Creative Child

7 Ways to Self-Motivate Your Child

by Deborah Song


2. Create natural consequences. In lieu of a reward or bribe, try creating a natural consequence. The next time your kids play well together without fighting or finish their homework early, surprise them with a trip to a park or a friend’s house. Explain that when they don’t fight, mom or dad has more energy left to take them somewhere fun. Showing the natural progression of good choices can be much more effective than a bribe because it mirrors real life more closely.

3. Involve your child in the motivational process. When you’re trying to motivate your child, especially when you’re trying to motivate him from doing something like not hitting or whining, ask your child what would help him do this. He might reveal that he is really thirsty by the time you pick him up or that he’s really tired after school, in which case he might suggest you bring water, or turn on a song he likes on the way home. Not only do kids know themselves better, but involving your child in the decision-making process means kids become invested, and this empowers them to take action.

4. Provide context. If your child is able to see how the task at hands fits into the bigger picture, he might be more motivated to do it. We often tell our kids, for instance, to clean their room without telling them why. But if you explained that people who make their beds were more likely to get better sleep, or that a clean and organized environment contributes to better health and more focused thinking for every member of the family, your child might be more motivated and empowered to improve the lives of everyone in the family with this one simple act. If you don’t have a good reason for making your child do something, find one. The do-it-because-I-said-so approach won’t elicit much self-motivation in the long term.

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5. Be content with good enough. Nothing extinguishes motivation like unreasonable expectations from parents. We’ve all witnessed a crazed parent yelling at their child from the bleachers. Having high expectations can keep a child from doing even the simplest of chores. If a child perceives that their efforts for doing laundry or setting up the kitchen table aren’t good enough for mom or dad, it won’t be long before he wants to stop helping altogether. Many seemingly lazy teens are just discouraged perfectionists. Remember that it’s important to approve of their efforts not just with words but actions too. So don’t remake a bed your child already made or refold clothes your child to fold. Let good enough alone.

6. Assess your child’s abilities. Rewards and punishments are irrelevant if a child can’t do what you want him to. Just the way it might be futile to chastise an overly tired toddler for a meltdown he can’t control, trying to motivate your child to do something he is not capable of doing will only discourage him in the future. Take time to assess what your child is able to handle independent of his peers.

7. Reinforce optimism. Nothing gets in the way of motivation like pessimism. But in paving the way for optimism, it’s important to understand how the human mind is wired. It’s not enough to merely tell your child to think positively because the human brain is wired to think in terms of loss. Studies show that once we think of a glass as half empty, it’s harder for us to rewire our minds to think of the glass half full. We’re much better off thinking positive from the start. People have a tendency to linger on the negative. So going against the negative gravitational pull requires effort. One effective way to instill optimism is to keep a gratitude journal (or consider a gratitude collage if your little one isn’t old enough to write). By focusing each day on the good and positive things in our lives, we can teach our kids to rewire their minds to think positively, which paves the way for sustained motivation.


Deborah Song is a Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based writer, who obtained her master's in journalism from New York University. She is the founder of, and is passionate about helping parents find better work-life balance and proper support through community.

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