For the unmotivated child, many of you have experienced remarkable frustration with the inability to motivate the child who has no interest in their schoolwork or helping around the house. In the first two parts of this series on motivation, we covered the specific parenting tools that will get your child moving in the right direction. Here is the summary so far:
The External: Setting up the parenting system to build motivation
Put the reality formula in place first: Effort is required before you get the goodies.
Don’t empower the resistance, the laziness, or the talking back.
Behavior changes first; then attitude changes much later.
Abandon lectures, being right, and reminding them that you are right.
In essence, no amount of coaching, prodding, pushing or lectures will jump-start an unmotivated child. You must set up the environment so that you have leverage. Control the goodies, and then set back and wait. For what? Well, first will come the complaints, the whining, and the resistance. Do not engage or argue with the resistance, or justify yourself. Be patient, and the right action will come. In the process, you abandon your need to be right, to explain, and to lecture. The details of these steps are contained in the first two articles, which you will find at TerrificParenting.com.
The Internal: Coaching kids to experience success
In writing about motivation, I am often reluctant to discuss the parent coaching aspect. Why? Because we already tend to talk way too much.
Coaching is not lecturing. It is not you reveal your secrets to success, that they have already heard a hundred times. It’s not explaining why good grades lead to good colleges, and that can lead to good jobs. None of that.
Instead, it’s patiently waiting, often weeks, until the external plan starts to work easefully. Each day, your child has surrendered to the work first, then you get your goodies model. Patience…not yet. In another couple of weeks, after the behavior has changed, their attitude will become more positive. It is at this point that you can begin to offer some coaching, albeit limited.
For the unmotivated child, a key factor to making an internal change is to shift the sense of workload, when facing an unpleasant task. When researchers look at motivation, we see that perceived workload is a key factor in how motivated we are to work hard. If the demand (in our mind) is overwhelming or seems too arduous, then we approach with dread and limited resourcefulness.
Chunking the work.
One way to do this is with chunking. Notice what your child dreads the most, and offer to help them break this into smaller chunks. Be willing to help them through the process of creating a concrete plan for taking a chore like cleaning up a massively messy room, and doing one part each day (i.e., closet first, dresser next, and floors the next day.) Remember; if you offer and they resist…do not persist. Smile and walk away.
Another option for chunking is to have them do apart, and then take a small break. No, they do not get their ‘big’ goodies, but they can take a breather, listen to music for a few minutes, etc. A common, and yet very effective strategy.
Brain hack 101
Another option here is to use a brain hack that proves immensely useful. Research shows that when we perceive that we are at the starting line of a task, we have often had the lowest motivation. If we can manipulate our perception to realize that we are already 30% done, then our motivation increases. How does this work? Children often approach homework as if they are starting at zero. But in reality, they have already reviewed the chapter, have notes on the subject, and have discussed it in class. Thus, the ‘to-do’ list should have these items listed and already checked off. Now, you may think this to be worthless, but if you test it out…you will find it’s tremendously valuable. Teach your children to do it every day, and the current load is perceived to be less.
Teach positive self-talk.
For example, as they are working, have them speak gently to themselves, with language like: “This is not that bad…I will be finished soon.” “I’m getting better at math. It will come more easily as I work harder.” “I’m doing my best and that feels good.” “It’s smart to get my work done first, and then I can have some fun.”
Just remember: None of this is useful if your child is not open…and ready to get help. And that only happens weeks into the successful implementation of the parenting piece.