not always know what is expected of them because we don’t always clearly voice our expectations.
Easy tips to motivate children
• Be clear about your non-negotiables and let your children know what is expected of them. If they are not allowed to drop an activity until a specific period is over (for instance one semester/one school year, etc.), let them know before they sign up.
However, be flexible – if the activity is really making them miserable, be willing to negotiate, or you’ll only up feeling as miserable as them.
• If you expect your children to participate in household chores, let them know, but remember that you’re bound to get more by allowing them to choose, to a certain extent, the chores they can take on.
Here are 70+ age-appropriate chore cards if you need ideas of chores your children can do.
10) Seek professional help if you’re struggling with your child’s motivation
One thing we rarely hear about concerning kids’ lack of motivation is that it may also point to undiagnosed learning disorders or attention-related problems.
Certain disorders can manifest themselves in behavior such as lack of motivation, procrastination and major concentration difficulties. The problem with these disorders is that they can lead your child to give up because of constant failure.
How to get and keep your child motivated
Do not hesitate to contact a professional if you feel overwhelmed by your child’s lack of motivation. A professional will help you determine whether or not your child has a learning disorder or other issues and, more importantly, how you can help them.
11) Rome wasn’t build in a day
No one said motivating your child will be easy, especially if you are dealing with a long-existing problem. Do not forget that changing habits takes time. Celebrate your successes and don’t lose heart when progress seems slow.
The “This is what it takes to raise a happy and confident adult workbook” draws on proven scientific research and theories from the world’s greatest philosophers to propose practical information to help foster traits such as independent thought, self-motivation, grit, confidence and a growth mindset. Check it out here.
Updated on 14/02/2022