There’s nothing like the story of an Olympian to understand how to begin motivating a child. So why don’t we do that right now.
There are two types of motivation:
1) extrinsic – coming from outside of the self, with things like rewards and prizes or challenges and consequences; external
2) intrinsic – coming from within the self, from the head’s determination and decisions or the heart’s dreams and desires; internal
Here is a story about an Olympian. Let’s just call her “Libby the Lobster”.
Once upon a sunny morning, a little girl clung to the side of the swimming pool. To help herself get from one end to the other, she would grip on for dear life and shuttle along the lane wall. The fact that she was on public display as a young member of her local swimming club didn’t need to deter her. Who cared if they called her, “Libby the Lobster”? Who cared if she only ever amounted to being a crustacean with goggles? And who cared anyway? It was just a bit of fun and everyone was having a nice day.
Turned out Libby the Lobster cared. She cared enough that her mum helped her find a new swimming club and more people around her who saw the dolphin in Libby, not the lobster.
Libby ‘the lobster’ Trickett and Ms B
If you are struggling to work out where your own child’s motivation lies, this story tells of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators going on at once. Libby the Lobster seemed to want to swim herself. She’d cling to the edges and TRY to make it to the end despite outside voices, lighthearted as they might well have been. But, in the meantime, helping on the outside was a parent saying, “You can.”
Now for a few simple tips to help motivate your own child if that is one of the issues they are having at school or at home.
1). EXTRINSIC MOTIVATORS ARE OK
You cannot force intrinsic motivation. By definition, it MUST come from within. So, stressing out about your child’s lack of wanting to be organised or wanting to do well at school or wanting to bring home their homework because they think it’s valuable and beneficial to their learning, is going to get you a big, fat ZERO in the success stakes.
In primary school, my mum used to make us chops for dinner. I hated chops, much as I detested brussel sprouts and still refuse to allow my own children to sneak them into MY shopping trolley (but that’s another story). Still, every week we would do battle with the following conversation…
“But they’re hard and crusty and all bony.”
“But they’re delicious, my darling.”
“But they’re dry.”
“But they taste wonderful, sweetheart.”
“But I hate them!”
“EAT YOUR CHOPS, CHILD!”
My point here is that, if the motivation is not coming internally, and you’re realising through hoarse voice and your own internal %$&*^$%$&*^*&! that it’s not going to miraculously appear, it’s OK to offer external motivators. You’re not giving up, you’re simply recognising that some extrinsic motivators may assist on the pathway to intrinsic motivation.
- reward charts
- carrot danglers such as a special event or end of week treat.
- modification of allowed treats such as iPad use or other regular events or assumptions
eg. If you bring your homework home every night for a week, and do it, you get a sticker on this chart. If you do this for a month, you will receive x (negotiated reward).
eg. 2. I will be speaking to your teacher every day after school. If you do not end up on the behaviour chart’s negative side (eg. sad face/stormy cloud/1,2,3 chart/down the behaviour slide or whatever the teacher has in place) for a whole week, you can have x (negotiated reward).
See my post on ideas for how to select and structure rewards.
2) SEARCH FOR YOUR CHILD’S INTRINSIC MOTIVATORS
If the motivation is not coming from within your child, if they are not clinging to the edge of the pool for dear life despite the challenging voices, it’s your job to seek them out and help your child find them.
The first way to do this doesn’t even require Google. It requires you. Your child is more likely to be internally motivated towards achievement, organisation and success if that is the model YOU are providing at home. And don’t worry, I ain’t perfect here. But if my child’s room is a mess, how can I expect them to want to be tidy if the rest of the house is a mess. Indeed, not so easy at all either, given how much we often work and how hard it is to find time to go to the loo during the day let alone clean the kitchen. However, looking at the bigger picture, consider the LANGUAGE you use at home. Focus more on being a positive guide for them. Use “YOU CAN” language more often. EXPECT them to be organised. SHOW them how to map out their morning before school. TEACH them the steps it takes to pack a school bag. GIVE them extra responsibilities at home. REMIND THEM that success does take hard work, and it’s worth it. These are words encouraging both SELF BELIEF and your POSITIVE message that having personal expectations will lead to greater success.
The other way to find your child’s internal motivators is to look at what does currently inspire them. Seek out their interests and what does drive them. Make a list of these for yourself. And it might be as short as one name: a hero.
We’d all like to think we’re their biggest hero. And that’s fabulous. Yay us. But truly, if you want to encourage your child to find their internal on switch, look to their sporting heroes, favourite singers, authors, performers, teachers, professions, and that’s a great place to start.
THEN go for Google gold: find out everything you can about that hero thing or person or job. Dig deep (particularly if your child likes dinosaurs and would like to be a paleontologist). Get your facts down and get to know your child’s world. With this information, then find out about that person’s own background, or what it takes to get into THAT profession, and introduce these ideas to your child.
Tom Cruise – overcame dyslexia
Jackie French – Australian author who works with her own dyslexia was homeless as a teenager
Taylor Swift – has said of loneliness and bullying growing up, “Even if people at school wouldn’t talk to me, my guitar would talk to me.”
Winston Churchill – had a childhood stutter
Serena and Venus Williams – were pulled out of tennis for a while after the age of 10, thinking it was too much for them.
Libby Trickett, Australian Olympic swimmer – was once called a lobster for her seeming lack of talent in the pool.
PS. I had the privilege of being the emcee for a BHP Super Series event with top swimmers, coaches and Olympic water polo players including Libby Trickett, Luke Trickett, Bec Rippon, Kate Hooper and Fiona Njirich. Their Q and A sessions on the topic of “Motivation versus Inspiration” couldn’t help but inspire everyone in the room to dig deeper for their own personal motivation to succeed. And that includes parents finding more motivation to believe in their power to assist their own child on the road to self belief and an “I can” attitude.
Luke Trickett, Libby Trickett, Aussie water polo Olympians Kate Hooper, Bec Rippon with John
If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out this fabulous piece from the Huffington Post about people who have overcome huge obstacles by motivation and determination.