A Child with No Motivation
We can't seem to get our son to care about anything. He is not interested in sports or other activities. He would stay in his room all the time if we let him. How can we motivate him?

Parents spend a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how to motivate their children. They use the carrot and stick approach. When the carrot doesn't work, they get out the stick. Parental influence based on lectures, demands, punishment, or incentives can be deceiving. Your child may appear to be doing better, but problems occur when the outside motivator is removed. You cannot change your child's mind through external motivation. All outside motivation is temporary. You cannot be with your child forever; he eventually will go off on his own. Your job as a parent is to prepare your child for the real world. If your child is not internally motivated, he is left no choice but to find another external motivator or flounder. If you control, enable, or rescue your child, don't expect him to be responsible as a young adult. Self-accountability is a skill that needs to be developed long before leaving home. This might explain why a disturbing number of college freshmen who go away to school don't make it past the first year. They do not possess the self-discipline and inner drive necessary to succeed independently.

You cannot motivate your child, but you can do the things that will improve his attitude and self-motivation. Permanent change requires a shift in attitude. The better your child's attitude, the more likely he is to succeed. Our attitudes are key ingredients in the overall quality of our lives. It's our attitude that motivates us to deal with challenges and accomplish goals. A child with a positive attitude motivates himself. You cannot help a child develop a positive attitude by using put-downs, criticism, and hostility. These only further reinforce his negative mindset.

If you want to change your child's attitude you must help him change how he views himself. Each of us carries a mental image of ourselves defining who we are and what we can do. These core beliefs develop based on early experiences with attachment figures. Our actions, feelings, and abilities are consistent with our self-image. Wounded children have a very damaged sense of self-worth, often feeling worthless, unlovable, and inadequate. Their core underlying feelings are fear and powerlessness. A child who sees himself as a failure will find a way to fail. A child who sees himself as unlikable invites rejection and drives away the very approval he seeks, thus confirming his negative self-image.

Change the self-image and you change the behavior. The self-image is changed for better or worse through experiences. The best way to help your child to change a belief acquired through a life experience is to provide an alternative life experience. Children cannot be taught about love, empathy, and compassion; they must experience it. They can only become what they experience. They require relationships which promote self-worth and dignity, which enables them to reevaluate their beliefs and see themselves in a new light.

To be successful, motivation must come from within, not from the outside. We can only truly be motivated when we feel like we are in charge of our own lives. In learning any task, if the learner feels in control, a wider range of significant learning occurs. True leaders strengthen their followers. They set a positive example and empower those under them. Positive esteem can only be developed in a positive atmosphere, containing safety, trust, connection, and enthusiasm. Positive role models create a climate in which their children feel comfortable being themselves. Children can only change when they feel accepted for who they are. The better they feel about themselves, the more likely they are to do the things that are in their own and others' best interests.


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