How to Motivate a Demotivated Child

How do you motivate a deeply demotivated child?

I’ve got five simple, quick tips for you because there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that somebody has potential and sitting back and watching as they do not make the most of it.

1) Get yourself involved with whatever it is you want them to do. Children follow your example. There is some suggestion in science that humans have mirror neurons, which means ‘monkey see monkey do’ – they learn by watching you. If you want them to be sitting down and doing their homework, you probably need to be sitting down and doing something similar (not on your phone, whilst your child is doing their homework and not allowed their phone).

If you want your child to brave it and go up the climbing wall, you got to be prepared to put on a crash hat and harness and get yourself up the climbing wall too. Leading by example is always going to be my number one tip for getting children super-motivated.

2) Proactively future focus them. We have a process that we use in NLP4Kids called the ‘Path of Life¬©’. We tend to use this process when we have a young person who is on the wrong path in their life, to get them to see the distinction between how things would look if they were to continue the way that they’re going vs what would happen if they made a change. It sounds very simple, and in many ways it is, but there are lots of intricate details that we throw into it to give a greater perspective. It is one of the best motivational techniques that exist.

Similarly, we can use this for helping to draw their attention towards what will happen if they don’t crack on and do the thing that they need to do and the implications later in life, in positive ways if they do. If it’s taking you half an hour to get a child to sit down and do a piece of maths work, point out to them that focusing is going to have so many other positive ramifications.

For example, you could say, “You’ve sat there working and that shows me that you can focus well when you want to. That focus is going to see you in good stead in other activities that you do, whether that’s your schoolwork or the hobbies that you have. People who have that kind of focus tend to do better in life, they do better in exams, because they can really shut out the outside noises and concentrate allowing you to see the effects of what you have just done.” What would it be like for them to hear that kind of response from you?

Children are very in the moment. Their brain is always wondering “is this affecting me right here right now?” Christmas seems like millions of miles away to them (even when it’s the tail end of November!) The rest of us, are flabbergasted by how fast time is speeding by. If we can get children thinking about the future and the effects that now has on their future, then we can start to get them to notice the consequences of putting in the effort today.

3) Reward the efforts that they make rather than the outcomes that they achieve. If you have a child who is working hard on something, but they’re not the best at it, we still need to acknowledge and reward the fact that they’re putting in the effort anyway.

Avoid putting the focus on achieving good grades or being the best at it, because children who will put in the effort anyway, even when they know that they’re not the best at it stand a much better chance of sticking with things even when they find it super difficult. That’s going to work wonders for them in the long run, in terms of being able to overcome all sorts of different challenges in life and not just giving up when the going gets tough because they’re not seeing the results that they want.

If you want a child to be motivated, they need to be the kind of motivated that has them crack on and do things, even if it’s stuff that they’re not actually all that good at. So, they’re not in it for the outcome. They’re in it to show how hard they’re able to work. If you want to cultivate that kind of attitude in your child, then you need to be rewarding the efforts that they make, and not the outcomes that they achieve. The final two things that I have for you in terms of helping to motivate a child are about releasing you from the responsibility of making that happen.

4) Delegate responsibility to other people, for motivating your child, particularly if you are a parent. Children are not always all that great at taking on board the great ideas that a parent will give them. Often at the NLP4Kids office, we have parents who phone up and say “My child has a problem. I’ve told them this, I’ve suggested that..” and I’m hearing it as a practitioner and thinking “These are all really good ideas, I would be recommending these ideas as well!”

But because a parent is a parent, typically a child is going to be reluctant to listen to them. It’s as if you’re supposed to say the right thing and you’re supposed to be nice because you are Mum/Dad. Whereas when it’s somebody else, they tune in and pay attention in a very different way. They can offer a different respect and trust to an outsider, that’s unlike what they can offer to their parent. With a parent, it’s as if you’re supposed to say the right thing because you love them and want them to be happy. But with outsiders, they’re more likely to tune in and focus differently. Maybe it’s a ‘white coat’ thing.

If you are not good at motivating your child to do their homework, then maybe get somebody else to do that. Maybe that’s a tutor, a teacher or another parent. Sometimes children will behave better for grandparents, sometimes they will behave better for teachers. So getting them to engage with those people can be a good way to give them a little jolt and motivate them in the right direction.

5) Give them responsibilities.

What happens if you make them responsible for their outcomes? What happens if you get them to take charge of their destiny in some small and reasonable way? Perhaps what we might start to see then, is that these children suddenly feel more empowered. They suddenly feel as if they’re important, they belong, and they have a purpose here, so they can start to take more responsibility for their outcomes and become more motivated to do that.

Sometimes the solution isn’t in doing more, but in stepping back and doing a little less.

By Gemma Bailey

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