Why We Fail at Motivating Our Kids

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My daughter was motivated to swim.

Do you know why we fail? Because motivation is an “inside job.” I heard that yesterday in a webinar by David Benzel, from Growing Champions for Life, called Solve the Mystery of Your Child’s Motivation and Distraction Issues. Benzel is a sports parenting expert who works with USA Swimming and other youth sports organizations. I’ve been following Benzel for years now. He pointed out the difference between inspiration and motivation in this talk. My takeaway is that inspiration is external while motivation is internal.

Here’s one thought I wrote down from the webinar: “It does little good to want something for someone more than they want it themselves.” That’s a good point for parents. If we want something more for our kids than they do, we are going to be disappointed and our kids will feel stress and pressure.

An analogy that Benzel used to talk about motivation was “What makes a mouse run a maze? Is it the cheese?” I thought so, but the answer is hunger. Without hunger, the mouse will not go through the maze for cheese. (Of course, if it is a pug or a Labrador retriever, the correct answer would be the cheese.) Motivation is the result of an unmet need. If there’s no need, you won’t see increased activity. A person can be inspired, but not take any action. They could read a book that inspired them about climbing Mt. Everest blind (example used in the webinar) but it doesn’t mean the reader is going to put down the book and work on climbing Mt. Everest. That’s the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Here are some things motivate people to work well:

Pride in their work

Sense of accomplishment

Enjoyment of the work itself

Recognition and praise

To make a difference

What motivates our kids in their athletics?

Because it’s fun

To be with friends

To learn new skills

To receive attention and recognition

The enjoyment of competition

All those reason are valid and it’s obvious that those are unmet needs that are internalized.

During shelter in place for what seems like an entire year (but it’s only been 68 days, but hey, who’s counting?) many parents want their kids to take advantage of the time and work on intellectual activities or stay in shape for their sports. It seems like with our pools and teams closed, we can encourage our kids to run, bicycle, stretch, do yoga, or any other useful activities to keep in shape.

The best way to get our kids off their video games and doing what we’d like is not by bribing or threatening them — but inspiring them.

According to Benzel, here are a few things we can do to inspire our kids:

We need to be good examples ourselves. Paint a picture of what you can see them accomplishing in the immediate future with hard work. Remind them of how much they’ve improved and how far they’ve come along their journey.

If we tell them they “should” go running or take an online class, we’ll most likely get push back.

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My son was motivated in academics and music. Here he is at graduation with a friend. The ivy wreaths were awarded for taking four years of Latin.

What are you doing to encourage and inspire your kids during COVID-19 shelter in place?

 

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