How to Motivate Our Kids

When my kids were born, I vowed never to say these words:

“Because I said so.”

I knew that parents resorted to those words when they were out of options. But I figured that if I was a good enough parent, I wouldn’t run out of options.

That made it even worse the first time I said it.

Motivating kidsIt’s tough to motivate others when they have a mind of their own.

When our kids are little, we’re in control. We tell them what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  We call the shots.

But as they get older, they become more independent. That’s healthy, because they need to know how to handle life on their own when we’re not around. 


But how do we motivate them when we can no longer control them?

Too often, parents resort to a boss/employee approach. If I’m your boss and I want to motivate you to clean your office, I have three options:

  1. I can say, “If you clean your office, I will give you $20.” (positive)
  2. I can say, “If you don’t clean your office, I will punch you in the nose.” (negative)
  3. I can influence you to want a clean office. (intrinsic)

With #1, you’ll learn to perform only if I keep paying you.  With #2, you’ll do it – but it makes everything harder in the future.

#3 produces long-term results, because the motivation comes from inside, not outside. 

So, how do we motivate our kids to make wise choices on their own?

I’m not pretending to have solid answers.  There are lots of books on the topic that promise to have “the answer.” But different kids need different approaches.  There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Instead, here are a few thoughts.  Don’t take them as advice, and it’s OK to disagree. Just use them as a catalyst for thinking about your own kids (no matter what age):

  • The older our kids become, the more we shift from control to influence.
  • Kids aren’t adults, so they need to test out their ways to handle life.  That means they’ll make mistakes.  They need an environment where it’s OK to mess up and still be loved.
  • We need to catch our kids doing things right and tell them.
  • Our communication needs to be scented with grace.  It’s hard to motivate someone in a positive direction when most of our comments are negative.
  • When our kids are making poor choices, it’s easy to make that the focal point of all our interaction.  Even in those tough times, we need casual, relaxed conversations about normal life stuff.
  • It’s enabling when people focus on our strengths instead of just our weaknesses.
  • Using a “win-win” approach with our kids let us explore solutions that will satisfy both of us, instead of us just calling all the shots.
  • When we need them to do something, we should be clear about outcomes.  Then allow them some flexibility and choice in how they reach that outcome.
  •  Everyone wants to feel valuable to others.  Our kids need to know they’re not invisible, and that we value them for who they are – not just for how they perform.

There are no guarantees or easy answers.  We just need an intentional strategy for motivating our kids, so we don’t get stuck saying, “Because I said so.”

What have you tried that has worked? (Comment below)





Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Marilynn Grimm

    I’m a retired Gramma so I have the time and patience to for this. No one I can thinkof does anything without some reward. Even if it’s a pat on the back.. I use I’l help you with this task. PIcking up toys, unloading the dishwasher, school reading, math page etc. When we are half finished we will reward ourselves with a treat. Anything from a snack, play time, a walk in the woods. Then we’ll come back and finish the task. I have only 2 grandsons 3 and 6. When one doesn’t want to participate, they have the choice to watch us work and enjoy the treat. It is a self imposed time out.

    The hold out eventually choses to participate. We continue the task and the treat and wait while he catches up. Sometimes one of the boys wil offer help to the the dawdler to get to the treat. Sometimes they are not in the mood or tired and then they forgo tboth work and reward.

    A kitchen timer often works well. If they are working industriously or enjoying free time or slacking and grousing I will readjust the timer giving them more or less time accordingly.

    • Great suggestions – especially because you’re giving them “space” to decide when to participate!

      I think the most important thing you said was that you’re retired and have the time and patience to do it. There’s a lot of truth in that. Parents can simply get worn out from constant parenting – so it’s harder to maintain our good intentions. That’s why it’s nice to hand them over to Gramma once in a while!