I’m going to start this post off acknowledging the obvious:
I do not have this parenting thing figured out.
I’m only fourteen years into this gig with my oldest child. There are three more behind him that are each completely unique, which means half of the lessons I learn with the first one don’t apply to the second, third and fourth.
(This is the part where I tell you how exhausted I am.)
So as I share some tips and tricks in the upcoming paragraphs, understand that these are coming not from a mom on the other side of parenting, whose tried and true methods have withstood the test of time and whose children have entered into a adulthood as reasonably sane and well-adjusted humans.
Rather, these are coming from a mom right there in the thick of it, who may be just a step ahead of you on the path, and who hopes that on the other side of these years she will launch relatively sane and well-adjusted humans into the world at large.
With four personalities inside our home, my husband and I have seen a gamut of responses from each kid to the pressures and stresses of life.
We have one child who is hyper-competitive, who loves the thrill of competition because the taste of victory is so sweet.
We have another child who is also hyper-competitive, but this child loves the thrill of annihilation. This child doesn’t just want to win, but rather to crush the opponent and watch them suffer.
We have a toddler who’s a bit of a wild card at this point. The jury’s out on what she will be like, but she’s showing enough signs of competitiveness and spunk to make me believe she may be another self-motivator.
And then we have a child who simply wants to enjoy life. Not overly motivated, this child enjoys sports simply for the camaraderie of being with others. In school, this child is perfectly content with average, not overly driven to excel, and unaffected by poor grades.
No amount of pleading, threatening, or lecturing can break this child of the bent toward mediocrity, and it has been the cause of much consternation over the years.
As a general rule of thumb, my husband and I are more laid back in our parenting style. Perhaps that in and of itself was a recipe for such attitudes toward life and school. We don’t put expectations of perfection on our children, and our basic thought is that if they’re trying and putting in effort, than we will be pleased with the end result.
But when they aren’t putting in effort, or they’re only putting in minimum effort to get by, things have to change.
Here are a few tips and tricks to motivating an unmotivated child. These are things that have worked, or are working, in our currently growing and changing household.
1.) Make the Expectations Clear
Perhaps one of our early mistakes was not making our expectations clear with our children. We assumed they understood that we wanted them to work hard at everything – even the things they don’t really like.
We should never assume anything when it comes to children.
We’ve quickly realized that we need to set clear expectations for our kids when it comes to everything from grades in school, how they work on the sports field, how they treat others, even how they clean their rooms.
They’ll only meet the expectations if they know what they are, so communicate them clearly and succinctly.
2.) Have Clear Consequences for Unmet Expectations
And then follow through!
That is the key, and something I struggle with. If beds aren’t made properly, or clothes are only haphazardly stuffed into drawers, then the expectation is my children will go back in and do things right.
This is not because I demand perfection, but rather because I demand excellence. What’s the point of doing something if you’re only going to do it half way?
The follow through is the hard part, though. Children are wily little critters, and they innately know how to manipulate situations. If they know that you’ll settle for mediocrity, then they will give it to you, especially if they’re drawn toward that in the first place.
3.) Celebrate Hard Fought Victories
Recently, our oldest child texted us a picture from school. It was a computer screen revealing the grade he got on his most recent Algebra test.
Algebra has been the bane of this child’s existence all year long. He has sweated and stressed, and threatened to just give up multiple times. Few classes have given him more practice at working hard than Algebra, and he finally had a grade to prove it.
We all exploded with joy. Gifs and emojis abounded. It was a great moment for him, and as parents we got a first row seat at the look of accomplishment that washed over our child.
That was worth celebrating.
4.) Don’t Let Them Settle
As parents, we see our kids like no one else. We see their strengths and their weaknesses, and we get to watch all of those play out over the course of a lifetime.
What a privilege.
If you have a child who is less than motivated, work hard not to let them settle for section best. The trick is to do this without nagging, and without making them feel unworthy.
An unmotivated child is not unworthy of success or celebration. They just need to be taught to find the joy in working hard.
You, mom and dad, get to be the one to model and teach that to them.
What a wonderful gift!
Do you have an unmotivated child? What are ways you help them overcome that trait?