How to motivate your kids

When my kids were growing up I felt like I was nagging them all the time! Please pick up your room, clean up your plate, get dressed, wash your hands, etc. Now when I look back I think they actually starting “turning me off” at a pretty early age! We DO need to get children to do certain tasks or to STOP doing others, but maybe there are better ways to get them to cooperate without all the nagging! has a few creative ideas on how to motivate your children:

Have Meaningful Conversations – One-on-one talks with your kid are crucial for tapping into a child’s intrinsic motivation. Children are naturally curious, and inviting them to understand why something makes sense may appeal to their intellect.

If your kids balk about the task at hand from the start, try to see if from your child’s point of view. Then talk about the importance of the activity in a way that is respectful. If your child doesn’t want to clean her room because she’s tired from soccer practice, say, “Why don’t you take a rest and after dinner you can straighten up your room so you can find everything you need to do your homework?” Refrain from using language such as “should” and “must,” and offer to be there to help when kids truly need it.

Asking your child how it feels doing a particular task while she’s doing it can also contribute to the kind of happy atmosphere that makes kids want to cooperate. Questions like, “What do you think about doing your homework by yourself?” and “How does it make you feel having finished that homework now?” can lead kids to insights they might not have had otherwise about their accomplishments. Another effective strategy for getting children to turn a bad habit around: Show empathy by asking how you can help. It puts the parent and the child on the same side against the problematic behavior, rather than setting up a battle. Also, if your child is having a difficult time with something, ask THEM if they can think of a solution. Kids’ solutions for problem behaviors often work better than parent-suggested ones, because children are invested in having their solutions work (Just be sure it’s a GOOD solution, and offer help if needed).

Giving your kids feedback during these conversations about the way they’re handling their responsibilities can also motivate. Rather than dangling a trip to the park as a reward for doing homework, try catching your child on a day when she’s finished it at a decent hour. As you head out to the park, point out that the natural consequence of getting her homework done early allowed time for fun later.

Embrace Their Imperfections – Most young kids actually enjoy selecting chores if you can relax your standards about how well and how quickly they get done. For example, some like sorting warm laundry and matching socks, but they stop because parents can be too rushed and too picky. Focus on the fact that your child got his comforter off the floor – instead of that it’s hanging unevenly – and praise the effort. For the jobs your kids dislike, using a little creativity can make them more appealing: Use a puppet to ask your child to please clean up her shoes, or challenge her to race Daddy to bed. Offer a choice where possible, even a limited one such as brushing teeth before bath time or after; this gives kids a feeling of autonomy, an important component of tapping into internal motivation. Children like to believe that what they are doing was their choice rather than an obligation.

Express Appreciation and Lead by Example – Let’s say your child woke up when the alarm went off and got ready for school on his own. Be sure to let him know how much you appreciate his efforts and don’t forget to add how nice it was to ride with him to school without feeling rushed. Praise your kids when you mean it, but be careful about how you praise; focus on effort and growth more than outcome.

It’s pretty simple: If you want your kids to stop fighting so much with their siblings, rather than offering them candy or other rewards to “be good,” try to resolve your conflicts with your spouse in a loving and admirable way. To help them remember their manners, make sure you say “please” and “thank you” to them too. And when you’re on the phone and your child wants your attention, don’t tell her “just a sec” if it’s going to be more like 20 minutes. If you don’t hold up your end, they will be inclined not to be ready to leave a party in 5 minutes if they think it really means 20 minutes.

Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit .