How do you motivate your children?
I was recently asked this by a mother of children aged 5-12. As I struggled and groped to sound coherent I realised there isn’t a simple answer, as our self-discovery lies in years of parenting and the finding of each child’s unique ‘key’. Whilst short term motivation can be easier to obtain, the development of self-motivation is our aspiration and, I suspect my friend’s also.
When new parents, PC and I read Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes – Alfie Kohn. Kohn maintains that the common strategy of managing people, children and adults alike, by dangling rewards, “do this and you’ll get that” works well in the short term. However in the long term it is ineffective and produces inferior work.
Despite accepting Kohn’s studies, over the years in the interest of ‘short term sanity’ we have fallen into the reward/punishment trap. “If you complete all your tasks you may have …..(computer, DVD etc)” These short term motivations may work well for some children, but we have had only minimal success with our children as they are not strongly motivated by external forces. The last couple of years have bought about a strengthening of self-motivation in our children, we credit two keys to this development; maturity and habits.
Maturity is a ‘wondrous thing,’ so many times during our years of parenting I have agonized and worried about issues and then…maturity ‘kicks in’ and the problem corrects itself. Knowing when to wait and let matters resolve themselves, and when parental guidance is needed is an intuitive part of parenting.
Habit formation is an integral foundation of Charlotte Mason philosophy. The cultivation of good habits aids a person in many areas of their internal and external life. “We know that to form in a child right habits of thinking and behaving is a parent’s chief duty, and that this can be done for every child definitely and within given limits of time. . . . ” (CM Series Vol. 2, p. 228).
To aid our desire to form good habits, the last few years have seen our introduction of ‘expectation sheets’, these lesson goal sheets have clearly defined the parameters of what is expected and have helped our children achieve their goals. The creating of these goals is a joint effort between us and our children.
Most of all a regular routine has worked wonders, creating an inward rhythm. We strive to get up at a set time, go to bed at a regular time, begin at a consistent time, limit screen time etc.
Habits are best formed when we, the parents, lead by example. Our, both parents and children’s, formation is but a ‘work in progress’ and needing much improvement. Success in this area ebbs and flows, with progress and ‘backsliding’, we can but try, focusing on, good habits producing further good habits.