How to Motivate Children

I was visiting a friend’s house recently and was intrigued by a handmade poster on the kitchen door. It was drawn in brightly coloured wax crayons and had two columns. On the left hand side the column was titled “Good” and had a big smiley face next to it.

On the right side the column was titled “Not Good” and this had a big frowning face next to it. I studied the poster for a while and I quickly realised that the poster was being used as a reward and recognition system for my friend’s four-year-old daughter.

I chatted with my friends and asked them about how they used it with Leah and was very interested to hear what they had to say. Every time that Leah did something good, her parents rewarded her by writing down what she had done well and putting a big smiley face next to it. They did this with her and then praised her for it and made a big fuss out of the positive. This made her feel really good and apparently the pleasure on her face at her sense of achievement was a delight to see.

I noticed that the “good” column had a long list of items and that the “not good” column” only had two things on it. Her parents said that they only put really unacceptable behaviour on that list and that their strategy was to only draw attention to the positive things that Leah did. They had discovered that by praising the positive and by offering emotional reward, Leah responded very well to the praise and her self confidence and self esteem had grown noticeably since they had started using this method.

They had tried rewarding Leah with sweets and presents but they found that genuine praise given with love and sincerity was a far more powerful for the growth of their child (and cheaper too!).

My conversation with Leah’s parents got me thinking about motivation and I can remember for a long time how I used to think and believe that the materialistic motivators were the most powerful forms of encouragement. Then a few years ago I discovered that emotional drivers are the key to motivating yourself and others.

Humans are emotional beings and not logical beings and so we are driven by how we feel about things. You might think a child is driven by the need for ice cream especially when the demand for it is given at 120 decibels in the middle of a crowded mall on a busy Saturday afternoon. But what the child really wants are the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction they will get from the ice cream. They don’t really want the ice cream (especially if they knew what was in it – but that is another story!!!), all they want are the feelings that they associate with having it.

Now I am not discounting Personal Gain as a motivator, I have just discovered that it is not the only factor that will drive children to do things for you and for themselves.

Ironically I was reading an extract from a teacher’s guide called “The Master Teacher” recently that a colleague had sent me, just after I had visited my friends, and this gave the following nine motivators:

1. Personal Gain – the “What’s in it for Me” factor. 
2. Prestige – The desire to do something that is valued or valuable. 
3. Pleasure – everyone wants to enjoy what they are doing. 
4. Security – For some people this is the strongest motivator. 
5. Convenience – everyone likes to do things that are easy and simple. 
6. Imitation – the desire to be like others. 
7. Desire to avoid fear – No one likes to be afraid or uncomfortable. 
8. New experiences – positive stimulation empowers people. 
9. Love – everyone needs to be loved to grow and develop.

When I read this list, it reminded me of the time I spent at some of Tony Robbins’s seminars a couple of years ago. Tony talks about the six human needs being:

Certainty (comfort – avoid pain and gain pleasure) Variety (surprise, a state change) Significance (desire to be unique, a sense of meaning) Connection (love of self and others) Growth (ongoing personal development) Contribution (to others and yourself)

If you look at both lists you will see a tremendous amount of similarity and that what is evident is that the most powerful motivators, in accordance with these two very different sources, are emotional.

So how do you motivate children (or anyone, for that matter)?

That is a good question and I think the answer is quite simple – make them feel good about themselves and about what it is you want them to do.

How do you do that?

Now that is where the fun starts and if I knew the full and complete answer to that I would be a very wise man indeed. The thing I want to get across to you in this article is that although the seemingly easiest strategy to help motivate kids is to promise them something in return for their co-operation, it is not the answer. You might offer them sweets, the promise of a trip to the cinema or even presents. Unfortunately this has only a short-term effect and ignores the real needs of the child.

I am going to suggest that when you want to get children to do things, whether it is for you or for them, you should look at their emotional needs and ask yourself this simple question:

“How can I get them to feel really good about doing this?”

Think about the needs I have listed above and then be creative. It may take a little practice but as my friends have found with Leah, the rewards will be worth it.

Copyright (c) 2009 Positively MAD

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