How do you motivate a deeply demotivated child?
I’ve got five simple, quick, easy tips for you because there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that somebody has potential and sitting back watching as they do not make the most of it.
1) Get yourself involved with it too. Children follow your example. In their brains, they have what we refer to as 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, for example).
If you want your child to brave it and go up the climbing wall, you got to be prepared to put on that crash hat and that 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, in many ways it is, but there are lots of intricate details that we throw into it to get some perspective. It is by far and away one of the best motivational techniques out there.
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 further on down the line in positive ways if they do it.
Let’s say that it’s taking you half an hour to get a child to sit down and do this piece of maths work. Point out to them that focusing is going to have so many other positive ramifications later down the line.
For example, you’ll be able to 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 still seems like millions of miles away to them, even when it’s the tail end of November. Whereas for the rest of us, we’re flabbergasted by how fast time is speeding by.
If we can get them thinking about the future and the effects that now has on that future, then we can start to get them to notice the consequences of putting in the efforts now.
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 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 this stuff 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 level of respect and trust to an outsider, that’s different to 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, maybe it’s a novelty 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, maybe it’s another parent, maybe you swap children. When it comes to getting them to do stuff that they typically don’t like to do. 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, 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.
The original version of this article was written by Gemma Bailey, director of
It was republished and rebuilt with additional content by NLP4KIDS PRACTITIONER Ian Davies