How to motivate your child in one simple step
Today’s “parent education” answer is a fabulous way to motivate any child or adult so keep listening even if today’s question isn’t reflective of your situation.
Today’s Question: “My son is quite smart and capable, but not motivated in school. He does his homework but forgets to turn it in. He could get top marks in his class but seems content with mediocrity. It bothers me that his grades don’t reflect what he’s capable of. How can I motivate my son to care more about his school performance?” Jen
Life Coaching answer: There is one simple thing parents can do to motivate their kids. There is also one thing that will BLOCK kid’s motivation that I think could become a problem for Jen here. Beware of attachment to ego.
When kids are little it’s not unusual for their success to feel like our success. Someone tells us how cute or polite our pre-schooler is, we say thank you. When our kids act out in public, or bite some other kid on the playground, we feel embarrassed. The line between where they end and where we begin, is blurred.
As they grow into their own person, it’s helpful to stop taking credit for their amazing-ness and stop blaming ourselves for their missteps, however tempting it may be. When our ego gets attached to their academic performance, their athletic performance, their drive or lack of it, we create a messy situation. Our ego will fight like crazy to stay in tact and often kids will sense our attachment to their success and deliberately sabotage themselves to take off the pressure and stay in control in their lives. When we can see them as a separate individuals, allowing them take credit for their successes AND failures, it keeps us sane. We have the privilege to guide our children but not steer their lives.
Parent Educator answer:
One day, I was on a road trip with my family, and my kids called from the backseat asking, “Mom, wanna play a game with us?”
I responded, “No thank you, I’m enjoying reading my book.”
“What book are you reading?” they asked?
“Oh, it’s a fascinating book, I’m absolutely loving it. It’s all about play and how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul.”
My astute kiddo responds, “So you would rather read a book about play than play a game with your children?”
I pause with stunned realization, knowing the answer is yes, but also aware of how strange that answer sounded. I WOULD rather read about play! Why? What was motivating me to choose reading my book, over playing game?
Luckily, Dr. Stuart Brown had the answer right in my hands.
What motivates anyone to do anything is emotions. We are driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It sounds like Jen’s son doesn’t get enjoyment out of turning in his homework, or seeing gold stars posted on the sticker chart. Jen, on the other hand, does enjoy that. She sounds like she is motivated by accolades, competition and identifying herself as a high achiever.
Emotions are crucial to motivation and the one simple step I’ve discovered to motivate kids, is to figure out what is their PLAY PERSONALITY.
Dr. Stuart Brown identified 8 distinct play personalities.
If you can figure out your child’s top 3 play personalities, you’ll have key insight into how to make things more fun, and therefore more motivating, for your child.
- The Joker – Play revolves around nonsense, practical jokes, pranks, silliness.
- The Kinesthete – If I’m not moving, it’s not play.
- The Explorer – Goes to new places, discovers, learns and understands new things.
- The Competitor – Enjoys competing and keeping score, plays to win.
- The Collector – Enjoys collecting objects or experiences (can be social or solitary)
- The Artist/Creator – Joy is found in making things.
- The Storyteller – Imagination is the key to play. Movies, dance, acting, reading, etc.
- The Director – Enjoys planning and executing scenes and events. Loves being in charge and in the center of the social world.
The reason I enjoyed reading about play more than playing, is that my top play personality is that of explorer. I love traveling and seeing new places, but also learning and discovering what makes people tick.
Jen probably has competitor as one of her top 3. She cannot understand why her son wouldn’t be motivated to turn his homework in. He might be an explorer, more interested in the act of learning, than proving to anyone else what he has learned. To motivate him, she can tap into his play personality. If he’s a collector….for every paper he turns in, she’ll buy him something to add to his collection.
If he’s an artist/creator…..he could design a creative poster or method to remind himself to grab his homework before he leaves the house.
If he’s a kinesthete, hide the homework somewhere in the house and play a game of “you are getting warmer” in the morning before school.
The director can put his little sister in charge of his homework. The joker can attach a joke to his homework assignments for his teacher to read or “prank” her by doing his assignment upside down or backwards.
I think part of the way we stay attached to ego is by thinking our kids should do things the way we would do them. As we let go of our expectations, and learn to see our children as separate from us, it actually helps us grow closer to them.
Understanding your child’s play personality will help you motivate them, but also appreciate what a unique and wonderful person they are.
Supermom Kryptonite – valuing work over play
I’ve always loved working. As a teen I loved babysitting, waiting tables, garage sales, you name it. As a child, my favorite thing to “make believe” was playing store, bank, library or house. Today, I’d rather sell raffle tickets at the school auction than just mingle and socialize. But the reason I love working so much is because it feels like play to me.
When we value work, for the sake of work, without honoring our need to play, it’s like burning the candle at both ends. We use up twice as much energy trying to motivate ourselves. We can do it, because our ego values hard work & productivity but it’s a struggle on our soul.
Imagine a dog digging a hole to bury a bone. This dog is focused, intensely digging, not distracted by anything around him. It looks like he’s working hard and he is, but he is enjoying it. He’s doing work that he’s meant to do, that’s aligned with his essence, and so it feels like play. It requires physical effort, but not psychological or emotional effort. I think this is what work is supposed to be like for us, too.
I’m not a kinesthete. Ask me to do yard work or mop my floors and I will move at a snails pace, dragging my feet and complaining the whole time. UNLESS, I’ve got people coming over for a party or my girls summer camp and suddenly I’m full of energy. The director in me loves creating fun events for others. Be careful not to value work, over play. Use play to make work more fun and aligned with your highest self.
Supermom power boost – Step out of your routine
Stepping out of our normal routine encourages our brains into a more playful state. Life coaching encourages playful transformation because you take an hour a week to observe your life from the outside in, looking at what’s working and what isn’t. Getting a change of scenery can also help to offer a new perspective.
- Getting swept away into a novel or spending time in nature are play states.
- Attend a local cultural event for a holiday that is not one you are familiar with.
- Learn to play a new game or understand a new sport.
Sometimes, stepping out of our routine is all we need to open ourselves up to our sense of play and imagination.
It is really common for Supermoms to lose their sense of play when there is so much work to be done. Stepping out of your routine, creating space for you, is a quick way to invigorate the soul and feel playful again.
Quote of the day: “What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of ‘nonproductive’ activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.” Dr. Stuart Brown