MEGASKILL TWO: MOTIVATION
When they have it, it shows: You see your children wanting to do things, eager to learn. They do schoolwork & household jobs without a lot of nagging. They make plans for the next day, for the next week.
Parents can help with activities that generate a child’s excitement in learning. But children have to catch this fire & start fueling up on their own. In this chapter are activities that help children gain a sense of discipline it takes to stay motivated, to work against discouragement, & to face competition & challenge. It helps to learn:
–How to break down jobs into manageable “bites.”
–How to set & keep to time limits.
There was a picture in the paper the other day of a ninety-one-year-old woman who had just climbed Mount Fuji. Now that’s what I call motivation. She was quoted as saying, “You always feel good when you’ve made a goal. You need goals.”
A special ingredient found in motivation is the ability to work against discouragement & to keep on going. Attitude counts for so much. How do people become motivated? We can’t catch “fire” for our kids, but they can catch some of our fire. The fire does not have to be a bonfire. A low, low simmer will do. One way is to share our own excitement. Remember, children are born motivated, not bored.
Just Outside–any age
While your children are young, start to share & discover the joy & mystery of the World: a walk as it’s turning dark, a stroll through light rain. Talk together about what you’re sensing & feeling. Stay up together to see the moon rise & get up early one day to watch the sun rise. Use a magnifying glass to look closely at those small objects that fascinate small children. Listen to the wind & the birds. Smell the rain & the burning wood in the fireplace. Observation & use of the senses are crucial to a scientist & to a poet.
Shopping Center Stroll–ages 4-7
Most of the time we shop at breakneck speed with kids being dragged along. Try a walk with no other purpose than to show your children some of what goes on backstage at the local stores. Go into the florist’s & watch the making of corsages. And go “backstairs” in the supermarket, if permitted. That’s where the supplies are kept & where the meat is cut…where the action that makes the market look good takes place.
Sitting & Watching–ages 4-7
There’s a lot to be seen & learned while watching the workers at a construction site, at an airport or rail station, or at your own corner.
Getting Around–ages 8-12
Learning to get around without a car can be a valuable lesson. Gather bus route maps & schedules to a place around town. Let children use the schedules to figure out what transportation is available, how much time it will take, & how much it will cost.
Beyond Nagging: I’d like to think that nagging works because it is such a handy thing to do. But like millions of parents, I have found that nagging can do just the opposite of what it is intended to do. It can motivate kids not to do things. Cutting down on nagging, in contrast, can be a motivating factor, one that works for both parent & child.
The No-Nag Writing System–any age
For practice, announce that for five minutes no one will talk. Instead you will send notes. Try this out at the breakfast table. Choose at least one nagging problem that is important to you & your child. Promise each other that instead of nagging, for one whole week you will send each other reminder notes.
Set up a message center for these reminders. A bulletin board in the kitchen or family room is a good place. Or post reminders around the house. Leave the notes in the bathroom, on the stairs, or on other places where they will be seen. A note left on the pillow always seems to work!
The First Step–any age
The old Chinese saying is true: “The longest journey starts with a single step.” The first step in doing something can be the hardest.
Ask children to tell you about any first times they remember. It might be the first day at school, the first grade they received on a paper, the first time they tried to ride a bike or swim the pool.
First steps are hard. We tend to say, “Aw, come on, that’s easy,” but it’s not. Our goal in helping to motivate children is to help them gain the optimism & the courage to take more first steps. That is the lesson we have to teach, & one way to teach it is by sharing our experiences.
Time Me–ages 4-6
This activity will help your child better understand the difference between “a few seconds” & “a few minutes.” You need a clock or watch with a second hand.
Ask your child to watch the second hand for five seconds. Together count off the seconds. Put this into action. Time it again & see how many times your child can clap in five seconds. Now have your child watch the clock for one minute. Then time it again & see how far you can both count in one minute. Together read a book for five minutes. Time yourselves. How many pages did you read? Hold your breath for five seconds. Let your child time you. Then trade places. Time yourselves as you both say the alphabet aloud. Together time a traffic light as you stand at a street corner.
Tell Me–ages 4-9
Teachers in the early grades tell us that children have trouble listening. Think of a real job at home that your child can do. It might be setting the table, taking out the garbage, bringing in the newspaper, hanging up clothes. Think of three or four instructions for this job. Ask your child to listen carefully as you say them. Example: “Take out four forks, four knives, & four spoons. Put them on the table in four place settings. Put the fork on the left, the knife & spoon on the right.”
Let your child give you instructions to follow. They can be as easy or as complicated as you & your child want. In this way, you individualise this activity to suit your child.
Excuses Don’t Count–ages 7-12
Make a chore chart for the hours between five p.m. & bedtime. Ask children to choose a time to do each chore. Write those times on the chart. The chart might look like this:
Chore Time Done
Setting the Table 5:30
Doing homework 7:30
Talk about when they did the tasks. Did they do them all? If not, did they have real reasons or excuses?
Families need their own reward system. It’s important that the rules be clear, the system fair & consistently followed. Whether it’s a present, a grade, a raise, or a word of praise & a kiss, a reward is very sweet, indeed.
Rewards: This scene captures for me the power of rewards. It was a hot summer Saturday in a restaurant in a small town. A little girl had just opened the door. Her parents were busy behind the counter. And this child, age eight, was busy, too. Carrying her parents’ laundry, she came through the door with a smile on her face that said to all of us, “I’m not bored. I’m happy. I am doing something important.” That was her inner reward. Her parents’ praise was the external one.
Competition: There are some basic principles of competition that every child should learn, or at least listen to. To compete, you have to be able to lose. You have to be willing to fail but not feel like a failure. You have to get up off the floor & try again.