Motivate Your Kids


Think your child is lazy and unmotivated? Perhaps you just haven’t found the right motivational mojo. Kids’ lack of motivation is a top parenting complaint, but in truth, every child can be motivated to cooperate and meet goals, from free-spirited toddlers to moody, melodramatic teens. And it’s not about bribes, either. Experts say effective motivation taps into a child’s inner drive to create a win-win situation for parents and kids that doesn’t rest on external rewards (no candy or gold stars required!). Ready to get on the motivation train? Read on!


Ages 0-5
Play Power


Beyond proffering a sugary treat to win compliance, can babies and tots truly be motivated? Absolutely, says licensed therapist Lynn Finley of Forsyth Family Counseling in Winston-Salem. Infants are naturally motivated to meet their own needs, starting at birth, she says. “Children under age 3 are motivated by their own successes in controlling their environment. Children have natural curiosity, if this curiosity brings pleasure or success, they want to learn more.” Unstructured play, where babies and toddlers can learn about cause and effect — building a block tower and knocking it down, for example — helps build intrinsic motivation, she says. The power of play can also boost motivation to complete simple tasks and chores: When your child wants to move from one play environment to the next, to instill positive habits, ask him to pick up the toys he was playing with first.

Ages 6-12
Homework Help

Homework often starts arriving in early grade school, but motivation to do the work doesn’t always follow suit. “The onset of homework for a child can be a transition for everyone in the household,” says Kristin A. Perret, staff psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “Establishing an after-school routine can ease some of the related troubles. By doing so, we limit guesswork about the expectations of the afternoon.” Another way to boost motivation is to stop calling it homework. When asked about homework, many children will say they don’t have any, says Finley, but parents shouldn’t let them off the hook so fast: It’s likely they still need to study for a project or a quiz. To ease homework struggles, rename homework time study time and give kids input on when it will happen. Help your child organize her study space and remember to allow time to transition from play to focused work time.

Ages 13-18
Biology Basics

When your teen appears especially idle and unmotivated, look closer. He may be undergoing completely normal biologically based changes related to growing up. One reason teens appear lazy and unmotivated to parents may be the structure of the teenage brain, says Finley. “The brain goes through a lot a change during the adolescent years, including normal pruning of the synapses, or connections between neurons in the brain.” Teens’ brains no longer need the overabundance of synapses leftover from early childhood; pruning strips away connections that aren’t needed in order to make remaining synapses stronger. During this process, teens may appear lazy, misread emotional cues and respond out of turn. Cope by improving communication with your teen, keeping an open mind and upping your patience (this too shall pass!). And remember that the teen years are a time to explore new interests, says Perret. When a teen appears to lose motivation for a once-loved pastime, it may signal that he’s reaching out for a different horizon.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

8 Scenic Drives in North Carolina for Families

North Carolina is home to many scenic routes for families who enjoy road-tripping.

Family-Friendly Fall Festivals in North Carolina

Venture out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy one or more of the state's best fests.

Kid-Friendly Music Festivals in the Carolinas

Regional music festivals offer fun for the whole family.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay connected to what's going on for kids and families in the Triad by signing up for our FREE e-newsletters!


Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The all-new 2015-2016 Education Guide is packed with everything parents need to know to navigate more than 500 education options and resources in the Triad, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

GPS [Go. Play. See]

It's your complete family guide to Triad living. Parents are busy and on the go. Use this guide to help you explore all this great area offers for families in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point and surrounding communities.

Exceptional Child

For parents of kids with special needs, finding help and support can be challenging. We've compiled valuable resources for Triad parents in our latest annual publication, Exceptional Child, which is also available as a digital guide.