Have you ever had the situation when you get the idea to rush the family off to the park for a family bonding moment, and no one is interested or wants to go? Or you want to get some fresh air into their lungs and suggest a bike ride or nice long walk, and you might well have been talking to a brick wall. Do you ever ask a question and get no response, but you know they heard you? Does their lack of motivation have you wanting to pull your hair out?

It can start to look like a vicious cycle when you can’t get them to do anything, and they don’t want to do anything and there they remain plonked in front of the television or x-box.. It’s not that they aren’t motivated to do anything, it’s just that their motivation is propelled through what they want to do, not what you want to do.

Here are the signs your child may have lost his motivation:

  • They prefer to be playing video games than doing something constructive (like homework!) · They can’t see something through to successful completion
  • If it doesn’t require much effort, they will consider it ·
  • They don’t care, have lost interest (and motivation) .
  • They find everything pointless and irrelevant ·
  • They are half hearted and never show initiative ·
  • They blame everyone and everything else for their performance ·
  • They have poor self-esteem, and might be lacking in confidence ·
  • You are constantly in conflict, and have to constantly repeat instructions ·
  • They are not receptive to any suggestions

When you first look at the above list it seems quite depressing but don’t despair… most of us are not perfect – and we will get it wrong.

The trick is to think smart and savvy, not exhaust yourself thinking of activities to implement that might interest them into moving.

If a child is continually resisting as a way of solving their problem, then until they learn a new skill set parents will continue to have a hard time. There are some basic skills we all need to learn to solve problems appropriately. So, try to think of their lack of motivation and resistance as more a deficit in social skills and problem solving.


  • Does your worry cause you to nag, hover, cajole or do the task for the child? ·
  • Does your frustration cause you to yell, punish, throw your hands up in despair? ·
  • Does your helplessness cause you to turn on your partner who seems to be of no help? ·
  • Does your fear keep you trying to get your child to change?

None of the above will get him to change! Your anxiety will either teach them to resist, or even more unhealthily, teach them to comply to keep you calm and leave them be. So instead of learning self-motivation they are learning to react.

If you start yelling at them because of their resistance it is enabling their resistance behaviour and giving them the power. Although it’s a negative consequence, they are getting what they want

How many times do you over reward your child for actions that don’t warrant such lavish attention. This sets up a parent for failure next time and teaches a child to become demotivated. A common example is if you “bribe” a child into doing something they are not keen on… guaranteed the next time the price will be higher

Don’t micromanage your kids. Give them the space to make mistakes and get hurt. This is where they will learn and grow in confidence from their action. This builds their self esteem and provides them with the motivation needed.

Don’t give them the Motivation Talk – instead suggest that they “just haven’t figured it out yet – but I have confidence you will”.

Realise it is an equal world. Yes, you are the boss, but your child needs to have input into their lives. If a child feels powerless, the only way they will get their power back is by becoming uninvolved. This is because it gives them a sense of control. This also is the same when setting house rules. Again, this is an area where your child can have discussion with parents and input into fair consequences of misbehaviour. A hot milo and biscuit around the table for these discussions create a family ritual.


PRACTICE THE FIVE C’S – Be clear, calm, consistent, give choices and consequences.

  • Clear: Use the “I” word, be concise and precise in when you want the event to happen – “I would like you to clean your room now”
  • Calm: There is no need to raise your voice to impart your message – Deliver it in a leveled manner and lower that tone Consistent: It is no good giving consequences one day and letting them get away with things the next
  • Choices: When giving choices bear in mind you are the one in control, even though you are making it look like they are with the choices offered. “It is time to do your homework, : When giving choices bear in mind you are the one in control, even though you are making it look like they are with the choices offered. “It is time to do your homework, If, you choose not to do your homework you also choose to not be watching television or playing games (example of negative consequence), to not be watching television or playing games (example of negative consequence), which do you choose? (A very important phrase to say as the emphasis is then on them in making the choice and having control, even though you have made the choice for them). If you choose to do your homework now, we can play ball outside after (example of positive consequence – This is a very good motivator and a good way of introducing consequences).
  • When kids make decisions, they reaffirm they are in control.
  • Consequences: Sometimes is a follow through of the choices … In the example above they were given the consequence as part of the choice. Natural consequences are always the best consequences but can be very hard for the parent to follow through with, because they don’t like to see their child fail. (If you are unsure what a natural consequence is… if the child doesn’t learn the words for the spelling test tonight, he will get a big fat fail tomorrow). Positive consequences are also good (It’s a bit like dangling a carrot in front of them to reach the end of the race). Negative consequences though, are not as good (e.g. something pleasant is taken away to encourage the behaviour).

Learn to use Open Ended questions – so they learn to respond and are not just reacting to your demands. As they become more responsive, they will become more motivated. An example might be: instead of saying “Have you done your homework” – say instead “What made you decide to do your homework today and not yesterday?”

Encourage them to find their own answers – Is it a case of the parent being lazy here or the child. Isn’t it so much easier to answer them than to receive the negative reaction when you tell them to go look it up? So, a good tactic is to take a breath and state “Hmmm that’s a good question. How can we figure that out?” OR “that’s an interesting question. What do you think?”

Realise that a curious child is one that is motivated.

Show me the part you find difficult – this is a goodie for getting them to try tasks that are difficult. Usually with a bit of prodding they will complete the task themselves. An example might be them asking you to help tie their shoelaces. Go through step by step with them doing the part they can do, and when they get to the bit they can’t do, either assist or show them and then get them to do it.

If they don’t have the confidence to exercise their judgement, they won’t be motivated

Don’t immediately jump in to fix things – Ask instead

Why do you think she did that? · How do you think she feels? · What is a different way you could handle this next time? Initial reactions are not going to be overwhelmingly positive, but perseverance by you will pay off in the end.

Show Interest in his interests, even if it doesn’t interest you. Turn his interests into different ways that he might develop the skills you want him to learn. For example, Lego blocks might make a useful base for learning maths, or comics a fun way to learn to read.

Help your child see herself as a success by discussing her successes. I have a constant memory as a kid of my mother always praising other kids’ successes, but never mine. (No wonder they thought my mother was so wonderful). Also, we are encouraged not to set our children up for failure, but we never talk about the need to set them up for success. To set them up for success we need to be setting reasonable expectations with challenging, but reasonable tasks. Another way to ensure they are set up for success is to ensure your child knows exactly what she is expected to do. This may involve a little investment of your time initially. In addition, try to comment on all the positive changes you have noticed, even if it doesn’t lead to immediate improvement. Remember though praise/acknowledgement should be on the effort or the action, not the person.

I could probably write a litany of do’s and don’ts on what parents should and shouldn’t do, and I am sure you could think of a few too… Hopefully, though, this has given some food for thought on what can be a very common problem.

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