When Jason and I teach workshops we get strange looks from people when we start talking about parenting without bribes and punishments.
Understandably, parents get concerned,
“How will I get my children to do things they don’t want to do?”
“How will my kids learn to value things like hard work unless I give them something (money or a reward) to show them that it pays off?”
It’s not so hard to motivate kids to do something they already see the value of.
TRUE STORY: Our oldest daughter LOVES horses. Really, really loves them. She works really hard to make sure she can ride.
When she was 10 years old she started working at a barn during the summer all day long. She worked 6 days a week mucking stalls, cleaning, doing heavy manual labor, and helping the other students. She did all that so she could to learn more about horses, be with horses, and ride horses.
She values her time with horses. We don’t have to motivate her to work hard, we just have to get out of her way.
As they say, “hard work is it’s own reward.”
But what if Alana has to do something she doesn’t naturally value or enjoy, like her math homework.
How do we rely on her “natural motivation” to work hard at math?
It’s a great question.
Strategy #1: Relate it to something that the child already cares about
Alana loves horses, but doesn’t naturally love math. Math is in everything though so showing her how math connects to her interest in horses is not hard. She hopes to own an equestrian center some day. She’ll need math to figure out how much paint to buy to paint the barn, which feed and supplements are the best price, how much wood she’ll need for the new fence, how much money she’s making, and whether her income will cover her expenses.
Ultimately she sees that knowing math will make it easier for her horse-y dreams to come true. It’s in her best interest to work hard at math.
Whatever your child is naturally passionate about you can connect to science, art, history, music, math, literature, writing, or physical education in some way.
But what if you want your child to do something they DO NOT see the value of?
Strategy #2: Talk about your values
There are certain things in life that don’t relate to Alana’s natural interests. There is nothing horse-y about brushing her teeth, or doing the dishes.
So we talk about our family values to help her see the importance of doing these things. Brushing teeth is about valuing and caring for our bodies. We do the dishes because we are a “helping family” and everyone does their part.
But what if your child still doesn’t see the “value of your values”?
Strategy #3: Talk about options and choices
Brushing teeth everyday is not just about family values, it’s also about health. In our house, it’s pretty much a non-negotiable. But you can still offer your children options…
Do you want to brush your teeth or do you want me to do it with you?
Which toothbrush/toothpaste do you want?
Do you want the bathroom light on or off?
What music do you want to listen to while we brush teeth?
(you don’t even have to offer all of these, just 1-2 usually works)
If our kids don’t want to do the dishes and we value everyone contributing to the family what are other ways can they can help out?
They can sweep the floor
Water the plants
Take out the trash
We still have conversations around what is fair to everyone and what feels good to everyone.
We talk with our children about who is going to do chores just like you might hear a team of professionals in a business meeting talk, “How about you do this, I’ll do that? I’d prefer not to do this other thing. Does that work for you?”
Kids love this kind of creative problem solving. They love being treated like a grown-up and they often rise to the occasion.
We’ve covered a few examples here, but what things do you struggle to “motivate” your child to do? Leave them in the comments section below and we’ll give you some ideas of things you can try.
See you in the comments!