Whether or not you know it yet, the child you want to develop through your parenting efforts is a self-motivated one. Why? Because intrinsically motivated kids are empowered to take care of themselves when you’re not looking. Or micro-managing. Or fretting.
Here are three ways to develop intrinsic motivation in your child before they head out the door for school.
1. Let Kids Get Themselves Up
Being motivated to do what needs to be done when we least feel like doing it, is one of the hardest lessons to learn. But you can start teaching your child this first thing in the morning.
Any parent will tell you, for better or worse, there isn’t a child who is too young to wake themselves up in the morning. With young children, waking up starts with the sun. In our house, a simple, albeit repetitive, conversation with our two year-old is all it takes. “Is the sun up yet?…No, when it is dark, it is still time to sleep. If you can’t sleep, that’s okay. Find something quiet to do in your room until the rest of us wake up.”
If you are a gadget person with young children, there are clocks available that change colors based on the hours of the day. Green means it’s time to get up!
Older children should have their own alarm clocks and learn to set and manage them. Let them decide how much time they need to get ready each day, and ask them to be responsible for adjusting the alarms as needed. Later, setting reminders on their phones for important things can be an extension of this skill.
How this can go wrong: It’s possible, your young child wakes up, makes a lot of noise and wakes everyone else up. Redirect them to things they can do quietly in their room until the sun comes up. Older children may not get up at all. Luckily, there are natural consequences for not responding to their alarm. It’s no fun to go to school hungry, for example. And if you’re out of time to eat, you’re out of time to eat – or at least eat what you want.
How this will go right: Your child will learn to manage their time first thing in the morning when it is often hardest for many of us to get going. In the future, they will also learn that managing their time is their job, no matter where they are or what they feel like doing.
2. Let Kids Make Their Own Breakfast
Self-care is one of the most important things we can teach our children. As parents, we should definitely be modeling it, but we can also begin motivating our children to do it on their own, as well.
When it comes to breakfast, all you need to do is set simple, healthy guidelines and then make options available.
For young children, use a low basket in the pantry for things like granola bars. Yogurt is kept in a low drawer in the fridge. Fruit is kept within reach on the counter or table. It’s important that the young child get as many of their own food items themselves as possible.
Create a menu of options for older children. Teach them about protein and vitamins and ask them, whatever they choose, that their meal be balanced.
How this can go wrong: Children of every age will invariably want something that’s not on the menu. That’s okay! Listen to what they have to say, and see if you can accommodate their request. If Lucky Charms are not on the menu and will never be on the menu, explain why and ask them to make another choice.
How this will go right: Your child will learn that what they put in their body is important, and that they are in control of it! With time, this will help them be aware of what goes in their bodies at other meals, even if they do choose something unhealthy when you aren’t watching.
3. Let Kids Pack Their Own Backpacks
Thinking ahead to what is coming during the day and preparing in advance is another challenging lesson, but again, even young children can practice it before the school bell rings.
Create a space that is dedicated for preparation. Ours is near the breakfast table.
With younger children, talk about your day and what you might need. Then ask, “What do you need to help you in your day?” Younger children may only need a water bottle when the go out the door. Have them fill it, if they’re able, then carry it with them. If they go to school, have them check their bags for special papers. Should they put them somewhere special for you to review?
Depending on the needs of the child, older children may benefit from planners. For our more anxious tweenager, we find organizing her planner at breakfast helps manage her anxiety.
Our teenage son packs a snack in his backpack because he has a late lunch.
If possible, stay out of their backpacks. Like getting up in the morning and breakfast, their bags are their responsibility. You may ask to see what’s in it, but sit back and have the child show it to you.
How this can go wrong: Something will get left at home or at school. Someone may end up without their homework or their lunch. Bummer. Some children may sneak things they aren’t supposed to with them out the door. Unless it is a safety concern, don’t worry. Natural consequences – a zero on a homework assignment – will do the rest of the teaching.
How this will go right: Your child will learn to plan ahead for the needs of their day. You may choose to bring them a forgotten lunch, but even if you do, practicing preparation now will help them be more prepared later.
Promoting intrinsic motivation in your child doesn’t have to be hard – especially in small ways like these. But it won’t always be easy. Don’t give up. Be patient. They are little (or at least littler than you) and learning. With every success, they will feel more confident about their abilities and be motivated to repeat them.