In many of my first meetings with parents, I am likely to hear the phrase, “Nothing motivates my child.” Parents sometimes feel there is nothing that they can use to motivate their child to do the things that they want them to do. This is a source of frustration for the parents. This is the case for most families that I work with, with kiddos from age 5 through college age. Some of the things parents want me to help motivate their children to do include things such as brushing their teeth, using manners, doing homework, going to school regularly or applying for college, and so much more.
One thing many of these families have in common is satiation. Satiation is the state of having a want met and therefore no longer wanting that thing. As parents, many of us have the ability to satisfy our children’s wants on a regular basis. We do so by buying them the clothing items they want, taking them to movies when they want to go see the new release, buying them cell phones or devices, and saying “yes” on a regular basis to the other things in life. We may even anticipate their wants and meet them before the child is aware of the want. An example is me buying my daughters a T-shirt with their favorite movie character. We do so out of love and out of caring. This desire to meet our children’s wants can bite us right in the rear in the long run. In giving our children all of the things they want, we may be making the parenting gig harder than it needs to be.
Now I know some children do not need the external “carrot” to get them to do the thing parents want them to do; however, not all children have this internal motivation. If you have a child that wants to do all the things you want them to do, all of the time, high five! You can stop reading here, or read along for the sake of your friends and family—they might need a pep talk about how normal it is for a child to need motivation from the world around them. For everyone else who stuck with me this far, most children actually do not have the internal drive to do all of the things that we as parents want them to do. They don’t.
If you feel like your child is hard to motivate and you feel like you’ve tried it all, it may be time to set up a consult with one of our parenting supports here at 3-C Family Services to see if we can help you nail down some different approaches. We will talk about a balanced approach that will let you continue to meet your wants of providing for your child and will not include withholding any of their needs. They will still feel loved and secure with you! They may actually appreciate the ability to earn their next want. Having the ability to earn something can give children, and adults, a sense of pride.
By: Melanie McCabe, PhD
Wife, mother, therapist.