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Motivating your Child

By Stephanie Hewitt, Learning Pathways

Featured in Macaroni Kid Folsom-El Dorado Hills, May 13, 2020 Issue


Keeping your children motivated can be challenging, whether it is for schoolwork, chores, or just listening to parents. Here are some strategies to help your child stay motivated. 

Incentive Systems

If your child is not self-motivated to complete their schoolwork or do chores, external rewards might be helpful. Systems such as a star or sticker chart, marble jar, or token system can be motivating for children. For younger children, simply earning a sticker or star may be motivating enough. For older children, they can earn tokens such as a star, checkmark, marble, or ticket and then trade in tokens for a reward or privilege. You can choose one reward to earn when the chart or jar is full, or you can create a menu of rewards with your child. Get creative with rewards! They don’t have to be tangible things such as toys. They could be things like special time one-on-one with a parent, choosing what is for dinner one night, baking a special treat, extra screen time, a later bedtime, or anything else you can come up with! Keep in mind that rewards work better for changing behavior than punishments. Once the system starts working, you can fade the plan by increasing the number of tokens needed to earn the reward or by upping the criteria to earn a token or reward. 

Give choices

Offering choices is an easy but powerful way to gain compliance and motivation. Offer two choices, both with which you would be okay. Some examples include “Do you want to do your schoolwork with a pen or pencil today?” “Do you want to sit or stand?” or “Do you want to do math or reading first?” If they don’t make a choice, then you choose. 

Enforceable Statements

You can’t force your child to do schoolwork or chores. Focus on the things you can control with enforceable statements and limits. An example from Parenting with Love and Logic’s handout “Turn Your Words Into Gold” includes saying “You are welcome to join us for _____ when your room is clean,” instead of “Get this room cleaned up right now!” In our home this week, the enforceable statement was “Kids who have their schoolwork done and their rooms clean can use the iPad.” I couldn’t make them do their schoolwork, but I could control who got to use the iPad. 

Extinction Burst

Keep in mind that when you start setting new limits, you can expect some pushback. This is called an extinction burst and it means that it might get worse before it gets better. If your child has been engaging in tantrums, refusal, or other behaviors to avoid doing schoolwork or other directives and that misbehavior has been working for them, he or she is going to try even harder at first. This means your strategy is working and you should stick with it! They will realize quickly that you mean what you say. 




Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. (n.d.) “How to Motivate Children: Science-Based Approaches for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers.”

Fay, Jim. (n.d.). “Turn Your Word Into Gold.” Love and Logic.

Morin, Amy. (2019, September 14). “Create an Effective Reward System for Kids of All Ages.” Very Well Family.

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