Hello to all! I was on Facebook last week when a person’s post caught my eye. It basically questioned how to get their child motivated when it came to tests and projects in school. She had tried ideas (that weren’t listed) and “nothing worked.” I will bet there are a lot of parents reading this who have had the same problem. Today, I hope to piece together the motivation puzzle. I can’t provide all the specific answers because children are motivated by different things. I hope to lay a framework that you can think about and use with your kids.
Here’s my definition of internal motivation for kids. Kids will do (x) because it’s the right thing to do- not because their parents make them do it.
An example of internal motivation could be found in my backyard as a child. I played basketball all the time. No one ever made me do it. I loved all aspects of the game. Sometimes, I would watch basketball on TV by myself. Next, I would go outside and shoot at halftime; then watch the second half. Months before winning the Knights of Columbus state free throw championship when I was 12, I practiced free throws for hours. If I applied that same desire to my schoolwork, no Ivy League school would have turned me away. Simply put, I never had the same motivation in the classroom.
Here’s a fact you need to know. Most kids are internally motivated. However, these motivations are not always aligned to the parent’s motivations. Exactly how often were you motivated to do something your parents didn’t want you to do? Never mind, that answer could take all day!
A concept I talk about in my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures is called “buttons.” The basic premise is if I can push the right button, I make most people do almost anything. This, of course, would include children. Allow me to try this on you if you don’t believe me.
Let’s say I want you to do 10 jumping jacks in the next minute. How many of you think I can motivate you to do it? My first method may be to merely ask. Will you please do 10 jumping jacks for me? How many of you did it? Come on, be honest. I bet all of you did it, right? No? OK, I’ll try again.
(In my loudest voice) DO 10 JUMPING JACKS FOR ME RIGHT NOW!!! Did that work? Did I scare you into doing them. I am pretty intimidating, right? Are any of you out of breath? No? OK, allow me one last try.
I would like you to do 10 jumping jacks in the next minute. If you accomplish the goal, I will donate $1,000 to your favorite charity. Now the situation has changed, hasn’t it? You probably wouldn’t have considered doing jumping jacks before but what about now? Have I hit your button yet?
In this hypothetical example, no one would have taken me seriously, until I mentioned charity. You’ll notice, of course, I didn’t offer the money to you. But most of us have a desire to help others. When I tapped on that desire, I got your attention.
Motivating kids to do projects and tests isn’t hard providing you hit the right buttons. I’ve worked with hundreds of children who have been through hell most of your kids will never know. I can tell you as a fact that all of them had buttons. When I pressed the right button, they would move mountains.