How To Diagnose the REAL Reason Your Child Lacks Motivation – And What To Do About It!

We know that being a parent requires us to play a gazillion different roles. We are cooks, cleaners, tutors, and chauffeurs. We are counsellors, mentors, and police officers. We are cheerleaders, advocates, and personal assistants. I could go on and on and on…..

And we are also doctors. We deal with physical ailments– I specialise in Band-aid applications, splinter removals, icepack placements, and snot release. But we so often need to also deal with psychological and emotional symptoms. These are the areas that are often more difficult to figure out how to “cure”.

When we see our children suffering from “I can’t be bothered-itis”, it is essential that we effectively diagnose what may be stopping them from being highly motivated. It can be frustrating to realise that our kids are not reaching their potential, not giving 100% effort, and even worse, not seeming to care one little bit.


Love To Learn

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Here are 4 specific strategies you can use right now to help you have an accurate and useful understanding around what may be standing in your child’s way – and what you can do about it!

1. LISTEN – This tends to always be number one on most of my lists. Learning to listen with purpose is crucial to figuring out what the real problem may be. In this case, you want to listen for a specific distinction. Is it really a lack of motivation or is it a lack of self-belief or fear?

Let me clarify. Lack of motivation is when we literally are not bothered. For example, I am often highly unmotivated to put away the laundry – it isn’t my passion, and my care factor for beautifully organised drawers is pretty low. Lack of self-belief indicates that we think we can’t succeed anyways, so why even try? And then of course, is fear – fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of not being good enough.

So, through observation and discussion, listen specifically for the underlying issues – are you hearing crappy beliefs? These might sound like, “I’ll never be able to ride this bike!”, or “School is always boring!”, or “I am rubbish at…”. Once you can start to actually hear this type of thinking, you are in a better position to challenge those beliefs, to support your kids to perhaps realise it is time to believe something else!

2. STOP NAGGING AND START CONNECTING – Ouch. No parent wants to be a nag, yet we all do it to some degree. However, nagging in itself can contribute to a lack of motivation – simply because kids often rebel in such a scenario. My daughter is an awesome procrastinator when it comes to school assignments, and I most definitely have used nagging in the past to try to get her motivated to develop more effective work habits. The result – a miserable, defiant child, a frustrated mother and a still uncompleted piece of work. No good.

Instead, I now know that instead of nagging, I am focusing on connecting. What I mean by that is helping her to connect with the feelings that result from her choices. That may be reminding her of how anxious she felt when she had to tell her teacher she didn’t finish her assignment. It was reliving that panic of knowing she ran out of time. And even more powerful was creating a very strong emotional link to times when she was prepared and organised, when she was given feedback about her improvement, when she felt personal pride for a job well done.

The reason that this shift from nagging to connecting is so important is because we don’t want our kids to be motivated simply to shut us up! We want them to be intrinsically motivated, motivated from the inside, without us having to continuously push them to be so. In fact, when you start to see your children develop this crucial ability to push themselves, you are setting them up for a life full of success and achievement.

3. PRAISE PROPERLY – The road to intrinsic motivation is a long one, and proper praise can be the fuel that helps your kids keep going even when they feel they are running on empty. However, ineffective, insignificant praise can actually hinder motivation.

These days, praise can often be extreme. We can overdo it (with all the right intentions, of course!). The problem with constant praise is that it massively reduces its impact. If your child is getting the same standing ovation for eating their vegetables as they are for consistently practicing their guitar every day, when they’d rather watch YouTube, the significance of that praise drops significantly. At the same time, generic praise, like “good job”, or “nice work” can also quickly become meaningless.

So how and when can we praise our kids when they show motivation and persistence in a way that truly supports their continued growth and development? To me, this is simple. Praise process, progress, effort, strategy and thinking. This is a very important distinction from praising results. Is it a nightmare getting your kids to keep their rooms tidy? Praise effort – “I see you have been trying to at least keep your clothes off the floor. That makes a big difference.” Is your child unmotivated to do their reading homework? Praise progress – “I know this is challenging – do you remember how it used to take us half an hour to get through one book? We are already nearly finished and it has only been 10 minutes!”. Does your child lack the drive to become less forgetful and more organised? Praise strategy – “When you put your t-ball bag by the front door last week, it was a good way to make sure you had all your gear!”

4 -LET IT GO – Okay, this can be tricky, but there are some things your kids will never be motivated about – ever. And when we push our kids to be motivate around something that they simply have no passion or interest in, again, it can cause a digging of heels and even less effort or drive.
The point is that your kids may never learn to give a hoot about having beautiful handwriting or learning Italian or joining a sports team. And that may be just fine.

As a parent, it is so important that we learn that our kids won’t like everything, and that they won’t care about everything. Our job is to be able to step back, keep the big picture in mind, and realise that some things really don’t matter. And when we can respect those choices, we demonstrate that we respect our kids. Simple as that.


Love To Learn

Want to learn more about about helping your child grow up to be a passionate learner of life? Check this out!

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