Anyone who’s spent time looking after kids, in whatever capacity, knows that sometimes motivating children can be difficult.
It’s something teachers have to figure their way around each and every day.
In this blog, we’re sharing our set of expert and professional techniques to tackle laziness and help you motivate your child outside the school environment, taken from our years in the field of teaching and tutoring.
These tips, tricks and strategies apply to motivating children with any task, from homework to piano practice to helping out with the dishes, and work face-to-face or during live online lessons.
Helping to motivate your child can be crucial to their sense of self-worth and self-belief, let alone their ability to set to the tasks that will get them ahead in life.
What is Motivation, and Why Does it Matter?
Think about the last time you saw a task through to the end. Why was it?
For adults, motivation can easily become a result of necessity. It’s different for kids: more often than not they don’t understand why the things we’re asking them to do are important!
But motivation is not just the external impetus to do something: it’s also the internal desire to do it.
Psychologists distinguish this using the labels ‘Extrinsic Motivation’ and ‘Intrinsic Motivation’.
An extrinsic motivation might sound like this: ‘my teacher brings me doughnuts when I do well’
And an intrinsic motivation like this: ‘learning science enables me to think clearly’, or ‘finishing a book is satisfying’.
In Excellent Classroom Management, expert Carl Rinne suggests that we try to activate the intrinsic motivations in our kids through appeals, which set out to reveal the inherent beauty of the topic of task at hand, and get them moving from extrinsic motivations to intrinsic ones.
This speaks to the feeling of knowing that there’s only so many short-term rewards you can use to motivate your children before you run out of them.
So it’s these appeals we need to get our heads around in order to intrinsically motivate our kids.
The MUSIC Model
MUSIC is an acronym for (E)mpowerment, Useful, Success, Interest and Caring.
To be able to motivate your children at home, it can be useful to work through these words, using them as tools to help your child toward intrinsic motivation.
Empowerment means allowing your child to make some of the decisions when it comes to completing the task at hand. This can mean working together to establish the terms of the task: how long they do it for, when, and where. This gives the child a sense of agency, and shows them they are not just being ‘bossed about’.
Useful means helping your child understand why doing their homework or getting out of bed on time in the mornings is useful to them. Help them break this down into short and long term goals. Talk with them about how this particular task ties in with other aspects of their life that they care about.
Success means making sure they can actually succeed, complete and ‘tick off’ the task in the short run. We all know that grim, trudging feeling of tackling chores that are routine and ongoing: kids are no different. So put a limit on the task and give it a definitive outcome, for example, finishing five pages of a book, rather than simply ‘read your book every day till its finished’.
Interest means, simply, try and make it interesting! Our top tip is to find a ‘hook’ at the beginning of the task that might make it seem unusual. Try and transmit your own interest in the work, too.
Caring means show you care. Children always react to this – be it positively, or negatively on occasion (rebelling against you) – but they always do. If you show you care about them, and not only the task at hand, they will respond positively. Explain to them that it’s not just the homework being done, the teachers, or the school you care about, it’s them and their ability to understand the world around them.
How To Motivate Children: Strategies
These are the appeals that we have practiced and refined over the years of our teaching and tutoring which really help motivate children and break through their feelings of laziness.
Identification: encourage them to identify with someone who’s successful in the field of – or thanks to their skills in – the task at hand.
Competition: set up a short- or long- term competition with your child working against themselves or others (perhaps even you!) to help gamify the job.
Challenge: Set them something that you’ve agreed might seem beyond their initial difficulty level. Just like playing a sport against someone defined as ‘better than you’, this helps you significantly raise your game, by rising to the challenge, or by freeing you of the expectation to do ‘perfectly’.
Surprise: Try and make the exercise fun by adding another dimension to it that’s unusual or unorthodox.
Novelty: Contrast the repetitive nature of a task (homework each day, say) by offsetting it against doing something totally each time right after they’ve completed their work.
Anticipation: Help them think about what it will feel like to’ve done what they need to: appeal to the inner part of them that knows they’ll feel good after.
Security: Show them it’s also fine to fail, that they’ll be safe if so. It’s easy to forget that piling on the pressure too much can have the reverse effect of paralysis and de-motivating.
Completion: Celebrate the completion of the task. Make it feel like it truly is done for the day. (It can be easy to forget to celebrate because you’re already thinking about the next time you’ll have to do it.)
Feedback: motivate your child with feedback, praise and positive affirmation. Think too about how you praise: instead of putting a focus on, say, winning over losing, shift your post-task talk to asking how they felt, or saying something like ‘you played so well’, ‘you worked so hard’, ‘I could tell you were trying’, ‘you looked like a real pro’.
To keep your child motivated and inspired when they’re working for exams or important school work, or even if they’re working towards completing something outside of school, please get in touch with the Minerva team to see how we can help.