“I know he can do it.  He just isn’t motivated.”  This is a phrase I seem to hear on a daily basis.  As parents we obviously want our children to achieve in life to the best of their ability, so it can be incredibly frustrating when we see them perform at a level below what we know they are capable of.  But is it reasonable to expect that our children should view things as being important just because we do?

We all know the statement (most of us have probably used it many times):  “As long as you’re living under my roof, you live by my rules.”  And it works pretty well when you’re laying down the law and setting the rules.  The trouble is that it is extremely difficult to expect children to put effort into their academic studies in the same way that they would follow a simple ‘rule’.

So what action should we take?  If you’ve tried nagging, yelling, punishing and generally pulling your hair out you have probably found that none of these methods are particularly successful.  In fact all of this probably makes you more worried about the situation, which makes you yell more and, well, you get the picture.  The best you can hope for will be that your child simply complies to get you off his back.

Perhaps we need to step back for a moment and think about what motivation actually is.  I like this definition from successconsciousness.com:


Motivation is the inner power that pushes you toward taking action toward achievement.


The term “inner power” I think is crucially important.  Often we feel that our children’s achievements are our responsibility but if we start by understanding that the motivation to achieve actually comes from within them we have the beginning of a clearer picture of the situation.

The reason that the yelling and screaming does not usually work is that we are projecting our worries upon our children.  We really need to step back and ask ourselves what makes our children tick.  Although there are thousands of parenting sites that will provide you with lists of actions to take, I believe parenting is really a process of asking ourselves what we can do to help our children understand and discover their talents.

If we understand how our children think, we can also establish boundaries for our children in ways that are tailored for them.  We might even negotiate certain rules.  The outcome is almost always better if a conditional task being completed becomes the ‘motivation’ rather than our yelling.

My advice would be to become an observer as much as possible.  Find out what your child likes, what they don’t like and why it is they like to do certain things.  Most importantly, try to get some discourse going whenever possible and then listen – (don’t judge – just listen) – to what is it they say.

Helping our children to harness their own ‘inner power’ is by far the most satisfying aspect of parenting.  It is important to realise though, that this is a process – there is no quick fix!  Just as we would like them to be motivated and continually strive to achieve more in their lives, we also need to be continually reminding ourselves that we need to step back, look listen and learn as much as we can about our children.