Motivation is a complex emotion. If you’ve tried, but not succeeded in maintaining a diet and exercise routine, or struggled to get out of bed in the morning, you will know how difficult it is to consistently tap into the intricacies of your own motivation. So, imagine what it’s like for kids. They’re yet to develop the maturity and experience that we have, and yet we expect them to maintain consistent levels of motivation each day for superior results at school, in sports, and at home. When it comes to motivation in kids, the key is helping them channel their motivation in the right direction.

We know that there are times when our kids appear to be completely demotivated. But the truth is, every child is motivated. All human behaviour stems from motivation. So, when they are doing something, they are motivated.

On a day when your child appears lethargic or uncooperative, you might say “Nothing is going to motivate Andrew today”. In fact, what you’re actually saying is “Nothing that you do is motivating Andrew to do what you want him to do.”

So rather than asking yourself what you need to do to motivate Andrew, you might try asking yourself what motivates Andrew to do what he does?

Andrew is 8 years old and his parents are valiantly trying to encourage him to help out around the house. He has a simple list of chores. At the moment, his mum is working on a specific project with Andrew… she’s trying to help him remember to replace the empty toilet roll with a new one. The frustration is palpable each time she glances into the bathroom and spots the empty toilet roll! Andrew’s parents may say he’s unmotivated. However, he’s very motivated – to get back to his video game or construction set. Or perhaps he’s motivated to simply avoid chores.

Our challenge as parents is to find out what motivates our children’s current behaviour and help them channel it as more constructive behaviour. This is easier said than done of course! For some kids, open discussions with their parents are comfortable and easy. For others, opening up to parents, teachers, or anyone for that matter, is extremely difficult. The challenges associated with these conversations also varies between age groups. Very young children may have trouble identifying why they behave a certain way. As they move to adolescence, they may have more self-awareness but also become more private.

Be prepared to ask lots of questions, but not in a Spanish Inquisition type of way. Ask questions that demonstrate you are curious and interested rather than questions clearly directed at the outcome you want in the shortest time possible. Know that it may take a few discussions, with thinking time in between, for your kids to develop an understanding of what drives their behaviour. Once they have this understanding, you can work with them to devise a plan that will allow them to get what they want, while still functioning as a contributing member of their community.

Of course, there won’t be one universal solution for every age group. Each circumstance will involve different emotions and require a different strategy and timeline. No doubt, it may also involve a few deep breaths on all sides! As parents and guardians, it’s about asking the right questions in the right way, to get to the core of your particular situation. At the very least, you’ll be talking to your kids.