August is Purposeful Parenting Month. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to reflect on one of parenting’s highest goals: raising kids who turn into adults who make healthy choices. I’ve worked with many parents who express some variation of, “I wish I could get my child to do (X) without having to nag, remind, or hover.”
Motivating kids toward good decision making is not always an easy task. Most parents want more than just compliance. They want kids who make the right choices freely. This comes from recognition that as a parent, they won’t always be around to help their child make good choices at school or in social situations.
When kids are really young, they naturally want to avoid punishment. But we know that good character is not developed by simply avoiding punishment. An adult of good character does what’s right out of healthy respect for himself and others. He has an internal sense of limits and doesn’t need external ones (like law enforcement) to have self-control. Character recognizes interdependence, rather than remaining self-centered. Self-centeredness in a 2 year-old is developmentally normal; not so much in a 25 year-old!
Healthy parenting strikes a balance between love and limits. Several of my blog posts have discussed boundaries. You might interpret “boundaries=not loving someone.” I invite you to think of boundaries/limits as a means of loving another person. You can still love, connect, and support while setting boundaries. The same concept applies to parenting. Consider the 2 comments below:
“If you do that again, Mommy is going to get really angry.”
“If you do that again, you will lose your (toy, privilege,etc).”
In the former statement, the parent is threatening withdrawal of love and in the latter, the parent maintains self-control and the child begins to see a connection between her own behavior and future consequences. This is a healthy fear, as opposed to a fear of losing her parent’s presence and love. One of the big questions in developing motivation in your child is what losses and consequences matter to my child? If you have more than 1 child, you’ll often find that this is different in each child depending on their temperament and personality.
You can expect that as you begin to set boundaries with your child, there will be resistance. Change is painful – none of us really like it. Consequences also bring pain. You can empathize with your child’s emotions, while still being consistent and firm in setting boundaries. This is going to take lots of trial and error, and an extraordinary amount of patience. You might even find yourself saying, “Remember what happened last time?” as your child is about to repeat a negative behavior. The end result is a child who over time, develops the ability to pause before acting and consider the cost of what he’s about to do (or not do). Over time, the external limits you place will become internal for your kids as they grow and mature.
Parents: what strategies have you found helpful in motivating your children? Please share your ideas and experiences by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook.
If you need a little help motivating your children, let The Stone Foundation help. We are a team of counselors dedicated to seeing you and your children live your best and most fulfilling life. Contact us at 410.296.2004 or visit www.thestonefoundation.com to learn more. Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only, and should not to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.