Are you a child of the 1970s or 80s and do you remember a BBC television programme called Record Breakers? The premise behind the show was that there were people out there who were exceptional in some way or other - usually they were sporting legends - and these people could break world records! Most shows would include an interview and often in the final part of the show, there would be a live attempt at creating a world record! At the end of the programme Roy Castle would sing the theme song which included the lyrics:
“If you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest, dedication’s what you need.”
And this is what so many parents today want to instill in their children: an understanding that if you want to succeed in life, perseverance and dedication are an essential part of your game plan.
But how do you get your child to appreciate the importance of this? Motivation is something that many of us struggle with at some time or other in life, and children are no different. In this blog, I want to share with you my thoughts on how to motivate your children. I have seven ideas for you - seven because this will give you a chance to focus on one each day of the week. Any more than seven, and I think it becomes hard to take it all on board.
1. First look at what you’ve got: the raw materials
Take a good look at your child and do your due diligence before attempting to motivate them. For some children, it can take a while to get going, and when time is running out and you are wondering if they will ever make a start, they go for it! And despite this last minute dot com approach, the results can still be impressive.
Other children have a different style which is more steady-state. These children get the same results, but their approach is more traditional and quite frankly, one that most of us feel more comfortable with.
With all children, make a plan early on and encourage them to get going, but recognise their individual ‘style’ might be different to yours and you can reduce your feelings of anxiety if, for example, you know they work better with limited time and under pressure.
2. Bribery and the pasta jar
I prefer to call this “negotiation”. When you are struggling to demonstrate the importance of preparation and your child doesn't seem to ‘get’ it, the pasta jar technique could be just the strategy you need to deploy!
The basic principle of the Pasta Jar is this: you start with a large empty glass jar. Each time your child does some good work towards a goal you have set - perhaps getting started on their homework within half an hour of arriving home, you add a handful of pasta. (You could use marbles, sweets, pebbles - let them choose!)
In Junior School children, your motivation could be for small activities: for example, reading for 30 minutes every day when you know they find it hard, or doing a sheet of times tables to try to improve accuracy. It’s the effort that counts and it’s an easy way to get them motivated. The pasta jar gradually fills up and at the end you can give a pre-agreed reward. I would suggest anything that ties in with the things they love. It might be a special pizza and film night; a new football; a trip to Smiggle or some other favourite stationery shop; whatever it is that works for them. Don’t overdo it though - the reward needs to be reasonable. In addition, NEVER take pasta from the jar. That would be like doing a full day’s work only to have your employer say, “Some of your work today wasn’t up to scratch so I will take some of last week’s pay back from your bank account.” A definite no-no.
3. Projection into the future
My grandmother once told me that “What we do today can affect all of our tomorrows”. This one is worth sharing with your child. Sit down and ask them who they admire. Give them some stark but simple comparisons of what the future might hold. If you work hard at school, you will have more opportunities in the world of work. Play around with this by asking … do you want to be down and out or up and coming? Is what you are doing now worthless or worthwhile? An inspiration board is a good activity here. Gather magazines and photographs and inspirational words. Sit down together and build up a collage showing the things they would like their life to consist of in the future. Pin it up somewhere prominent - in the kitchen or their bedroom. It can serve as a little bit of encouragement to get going for the future.
4. Share your stories of perseverance and back it up with movie motivation
Recount stories about your own life that illustrate the importance of perseverance. If your child can see that you overcame a difficulty along the way, or had to put in 110% effort to overcome obstacles and to get to where you are today, they might understand the importance of perseverance. Mentors and friends who you admire can also help you out here by sharing their stories.
If you feel you’ve been talking too much lately, and the lectures are making them glaze over, consider using movie motivation. Many films are based on real life events and can be a powerful tool to illustrate how individuals have triumphed in the face of adversity. My favourites for this age group are: Cool Runnings, Hidden Figures, Chariots of Fire and the Pursuit of Happyness. (The correct spelling in this film! but not in school so make sure you point that out.) Watch the film to give them the bigger picture, and you will have something to talk about.
5. Let them fail!
This seems counter-intuitive but sometimes, not doing well in a test - especially if there has been an obvious reluctance to try - can give just the push that’s needed to try harder next time. I am not suggesting you do this for something big like an 11+ exam or a GCSE… best to start with a spelling test in Year 2 or 3. And then make sure you help them next time to be organised and ready to prove they can do it. There is only so much you can do for your child. You can help with time management, buy the right text books and stationery, but you can’t sit the tests and write the essays for them. They need to understand that this is their journey and you are their biggest supporter.
6. Team players
When you are playing the ‘motivation game’ with your child, remember not to make it one-sided. You are both on a team and it’s important that you are together in this. Your role is not to tell them do this and do that. Rather, to encourage and cajole. Your child, who is still quite young, needs to feel that while they are the one running the race, you are the coach running alongside them in the challenge. It isn’t your race. It is theirs. But you are very much on the team. Remember this: being a tyrant every evening when they come home will not bring out the best in your child.
Sometimes it can be hard to get your child to sit down and study. You are match ready. The planner is on the wall. The workbooks are in and the stationery has been bought. But your child has another plan. They just need a break and they need one now. At times like this I would advise deploying stealth tactics and injecting a bit of lightness into the whole exercise. Take off the tension and suggest a day or two of easier work. At this point, many crumble and move aside for the games console … but they risk losing their child for a fortnite. I would suggest you try to make their learning fun especially when they are still in Junior School - believe you me, as they approach their GCSEs there will be little chance for fun learning.
Look for constructive downtime: scrabble; a walk; a jigsaw or how about giving one of these books a go: Maths Fun for Cool Kids and Revision Fun for Clever Kids? These books have been written with children in mind - children who might just need a little motivation and encouragement to get going.
To sum up, when you need to motivate your child, try not to get too worked up when lethargy sets in. Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and think about how you are going to tackle this. Each child is different and each day brings new challenges. But each child is also unique and special in their own way, and each day brings a new beginning.
Go out and help your child to be the best they can be!!