Do you find that you can’t seem to get your child to care about anything? Do they seem like they aren’t interested in pursuing sports, activities or school?

We frequently hear from parents struggling to find ways to get their children off their devices and out of their rooms and put an effort into something…anything.

Parents spend a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how to motivate their children. They will often use the carrot-and-stick approach of reward and punishment. When incentives don’t work, they demand, lecture, or take away privileges. Initially, these strategies appear to work. But when the outside motivator is removed, the problems continue.

It’s important to keep in mind that as a parent you will not always be there to provide outside motivators and that your job, as a parent, is to prepare your child for the real world. If your child is not internally motivated, they will have no choice but to find another external motivator or flounder. Self-accountability is a skill that needs to be developed long before your child leaves home.

Self-Image and Motivation

You cannot motivate your child directly, but you can create an emotional environment in which your child becomes self-motivated. Children with positive mindsets and attitudes are motivated and resilient and they deal constructively with challenges and accomplish goals. Insecure and emotionally wounded children have a negative sense of self; they view themselves as damaged, inadequate, and powerless. A child who sees themselves as a failure will find a way to fail. Thus, the first step to increasing motivation is to help children develop a more positive and hopeful self-image.

Change the self-image and you can change the behavior. Self-image is created and changed for better or worse through experiences. The best way to help a child change a belief acquired through a negative life experience is to provide an alternative (positive) life experience. Children cannot be taught intellectually about love, empathy, and compassion; they must experience it. They can only become what they experience. They require relationships that promote self-worth and dignity, which enables them to reevaluate their beliefs and see themselves in a new light. Children who view themselves positively are motivated to succeed.

Parenting Practices

The second ingredient to help children develop motivation involves parents’ attitudes and child-rearing practices. A parent’s job is to prepare their children for the real world. However, some parents enable, rescue, and over-protect their children. For various reasons—feeling sorry for their child, avoiding conflict, meeting their own needs—they do not want their child to experience pain, frustration, distress, or disappointment. This prevents children from learning to cope, handle life’s struggles, and develop inner strength. They grow up in a bubble of over-protection and feel lost, fearful and helpless in the real world, resulting in little belief in their abilities and lack of motivation.

To be successful, motivation must come from within, not from the outside. Children can only truly be motivated when they feel like they are in charge of their own lives. In learning any task, if the learner feels in control, a wider range of significant learning occurs. True leaders strengthen their followers. They set a positive example and empower those under them. Positive role models create a climate in which their children feel comfortable being themselves.

Parents must provide love, limits, and allow children to learn from the consequences of their choices and actions. Children only develop true self-esteem and self-motivation when they learn the skills associated with fulfillment and success -perseverance, resilience, sense of meaning and purpose, responsibility, accountability, and the give and take of meaningful relationships.