Did you know that 80% of our conversations with children are about getting them to do things?
That means that we’re spending 80% of the time, when we’re talking to our children, possibly nagging. I’m sure last thing you want to be doing is nagging. I mean, who wants to nag?
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
By the time you’ve said something more than once you definitely don’t want to be saying it a third time, right?
The problem is this: the way that we have been motivated to do things is all about extrinsic motivation. Our parents and teachers often used external things to get us to do the task at hand, whatever it was. Things like rewards – promises for when you’ve done it. And possibly also punishments or consequences if you didn’t do it.
So, these are the kinds of rather limited tools that we have to hand when we’re trying to get our children to do things. It’s the same predicament whether you want to bring your toddler to brush their teeth or bring your child to do their home schoolwork.
What else can we do that isn’t about extrinsic motivation? How can we use intrinsic motivation and help them actually connect with the task at hand?
Because when they connect with the task at hand, it just gets so much easier. We’re not doing all the pushing, the persuading and the trying to get them to do things. It flows because they want to do it – that’s the aim.
So how can we achieve this?
Well, I’ve got nine tips for you today and they will all help.
#1 – Invite them to the task with an upbeat tone
It’s the difference between saying, with a note of dread, ‘I’m afraid we have to go and get your schoolwork done now,’ and, saying, with a smile, ‘Shall we get ready for our schoolwork?’
Or, instead of saying, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s time for toothbrushing,’ make it interesting for your child.
You can say, for example, ‘Let’s walk backwards to the bathroom!’ And that makes all the difference, if you bring it in in an upbeat way.
Otherwise, children can often hear in our voices the dread of what’s to come. And, let’s be honest, sometimes we are dreading it, but dread can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If we can catch ourselves – and sometimes a visualisation the night before can really help, seeing it going really well and you and your child having a nice time together – that can really help set the mood. Then, when the time comes, just step into it and be upbeat and encouraging.
#2 – Acknowledgement
Resistance is bound to come up because you’ve got a plan for your child. But maybe your child’s got a different idea about what the next 10 minutes is going to involve…
Instead of trying to talk them out of it or convince them, acknowledge what they are expressing. It’s as simple as that.
‘Aha. I see. You’re telling me that you’d rather not go and brush your teeth right now,’ or, ‘Oh, perhaps you hoped that school time was going to be a little bit later today.’
Or say something that just acknowledges wherever they’re coming from and that helps them feel, ‘Mum gets me,’ ‘Dad understands.’
Whatever resistance was there in your child, this approach lowers it.
#3 – Connect with what interests them
This is huge. There are no limits to what you can do with this.
It’s about connecting with whatever interests them because, as I said before, often what we have in mind isn’t very interesting from the child’s point of view. So what can really help is if we can connect that thing with what they’re interested in.
I’ll just give you an example. My son spent his whole weekend working on a project which is all about using waste water to create electricity. He’s 16, so it may not be so relatable in the sense that you can go off and do this, but he worked on that the whole weekend because he’s interested in it.
When our passions are ignited, we are super motivated.
So how can we connect children’s passions and interests with the simple tasks of daily life? There’s a lot you can do, but I’ll just give you a couple of ideas.
First of all, you can walk or talk like their favourite character or like their favourite animal. Or you can bring a beloved soft toy in to direct events. make the soft toy explain what the next step is so that you connect it with what’s important for them.
Then it’s not just about our agenda, which is often a bit abstract to them.
#4 – Having things ready
Having things ready is really important. I’m going to give you a lovely example of this.
When I ran toddler groups from home, I installed a little toddler sink at toddler height in the downstairs toilet, and the toddlers loved coming there to wash their hands because the space was really ready for them.
I’m not suggesting that you instal sinks at appropriate heights for all your children, not at all, but there are often little things that you can do to prepare the space that make it more inviting.
For toddler toothbrushing time – something that can often be an area of conflict – you can put out a little table where you’ve got a little mirror, a bowl, toothbrush and toothpaste, at their height. And that makes them feel like this is a place for them to be.
Or if it’s about schoolwork, laying out the pencils in a nice way, having them all sharpened and ready, having all the things that they need ready there so that the work can flow, once they do sit down.
Even when I’m doing my Facebook lives, I get everything ready so that it all looks nice, or when I’m preparing content, where you can’t actually see me, I make the space nice for myself so it kind of uplifts me.
It helps me feel supported as I do it. And that’s the same for children. It helps the task to flow.
#5 – If your child is saying, ‘I won’t do it,’ it actually means they can’t
Even if you think they can do it, it means that in that moment, they feel like they can’t. It may be that there’s a difficult feeling in the way – it may be that it just all feels overwhelming.
I know that when I think about all the things I could do in my business to help more people, for example, I can become very overwhelmed. But if I think that the most important thing to be of service today is to do this Facebook Live about motivating children, and I focus on that, that helps me.
So if your child is saying they won’t, then just knowing that it’s not an affront to you, it’s not an insult – it’s not saying I don’t want to cooperate with you – really helps. It’s just that they may feel overwhelmed.
Yesterday, maybe the toothbrushing tickled or hurt, or maybe the schoolwork went on too long and they just can’t face it, or they’re feeling tired after the weekend.
#6 – Make the steps small
This follows on nicely. Make the steps small and accompany your children.
Often, things that we want them to do, which seem quite simple to us, can seem like big mountains for children. So if we make the steps small and accompany them, it’s almost as if we were to say to ourselves, ‘If the child in front of me were younger, what would I do?’
And probably that’s what you would do. You’d break it down and you’d stay with them more.
We often have expectations of children that are beyond their age and stage. And if we just break down the task into smaller chunks and stay with them, accompanying them through it, we’ll find that they can do it.
And you may think, ‘Well, they’re 10. They should be able to do this by themselves.’
But if they can’t, that’s your option – to imagine they were younger – and then they will be able to, with you showing them, supporting them and helping them.
#7 – Take breaks and allow playfulness
Just pushing through isn’t always the most helpful way to bring children to do tasks.
It can be really helpful, lighten the mood, and make it more palatable for children, if we allow playfulness in – if we allow breaks in.
We adults tend to get very serious about things – ‘This needs to be done. And then this needs to be done. And this needs to be done!’
But children are children and all those serious adult things, if they’re too concentrated, don’t allow children to be themselves.
When they play, children feel like they are themselves – that’s their natural element. So by feathering in a little bit of play, or responding to a little bit of playfulness if they bring it, you can really help with motivation.
#8 – Make the relationship with your child more important than getting those things done now
It may feel to us as if things like the phonics and the maths and the toothbrushing are really important because we don’t want them to have decayed teeth, we want them to get through the phonics and not fall behind.
However, we are our children’s greatest role model. And the main thing that I believe we’re teaching them is how to live a life. And in my view, it’s not very helpful if we teach them that life is about pressure – getting things right, pleasing other people, following rules – to an extreme.
There’s an element of that, of course. But if we make that the most important thing, then we teach our children that these are the things that are important.
Whereas if we focus on our relationship with them, then they learn that their relationship to other people, to themselves and to the task is the most important thing, which I believe it is.
Because if we have a good relationship with ourselves, if we have a healthy relationship with the tasks that we want to do, and we’re able to relate healthily to other people as well, then we’ve got the foundations for a healthy, happy, successful – and fully motivated life.
#9 – Taking care of ourselves
I’ve snuck this in here because it isn’t strictly about motivating, but it is really important.
If we want to motivate our children – come in with a spark, and allow playfulness, and be understanding about the ‘won’ts’ and not take it personally, all the things that I’ve mentioned – we need to be looking after us because, as you know, we can’t pour from an empty cup. And we can’t remind ourselves of this too often.
Whatever it is for you, whatever baby steps you could take towards slightly more self-care – whether it’s going to bed a little bit earlier, or going for a run, or just stepping out into the garden.
I’ve taken to stepping out of my front door in the morning, even though I don’t need to go anywhere, just looking at the birds in the front garden and breathing in the air. Feeling what kind of day it is, listening to the birds twittering in the trees around and grounding myself – feeling and appreciating the day that we have, even if it’s not a very special one.
Whatever it is for you – sitting down with a cup of tea, putting your feet up – do it, right? Do it.
It makes a difference, and it helps us show up differently for our children.
So, those were the nine tips. I’m going to summarise them for you now. Which one feels like it’s the right step for you?
I don’t want you to get overwhelmed and feel you have to implement all of these things, so which one feels like your next step?
The magic thing is that if you just choose one, you may find the others come along in the week. That’s sometimes the way it works. So try to focus on one.
#1 – Be upbeat about introducing whatever you want to bring your child to do.
#2 – Acknowledge their resistance. If they resist, just go with it – empathise.
#3 – Connect whatever you’re asking them to do with what they’re interested in.
#4 – Have things ready.
#5 – Understand that if they’re saying they won’t do it, it means they can’t in some way.
#6 – Make the steps small and accompany them, as if your child were younger than they are.
#7 – Allow breaks and a lot of playfulness
#8 – Make your relationship with your child more important than getting particular tasks done.
#9 – Last, but very much not least, your self-care.
So those were the nine. Choose one.
Bring that into this week and see how that goes.
And if you like what you’ve read today, and you’d like to learn more, you’re very welcome to download my free guide – Solve the Struggle With Your Kids – which is available below. It will give you more details on how to have a smoother, easier and happier family life.
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