It takes more than a poster to motivate kids. Ask any schoolteacher. Early in their careers, young teachers will spend their own hard-earned cash on motivational posters for their classrooms, and soon thereafter they realize that those stylish platitudes are only good for the companies that sell motivational posters.
Motivating kids, especially teenagers, is a perilous endeavor. There is no easy way, and there is no formula. What works once may not work again. And it’s a fine line between motivating and discouraging.
Nevertheless, there are some principles that should help you be a better motivator without being a manipulator. Ready to strategize?
First Things First: What to Think About Before You Say Anything
- Remember back to when you were that age? Envision yourself, not as a littler adult, but as the actual you back then. Remember the one that made all sorts of mistakes and knew very little about anything? Remember that your child is not a little adult; he or she has a lot to learn, and that’s normal. Your job is to teach and train.
- Don’t compare your best days with your child’s worst days. Keep in mind that kids will have really bad days when they forget everything, feel lousy, and make all sorts of mental and physical mistakes. Give them those days. Consider the average days instead.
- Be honest, positively honest. Prepare to give some tough love in a positive way. Think about the great aspects of your child’s behavior and counterbalance all those good things in your mind before you confront your child. Have a positive attitude about your motivation from start to finish.
How to Confront for a Change
- Pick a good day and a good time of day. Do not attempt to engage with a tired, hungry, hot, or cranky child. Get that kid rested, fed, cool, and happy before you attempt to discuss a potentially upsetting topic. Right after school is a terrible time for anything negative. Time your talk with care.
- Be humble. Remember, this is not about you winning a debate or shaming your kid. This about helping a young person to grow up a little, and it might not be well-received. Start humble. Stay humble.
- Focus more on the solutions than on the problem. Focus on growth. Shoot for progress. Don’t aim for perfection. And don’t remind them of their shortcomings over and over. Instead, create a picture of a brighter future.
- If possible, relate to your own situation when you were his or her age, but don’t dwell on comparisons to yourself or anyone else for that matter. You should try to communicate that you struggled in the same ways, as do most people, but then move on and let the kid have his or her own struggle.
- You may need to get loud and clear about the reality that your child is going to have to put in a lot of hard work. Many of our kids, especially in the middle school years, struggle with entitlement. They think everything should just come to them with ease, and they blame others (coaches, teachers, parents) when success does not just arrive like the rising sun.
- Listen. At some point your child will talk about it. Be ready to listen well before responding. Sometimes your child will have surprising clarity that can be very helpful.
After the Talk
- Do not expect an immediate agreement. Expect lukewarm silence at best at first.
- Don’t expect a verbal response. Your child may not be able to process it and respond with words yet. It’s not likely.
- Give them time to correct. It may take more than a few days for your child to correct. Habits take time to change. Back off a bit.
- Expect an inconsistent change in behavior and attitude. Don’t gush with praise or fume with anger with the daily highs and lows. Try to keep in mind that this is a long-term change of habit. The habits did not start in a week, and they will not end in a week.
- Remind and encourage. You child will forget the issue, so take notice of good progress. Say it when you are proud. Kids need reminders, and catching them and praising them when they succeed is a great strategy.
Hopefully, these tips will help you find a better way to motivate your child to change. Hopefully, you will be successful in staying in your kid’s corner as you help them grow up well.