How Do I Motivate My Unmotivated Child?

If your child has become a video gaming, TikTok making, YouTube surfing, virtual school dodger, this post is for you!

It was hard to motivate a child in the “old normal” world. Motivating them in the new normal may seem impossible, but it’s not. We just have to be a little savvier with our approach as parents.

Here are a few suggestions that work for me.

#1 Start With a Small Task They Want to Accomplish

Have you ever been so overwhelmed with tasks that you had no idea where to begin? Yeah? Well so has your child! And what they are going though may be too much.

What they are experiencing with school and social life can never be compared to anything we experienced growing up, and we need to respect that as parents.  We don’t know how overwhelming this is for them.

It may seem to them like their “to do” list is drowning them. Help them find the most appealing thing on their list, do it, and check it off.

Take on the “one thing a day” approach. Doing one thing a day may motivate them to take on “one more thing” a day.

#2 Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

You don’t have to yell.

Ask yourself this: Will a police officer yell at you because you continue to speed in a school zone?

Of course not! They pull you over, politely give you a ticket, and move on to the next speeder.

Yelling at your kid to get things done will only frustrate you and your child, but it is imperative to hold your child accountable for bad choices.

Set your expectations and lay your consequences. When then the time comes for discipline, do it in a “matter of fact” way. Hug them, and keep it moving. They will eventually catch your drift and will be more motivated to do what they are supposed to do.

#3 Never Bribe Them

Don’t bribe your child.

I know we all have at one point or another. I remember carrying a special ‘bag of tricks’ to church to help keep the girls quiet during service.

Bribing your kid to get them motivated is only a temporary fix. On the opposite end of the spectrum, punishing your child constantly can also backfire.

If your child has even a little interest in something, bribing them will give them a sense of entitlement.

In other words – sometimes you do things in life for NOTHING in return! Kids need to learn this.

#4 Be Inspiring, NOT Controlling

Our city library hosts a Black History Month Speech Competition every year. Every year, I would make my girls research a historical figure and present their speeches. Some years they wanted to do it and some years they begrudgingly participated.

This year, I was not going to “make” them do it because of everything going on. When I saw the advertisement that it would be a virtual competition, I showed it to them and said, “I think this would be less stressful to do through Zoom, but you guys don’t have to if you don’t want to this year.”

I was surprised that they both registered themselves for the competition. They chose their characters, wrote their speeches, and memorized them. They presented on Zoom this past Friday, and we are still awaiting results, but in my book, they have already won!

You know what your child can do. Inspire them with suggestive questions like:

  • “I think this is something you can do easily, what do you think?”
  • “I saw how well you ____________, this is also right up your alley. Am I wrong?”
  • “So you think you can ____________? I bet you can’t __________.  Prove it!”

#5 Don’t Be a Nag

Be an investigator, but don’t be overbearing with the questions. There is a thin line between the two that usually is drawn with your tone. Don’t whine, yell, or nag when you talk to them. Be as cool and collected as Agent Smith in the Matrix.

If your child seems to be on task on Tuesdays but they are completely off every other day, instead of losing your patience, investigate!

“Why did you do your math today and not your history yesterday?”

You may be surprised at what you find. There may be legitimate explanations as to why your child is not persistent with their motivation to work.

#6 Step Away and See the Bigger Picture

If you put your nose on a mirror, will you see your entire face in the right perspective? NO!

When we are constantly trying to “persuade” our children to be motivated – that is exactly what we are doing – we are standing close enough to put our nose on the mirror!

Step back from the situation and try to get some perspective.

If you step back, maybe you will see a little more of you when it comes to their behavior. What motivates you when you are down? Maybe you will see a few of your partner’s characteristics. What motivates them when they are down?

Chances are you will see someone perfectly unique and what motivates them is obvious when you step away and see the bigger picture.

#7 Let Your Child Make their Choice and Face Their Consequences

The hardest thing to do as a parent is to watch your child fail at something. But that may be exactly what it takes to get your child motivated. Don’t tell your child 15 times to wake up in the morning so they can get to class on time. Make sure their alarm is set. If they miss the class and fail a test, so be it!

Have your consequences established for sluggish behavior and keep it moving. If they don’t pull that failing grade up by report card time, have harsher consequences in order.

Your ultimate goal as a parent should be to encourage your child to become self-reliant and self-motivated. We can’t make them want to do anything, but we can steer them in the right direction and never give up on discovering what motivates them.

Stay Tuned…

I almost forgot about this jewel of a song!

In 1994, my mom pulled me to the side and insisted I listened to a new song called “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree. It became one of my go-to songs when I needed motivation.

I think I will introduce it to my girls today to motivate them to and take the lyrics of advice as a parent.


Traci D. Fuller, Pearls and Pretty Pens © 2021

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