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Motivating Kids

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Kids are weird and illogical. I've been around a lot of little kids and my son is only 12, so I'm not sure when this stops happening, but if you know, I'd appreciate a heads up. I imagine there will be a little bit of disappointment mixed in with the flood of relief when my son starts being logical on a consistent basis.

The disappointment will be caused by the loss of weird, funny, and sometimes head scratching things he does and says. Like the time my husband was going around changing out dead lightbulbs when he asked our son if he had any out in his bathroom. My son responded, "No, but I have one that is almost burned out."

As parents, we find all sorts of ways to motivate our kids. Candy for going potty in the toilet, "Racing" them to the car when they don't want to leave. Giving them stickers or small toys for accomplishing goals.

The older kids get, the harder it can be to motivate them. Tweenagers don't want stickers for cleaning their room and sometimes I think the only thing that might motivate my son to clean up after himself is a girl. Except he's in that between stage where girls are cute AND have cooties.

We have a rule in our house that is meant to be a motivator, but is increasingly failing at its job. The rule is, no electronics until homework, reading and chores are finished. My son is a struggling reader. He LOATHES reading. But, he loves video games. It seems that the better he gets at reading, the less he wants to keep going, and the more he would rather be bored out of his mind all day instead of reading a measly 20 minutes and having his freedom.

On those days it can be a test of mom and dad's patience as he wanders from room to room, follows us wherever we go, constantly gets in our personal space to see what we're doing, or asks a gazillion questions about why a cat's nose is wet, how it stays wet and then argues about our responses.

It becomes a desperate attempt to save our sanity. The question, "How can we motivate him to do SOMETHING so I don't kill him?" becomes our mantra. And, being the logical adults we are, we go to things like "If you don't read 20 minutes today, you'll have to read 40 tomorrow."

Come on kid, be logical. It's better to read a shorter amount of time every day rather than a longer time on one day.

Or, "Since you don't want to read, I'll give you more chores to do."

Or, "I'll give you a piece of candy if you do your reading." When that one comes out, you know we're really desperate!

Sometimes though, really weird things motivate kids. A few nights ago someone’s drone landed in our backyard. We brought it in and found a memory card in it. We watched the only video on it, and were able to determine what house it came from. It was pretty late when all this happened though, so we decided we'd return it to them the following day.

Well, it just so happened that our son didn't want to read that day. My husband was getting ready to return the toy and my son asked if he could got with.

"No, you haven't completed your tasks yet." was the response.

"I'll do my reading right now. Will you wait for me?" was his immediate reply.

Of course my husband waited.

As I listened to him reading, I thought about that tiny little motivator. To me, it's no big deal. Doing the right thing and returning someone’s toy. But to my 12 year old son it was an adventure. He wanted to see how it would end.

A strange (and very cool) toy had mysteriously found its way to our home, had a weird video on it and a mystery that mom and dad were trying to solve. I'm sure he wondered if we'd really figured out the mystery of who it belonged to and I'm sure he was curious to see the strangers from the video in real life.

But it makes me wonder: Have we, as logical adults, so forgotten the wonder of how the world around us works, that we make parenting harder than it needs to be? If we could still see wonder and awe in everything around us, like kids do, would it be easier to find those odd little things that motivate them? Possibly. But I imagine it would also depend on the kid and maybe even the situation.

When they're babies and toddlers it's easier, because the amazement appears on their face. But as they get older we start thinking more about how they're growing up and how they need to start becoming more logical. And they see it too. They try to act more grown-up. But they're also still kids, motivated by silly things like screaming louder than the kids sitting in the section next to them in the school auditorium.

As I thought about writing this post, I asked my husband to give me some ideas on funny ways parents motivate their kids. He came up with the same ones I did. Then he asked our son the same question. His answer?

"For doing the laundry, I think we should pretend that the whole floor and the stairs are lava and our boat is the laundry basket, and we have to get all the way downstairs without touching the floor. And for doing dishes, I think we should play like a passing game, where we pretend the dishes are gold and we're putting them in our treasure chest. (dishwasher)"

Yep, he’s growing up. But he’s very much still a kid.

What little things have motivated your kids? Did they show up unexpectedly?

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