As parents, we all want our children to be motivated, driven, and successful. However, achieving this goal can be a tricky road to navigate. There are many factors to consider, including our own parenting styles, our children’s personalities, and the challenges they face in their daily lives. In this article, we’ll explore three key takeaways that can be used to motivate children, based on my personal experience coaching my son in kickboxing.
It was August 2007, and my eight-year-old son Sam was fighting for his first “World Kickboxing Title” in the under 25KG weight class. We were in the Modern Sports Arena in Karlsruhe, Germany, in front of hundreds of people cheering him on. Our journey to that moment had been filled with arguments, tantrums, and growth for both of us. Looking back, there were some motivational nuggets that proved to be invaluable in helping to strengthen our relationship and enable Sam to succeed.
1. Constantly Catch Your Child Doing Something Right
As a martial arts coach, I often see a strategy used that involves publicly correcting a student’s mistakes in an attempt to build good habits through repetition. While this approach may seem logical and straightforward, it can actually be counterproductive. Publicly correcting someone is the lowest form of human emotion – shame. By doing this, we are putting the student into a negative mindset and creating a defensive mindset. Similarly, at home, if we constantly shame our children and correct them in front of others, it can have the same effect.
Instead, we should always be looking for opportunities to catch our children doing something right and reinforce that positive behavior. Think of your child as a bank account. Every time you catch them in the moment of doing great things, you make a deposit. And every time you correct them, you make a withdrawal. If you have a healthy balance in your child’s emotional account, it’s easier for them to swallow the withdrawals.
2. Choices, Not Ultimatums
As parents, we often use ultimatums to enforce our control over our children. “Sam, grab your kit bag and get in the car or you’re banned from Nintendo for a week.” This may seem like an effective way to make a child do something, but it can also put them in a negative mindset and create resentment. Instead, we should empower our children with choices, not ultimatums.
For example, instead of giving an ultimatum like the one above, I might say, “Sam, we’re off training in 15 minutes. Do you want to get your kit in the car now or finish your game first?” This approach takes “no” out of the equation and empowers the child to make a responsible decision. It builds a healthy relationship and creates positive energy right from the start.
3. Monkey See, Monkey Do!
Children learn by mimicking their parents, from the way we talk and act to our attitudes and behaviors. We have a much bigger influence on our children than we realize. What motivates our children is often a reflection of what we do as parents.
It’s important to be aware of our own behavior and attitudes. If we want our children to be confident, we need to demonstrate confidence ourselves. If we want our children to have strong self-esteem, we need to avoid complaining about our own physical flaws. If we want our children to be successful, we need to model excellence in our own lives.
The challenge here is to list three ways we can be better role models for our children and take action to follow through with this plan.
Bonus Tip: How to Supercharge These 3 Tips – Extrinsic Motivation
There is a much-debated old school method of positive motivation that involves rewards. Every parent has their own opinion on this. The idea is to reward a less appealing task with a more pleasurable experience. This is known as extrinsic motivation.
The problem with this approach is that it can lead to the “what will you give me for it” or “what’s in it for me” attitude in our children. However, a study by Lepper, R. M., Greene. D., Nisbett. E. R. showed that preschool-aged children who were encouraged to play with markers were more likely to keep playing when they were told they would receive rewards like gold certificates.
The key is to ensure that rewards are not the sole focus of motivation. Instead, they should be used sparingly and in conjunction with other forms of motivation, such as constantly catching children doing something right, empowering them with choices, and being a positive role model.
Motivating children is not always easy, but by focusing on the three key takeaways outlined in this article, parents can take the first step towards helping their children succeed. By catching them doing something right, empowering them with choices, and being a positive role model, parents can create a healthy and positive environment that fosters growth and success.