Great expectations



Aim to please!

Does your child strive to do well? Is she eager to please?

Some children are keen as mustard to do their all-round best, while others seem almost indifferent to it.


writes Dr Nicola Davies

Some children simply lack the motivation that others possess in abundance. Are they born that way or is it a learned behaviour? Research suggests it is both. While it’s true that some children naturally possess more enthusiasm, environment also plays a significant role.


Imagine identical twin girls, separated at birth. They have exactly the same genetic traits, but are being raised in different environments. One of the twins lives with highly motivated,

hardworking parents who lead a disciplined lifestyle. The school she

attends is acclaimed for its academic achievements and pupils tend to go on to be successful.


The other twin, on the other hand, lives with parents who are not very ambitious and spend much of their time watching television. The school she attends has mediocre results and children are not encouraged to aspire outside their comfort zone.


It’s really a no-brainer that the first twin is likely to be more motivated. She has learnt motivation from those around her, who are themselves modelling motivated behaviour. So, while some

motivation is innate, we still have a role to play in our children’s lives when it comes to nurturing that motivation.


Effects of low motivation


Does it really matter whether a child is motivated or not? Research

suggests it does, and that motivation in children can significantly impact on development.


Children who are motivated will set their own goals, direct their own behaviour to achieve those goals, and pursue them with more energy and effort than children who are not motivated. These traits are likely to follow the child into adulthood, a time when goal-setting and achievement are vital to success.


On the other hand, children with low motivation may have difficulty

learning, which can lead to behavioural problems at school. This affects a child’s ability to form friendships. The impact of low motivation is multifaceted: it can have a negative effect on social, cognitive and emotional well-being.


If you recognise some of the telltale traits of low motivation in your child, what is your next step? According to Vivien Sabel, author of The Blossom Method™: The Revolutionary Way to

Communicate with your Baby from Birth, body language plays an important role in motivating children. ‘Headnodding, positive eye gaze, encouraging and positive touch, a positive rub on the back or arm or a heartfelt “you can do it” hug, are all examples of

motivational body language,’ she says. ‘These non-verbal actions combined with encouraging verbal messages, can support motivation.’


Sabel also feels it can be useful to help children recognise the impact success has on their own bodies. ‘One way of supporting children to believe in themselves is by encouraging them to recognise their own successes through the art of thought-provoking questioning,’ she says. ‘For example: “Do you remember how you felt when you got a gold star? Can you describe how you felt?” Questions like these allow children to consider their own

success, which can be very motivating.’





Is your child under-motivated?


There are a number of telltale signs


Avoidance – of activities that take effort such as homework or cleaning up after playing


Passive behaviour – when it becomes easier

not to do something than to face failure


Not finishing what they started – they simply

lose interest and move on to something different


Procrastination – putting things off until the

last possible moment


Isolation – in an effort to avoid being pressured

to do certain tasks


Types of motivation


There is a thin line between motivating children and pushing them too hard, so it is worth getting to understand the two main types of motivation – reward-driven and punishment-driven.


1. Reward-driven motivation

Motivating children by reward requires encouragement – giving children a reason to do something is the secret to teaching them to be self-motivated in school and at home. Think about the last time you had to do something you simply didn’t want to do – a pile

of laundry or filing your taxes, for example. What finally made you get it done? It is likely to be some kind of reward, even if that reward is ticking the task off your long ‘to do’ list.


2. Punishment-driven motivation

Punishment can also be a motivator. Consider a part of your job that you dread – doing presentations or accounts, for example. You are aware that if you don’t do these tasks there will be

negative consequences – you could be reprimanded by your boss or even lose your job. These threats motivate you to buckle down and get the job done.


Both methods can work with children, but reward-driven motivation

can make children feel encouraged and supported, while punishment-driven motivation can give them the feeling of being pushed and nagged. Punishment driven motivation can also make

children feel like they are being forced to do something against their will, while reward-driven motivation gives them a sense of being able to choose for themselves.


Why a tidy bedroom is so much nicer!


Olwyn Avery uses positive reinforcement to motivate her five-year old daughter Allira. She believes that star charts, fun activities and

stories are useful for explaining the positive results of hard work and building up Allira’s confidence – while also describing the consequences of chores not being done. ‘One day when I was

trying to motivate Allira to tidy her room I reminded her that

having a tidy room would make finding her favourite dolls and toys easier and that she would be able to sleep in comfort,’ says

Olwyn. ‘The next day Allira proudly presented a clean and tidy

room for inspection!’



Eight ways to motivate your child













1. Be respectful

Children respond to positive reinforcement so let them know you are there to help in any way you can and that you’re on their side.


2. Involve teachers

Make the time to meet with your child’s teachers and explain any

concerns you might have. Their patience and understanding will be

every bit as helpful to your child as your own.


3. Promote balance

A big part of overcoming lack of motivation is helping children to

understand the importance of balance, as this helps them prioritise. For instance, it’s important to do homework before watching cartoons and so on.


4. Stay in the present

Don’t predict your child’s future based on current behaviour. This

will achieve nothing as young children don’t have a true concept of

consequences. Focus on the present and take it one step at a time.


5. Be firm but gentle

While it is important to be stringent in teaching your child to follow

your rules, there is such a thing as exerting too much discipline.

Provide strong support, not criticism – helpful reminders are

wonderful, while nagging and harsh criticism is not.


6. Think bitesize

What may seem a series of simple tasks to you can be intimidating to children, so break them down into an easy schedule, such as tidying their toys before dinner every day, brushing their teeth after dessert and then being given permission to play games.


7. Match accomplishments and rewards

Positive reinforcement is a great motivator in children. Allow the reward to match the accomplishment: the bigger the accomplishment, the bigger the reward.


8. Eliminate distractions

Children are not good multi-taskers, so watching cartoons while

doing chores is not a good idea. Teach children to focus on the task at hand and they will save time and develop self-discipline that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.


May/June 2014

All information is correct at time of publishing