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Motivating the Unmotivated Child

by James Lehman, MSW
Motivating the Unmotivated Child

Getting into the back-to-school routine can be hard for everyone in the house. In the morning, parents are faced with groggy kids who won't get out of bed and get ready for school no matter how much you nag, bribe and scold. Homework time can be even worse, with nightly fights and accusations echoing off the walls of your home. So how can you get your child to be more motivated? The important thing to remember is this: your child is motivated—they’re just motivated to resist you. Keep reading to find out how you can turn this negative motivation into a positive one.

Q: When a child becomes unmotivated and won’t get out of bed, do homework or participate in activities, what is he trying to tell the parent through this behavior?

When we’re talking about kids not getting out of bed, not doing their homework or school assignments or not wanting to get involved in family activities, it’s important for parents to realize that there is motivation in the child. But the motivation is to resist. The motivation is to do things their way, not yours, and to retain power.

When people feel powerless, they try to feel powerful by withholding. A child or teenager who feels very powerless will stay in bed, not go to school, avoid homework, sit on the couch and withhold overall involvement because it gives them a sense of being in control. To the parent, the behavior looks completely out of control. But the child sees it as the only way to have power over what’s going on around him.

"You have to have the courage to let him experience the natural consequences of his behavior."

The child who uses resistance to control lacks both social skills and problem solving skills. It’s important to define the difference between the two. Social skills are how to talk to other people, how to be friendly, how to feel comfortable inside your own skin and how to deal with people’s kindness. Problem solving skills are the skills that help kids figure out what people want from them, how to give it, how to deal with other people’s behavior, expectations and demands. Problem solving skills are needed to help a child handle being criticized in class. Many times the real reason kids don’t want to do their homework is because they’re simply lazy about the work or they don’t want to be criticized in class and held accountable for their work.

Related: Learn how to teach problem solving skills to your child.

I want to be clear about this point: everyone is motivated. The question is, motivated to do what? If a child looks like he’s not motivated, you have to look at what he’s accomplishing and assume that this is what he’s motivated to do. So part of the solution is getting him to be motivated to do something else. To assume that the child is unmotivated is an ineffective way of looking at it. He is motivated. He’s simply motivated to do nothing. In this case, doing nothing means resisting and holding back to exercise control over you.

You’ll see it when you ask your child a question and he doesn’t answer, but you know he heard you. What’s that all about? That’s a child withholding an answer to feel powerful. When he says, “I don’t have to answer you if I don’t want to,” you see it as a lack of motivation. He sees it as a way to win control over you.

Q: As parents, we tend to respond to this unmotivated behavior by coaxing, arguing and screaming at the child. Or you just give up and do the child’s tasks for him because you don’t see another way. It doesn’t work, but it’s all you can do, it seems.

Very often these kids are motivated by a power struggle. They find different ways to have that struggle with their parents. The job of the parents in this case is to find other ways for the child to solve the problem that’s inherent in the power struggle. But if parents don’t have those other ways, then they just get locked into the power struggle.

If you’re fighting day after day with a kid who won’t get out of bed, you’re never going to solve that problem. Because even if he gets out of bed, then he won’t brush his teeth. And even if he brushes his teeth he won’t comb his hair. Or he won’t wear clean clothes or he won’t do his homework. If continually resisting is how a child tries to solve the problem of authority, then parents will have a hard time until they teach the child how to solve that problem appropriately.

The first step in teaching kids the problem solving skills they need is to understand how they think and realize that these kids are not helpless victims. They’re simply trying to solve problems, but the way they’re solving them is ineffective, inefficient and distorted. You have to deal with this distorted attempt for control in a systemic way. To give a simplistic solution like taking away his phone or taking away his TV does not deal with the problem. It won’t work. You have to look at the whole comprehensive picture.

Q: So how can parents deal with this behavior more effectively, without screaming, arguing or “overdoing” for the child?

I think parents should avoid giving the behavior power. When you yell at your child for lack of motivation, you’re giving the resisting behavior power. I understand that parents get frustrated and yell. The point I want to make here is that it won’t solve the problem. If you’re yelling or arguing with this child over these issues, you’re giving him more power in the struggle, and you don’t want to do that. Leave the choices really clear for the child. Use “I” words. “I want you to get up out of bed and get ready for school.” “I want you to do your homework now.” Then leave the bedroom. If the kid doesn’t do it, then there should be consequences. There should be accountability. If the kid says, “I don’t care about the consequences,” ignore it. Telling you he doesn’t care gives him a sense of being in control and a sense of power.

I would give consequences, and I don’t care if the kid doesn’t like it. If you don’t get out of bed, you shouldn’t be doing anything else. You shouldn’t get to play video games. You shouldn’t spend four hours in front of the TV. If you’re too sick to go to school, you shouldn’t be going out of the house. Those limits should be set and followed through.

Related: Learn how to motivate your child with consequences that really work.

I would always tell parents in my office that you have to have the courage to let him experience the natural consequences of his behavior. It takes a lot of courage to step back and say, “Okay, you’re not going to do your homework, and you’re going to get the grades that reflect that.” But in these cases, it can help to let the child experience the natural consequences of resistance. You don’t let the kid watch TV. You say, “Homework time is from six to eight. And if you don’t want do your homework in that time, that’s fine. But you can’t go on the computer, you can’t play games and you can’t watch TV. If you choose in that time period not to do your homework, that’ll be your choice. And if you fail, that’ll be your choice.”

Along with the plan to let him experience the natural consequences of his decision, build in rewards for success, if he does make the right decision. If my son failed a test, there was no punishment. But if he passed, there was a reward. It was very simple. We rewarded A’s and B’s. We didn’t take anything away for C; we just didn’t reward it. So my son strived to have A’s all the time. So with kids who resist, it’s important to have a rewards system as well as a consequence system.

Remember, natural consequences are an important part of life. That’s why we have speeding tickets. A speeding ticket is a natural consequence. If you go too fast, the policeman stops you and gives you a ticket. He doesn’t follow you home to make sure you don’t speed anymore. He lets you go. It’s your job to stop and take responsibility. If you don’t, you’re going to get another ticket fifteen minutes later. Natural consequences help people take responsibility, and they can be used to help kids take responsibility for things like going to school, participating in class and doing homework.

So when you’re interacting with a kid who appears unmotivated, remember that screaming, bargaining and doing things for him will not work. When you’re looking at this child, you have to remember, he is motivated. He’s just motivated to do something different than what you want him to do. He’s motivated to resist you. So the more power you put into it, the stronger his resistance gets. We don’t argue with kids because when we argue with them, we give them power. Focus on making that behavior powerless and give the consequences that you can give so that there’s accountability.

I created The Total Transformation Program to help parents manage and change this behavior. It offers parents a comprehensive solution for changing resistance and teaching the child responsibility accountability.

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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


Very helpful information. I will be dealing with this as a homeschool mom. thanks!

Comment By : Jessica H.

Very timely. I remember the process of trying to get my kids motivated to get going in the morning. It was a lossing battle. Thanks for providing real solutions to real problems.

Comment By : Michael

I like the idea of natural consequences, and I like the idea of creating a time frame for the child to follow through on responsibility and not allowing anything else to happen during that time. I really love this program; I just wish I could find something/someone like this who dealt with blended families. The heart of our problem, I believe, is my husband and I engaging in a power struggle over your kids/my kids and my extreme focus on fairness. I TRY to overcome my desire for everything to be "fair," but I just can't seem to stop. If my husband is yelling at my kids for leaving clothes on the floor, but walking past his two kids' rooms which look like tornadoes went through, I literally have to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying anything. And then with a bleeding tongue I end up starting the argument, which is always an argument, because his view is his kids "aren't here all of the time." IT'S BEEN TEN YEARS. They know the rules as well as anyone. Okay, sorry to turn this into a blog. :-;

Comment By : StuckInTheMiddle

I find myself doing exactly what I'm not supposed to do. Thank you for the encouragement. We must save the children from this society of defeat.

Comment By : Anonymous

With children having so many different diversions at their disposal, it is sometimes difficult to remove all the "diversions". Take away the TV and computer, the child goes to his bedroom and plays with toys. Do you recommend taking away the toys in their room, send them to stand in a corner or what? Also, when you tell them they can't go outside (when they are too sick to go to school, for example), and they go outside anyway, do you--physically bar the door, physically bring them back inside? When you tell ("I want . . .), walk away, they do again what they want to do, they endure the natural consequences (which they view as "not so bad") and continue the process. . . what is the next step.

Comment By : DCS

I appreciate the insight that the child or youth is motivated, just motivated to resist. Your emphasis on consequences and structures like, 'homework is from 6PM to 8PM", is very helpful. I've also heard that when there is a power struggle, you can also find a way to give legitimate power. This would be a privilege or task that is given by the authority figure, acceptable to that authority, and that allows for some constructive or helpful 'power' to be experienced by the child or youth. Could you comment on that and give examples?

Comment By : KE

Makes a lot of sense. My kids know if they stay home from school because they are "sick" they don't leave the house and they don't have friends over.

Comment By : Anonymous

thank you for this message this morning... 2nd day of school and just what I needed to hear. Guess it's time to get out my Total Transformation program and go back through it.

Comment By : mommabear4

This is my child, totally! I liked the point where it said "homework time is from can chose to do your homework or not...etc...." My problem with getting him out of bed is if he doesn't get out of bed and get going, he misses the bus...thus throwing a whole glitch in my day to drive him to school. Very frustrating.

Comment By : 3boysmom

Wow, I will try this advice. I like how you how you explained that they are motivated to do what they want. Also, it gives us as parents power when we understand our children's behavior. It's a lot easier to be calm and controlled. Thanks.

Comment By : Marilee

great article...i can see how this would help a person grow up.

Comment By : Lori Z

this is great! As I was reading it, all I could think about was my daughter. It was almost like you were describing HER word for word. The resistance in the morning, with homework, brushing teeth etc. Everything we struggle with on a daily basis! I am going to put these tactics to use and look forward to taking that power away and not having ANYMORE screaming matches!! Thanks K. Williams Rockville, MD

Comment By : kwilliams

The explanation of motivation and consequences is good but it would be nice to see more examples of the types of consequences. What if the child says I dont care what you say, I'm going to watch tv, play video games anyway?

Comment By : Anonymous

The article was good and I understand what your saying but you didn't say what to do about the "not answering" thing. He does not want to answer his younger brother and sister and I surely csn see how this is a control isue.

Comment By : shelly

all I can honestly say is THANK YOU!!!! This program should be a requirement to ALL High School graduates (FUTURE PARENTS OF AMERICA). It is a well rounded program that provides childhood views, adult views and parenting views. Thank you for this handbook for parents!!!! God Bless you James.

Comment By : DD

I have 13 y.o. twin boys, all the things mentioned in this article comes in duplicates. I am so pleased that you have provided us with the proper course of action that will help us achieve the desired results.

Comment By : bpc

This was great. I think part of the reason we as parents do not like natural consequences for our children is because it makes us as parents "look bad".I think as parents we need to deal with our own issues such as pride, so we can deal with our childrens issure.

Comment By : tnvrez, sparks

This makes sense to me. I work as an Assistant Pricipal in a New York middle school. I often see teachers getting upset at children who seem "unmotivated" to do work. Can this system work for them even if it is teachers and not parents who are in authority?

Comment By : Dr. J

Great info, Priceless. Where were you fourteen years ago. This should be required training at the high school level for parenting. Thanks for wisdom and knowledge.

Comment By : Joe Shamblin

I was just discussing what we are going to do when school begins earlier this week, so the timing is perfect. It gives a better and effective perspective to look at the motivation factor when I've been at wits end regarding the "lack thereof." I am completely impressed with your entire program and I have learned new tools each week ~ that work! Thank you, I am so grateful. My 15 yr old has a long way to go, and for the first time in our lives I don't feel alone; as well as knowing how to react and how not to react being a big key. It is also helping with my 5 year old. I feel truly blessed to have found The Total Transformation program!

Comment By : Jen

Great article, this is my child. It really helps to understand that he is motivated, only in the wrong direction. And the fact that I know that gives me enpowerment.

Comment By : Jacki

Even though I have four small children under the age of 5 years old, I still see some of this behavior in them...I will begin to redirect them early with this information.

Comment By : DM

Yelling, doing for, threating; what, has this guy been looking in my window? I guess its time me the parent, grows up. Thanks

Comment By : Bill

I love this article, I have a really hard time following through on things but I am getting a lot better, my teen is always wanting to argue with me and sometimes it is so easy to get sucked into that same old routine. I needed to read this, THANKS

Comment By : Muriel

* ***The response to our August issue of Empowering Parents has been overhwhelming--the staff here at EP thanks everyone who has written in to ask the hard questions, leave comments, and tell us about your own parenting experiences. We noticed that the word "consequences" keeps popping up in your comments: Namely, what if kids don't pay attention to consequences once they've been dealt, or seem unaffected by them? In response to the deluge of mail, our lead article in October will deal with this difficult issue. So stay tuned, and let's keep the conversation going!

Comment By : Elisabeth Wilkins
Editor, of Empowering Parents

What do you do when your "child" is 20 yrs old and the baby of the family and the dad is absolutely wrapped around her finger(the enabler) and you are the "evil" step-mom trying to get her to assume responsibility and the consequences of irresponsible behavior?

Comment By : carol

I love this article. It makes so much sense. I have a 19 year old son who has always had a hard time socialy. He was rejected by both his father and now his stepfather who recently kicked him out. He was teased terribly as a child. He used to be the kid who was always on task very responsible. In the last year or two has become just the opposite. He seems very depressed and unmotivated! I told him that being out of the house is actually healthier for him and that as long as he helps himself, myself and his grandparents will always be there for him. Do you have any suggestions for him?

Comment By : mypeace

wow!! that helped me feel better about what i was doing. Sometimes I feel so lost but it is great to have something to confoim what i am thinking.

Comment By : joey

I need help. I think I am doing what you have been saying but nothing works. My daughter has ADHD. She is on medication, when she remembers to take it. She is not so hyper just distracted. She flunked 7th grade. We sent her to summer school and she passed with straight A's because they did all the work in class. No homework. We have been giving consequences and positive rewards but we just seem to be on a roller coaster. She'll be good for two weeks and then bad again. We told her she will not go to summer school again, that she will repeat 8th grade. She was slowly grounded from TV, phone, friends and everything in her room. Just a bed, dresser and alarm clock. Now she is grounded to her room until all her homework is caught up. Are we doing to much? Should we let it go and let her flunk again! Should we ease up on some of the punishments? We do when she seems to be doing well and then she takes advantage of it and slips back again. She is currently a total of 12 assignments behind in 4 classes. We originally told her if she was passing at mid term she would be ungrounded from everything, but was was failing two classes. I'm lose. Please help!!! I seem to be missing something in my tactics.

Comment By : Frustrated Margie

Thank you so much for this article. I have 2 sons at home ages 15 and 16. My 16 year old has been diagnosed with Bi-polar. Just yesterday he pushed his brother into a couple of racks while getting a tuxedo for homecoming. The police were called and the shop told us not to come back. I told my son that he would not be going to homecoming because of his actions. I am going to ask him to write a letter to the shop and apologize for disrupting their business. I am holding strong to him not being able to go to homecoming. I think that this is the correct consequence for this situation. Thanks for giving me the courage this morning to stick with my decision. Your article couldn't have come at a better time. Thank You!

Comment By : EJ in Washington

love these articles, but what about the ultra resistant child? They have lost all priviledged, still failing more than one class, teachers see lack of motivation, what else do I do?

Comment By : fortcolle

I feel your pain Frustrated Margie! What do you do about the child who quite literally always accepts these "natural consequences" in exchange for doing nothing? Grades have no meaning to my 13 year old. And she's perfectly okay with going to summer school, being retained, not hanging out with friends, and not having a cell phone. Nothing, but nothing motivates her. How do I get her to do something if the only thing that motivates her is doing nothing? She chalks it up to another failure on her part and continues to do absolutely nothing! She lives only for the current moment. She cannot see that action on her part will change her life for the better. She only knows that right now, she wants to do nothing. It is more than a little frustrating to sit back and watch.

Comment By : About Given Up

I am still struggling with the emotional ups and downs. Talking, explaining, demanding, screaming and it's exhausting. I have a 11 year old that shows no motivation and when reminded of the rules and consequences for no completing homework, I get an "I don't care", "no one cares" "why do I have to" constantly. What is more baffling is the "I will never be happy" comments and expressions the she freely shares. There is very few "interests" (the TV and electronic devices are it). Once those are "remove" for a time out period, then the attitude becomes scary. I keep hoping that tomorrow will be better.

Comment By : Hopeful and Tired

hi. liked the article. gleaned a few new tactics to work on. but agree w/others who have kids unaffected by the consequences and unmotivated to regain the privileges/toys back. is there some help for us and these kids? what is it? please help us.

Comment By : dawn l.

Great advise as always! Thanks. However, let's include the food we are letting our children eat. I've noticed a huge difference with changing our eating habits(I have a lot of weight to change for myself) so my children have to change as well. If I'm doing it and showing them I too don't like the taste but it's all about body fueling my daughter is starting to see the difference and as if she is supporting me with my change. Couldn't ask for anything better to had happen once I got involved and setting boundaries not only with my husbands EX but his 18 year old son as well. Thanks be to God!! Thanks for letting me vent. TK

Comment By : Knickerbocker

I enjoyed the article. I'm a mother at wits end because I can't get my son motivated to complete school assignments and because I've had NO help from his teachers this year, I have been lost. I'm thankful the year is over and I'm going to do as this article says, hoping the future will be easier on us both.

Comment By : sled5376

Many of these comments make me think that the child is clinically depressed. If "doing nothing" and "not responding to natural consequences" goes on day after day, I think it's more than a power game. Talk to your child's teacher, and have your child evaluated at your own expense by a pediatrician, psychologist or clinical social worker. Counseling and medication may be needed.

Comment By : lcr123

I agree with 3boysmom....I have a 6 year old that is very difficult to wake up in the morning. Because of my schedule and them going to two different schools time is very crucial in the mornings. I wake them up at 6am and it is left up to them to get dressed, eat breakfast and do all the normal things there is to do to be on time to leave the house at 7:30. How do I give consequences for her not getting up? If I wake her up and leave the room; I swear 15-25 minutes later she will still be laying there not dressed and no breakfast. Eating breakfast at school is not an option; we do not qualify for reduced/free meals so therefore they need to make sure they have eaten. I cannot see myself sending her to school with no breakfast and hair not combed and possibly nothing in her tummy. Please help here. I have taken away everything from her when this happens, but it does nothing to her. She doesn't understand what the consequences mean. HELP!!!

Comment By : Mommyof3

* Dear Mommyof3, Thank you for your comment. Mornings are a tough time for many families. There are some kids (and some grownups for that matter) who really struggle with waking up in the morning. If you notice that your 6 year old is not responding to consequences, you might try another approach. Sit down as a family and problem solve together what can make mornings go more smoothly. Is there anything that you can do the night before such as showering, getting school things ready, choosing and laying out clothes? Simplify the morning routine as much as you can. Make a list of your 6 year old’s morning tasks (get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc.) that you can hang up in her room. Consider setting up an incentive instead of a consequence. If she can get up and take care of each of her morning tasks that is how she earns a certain privilege that day. If she can’t get it done, then she doesn’t earn that privilege but she gets to try again the next day. Young children need more coaching and reminders in the morning. This doesn’t mean that you do her tasks for her, but if your 6 year old keeps falling asleep she might need you to stop by to make sure she is on track. We agree with you that breakfast is a very important meal! Do what you can to help her have time to eat, even if this means grabbing a breakfast snack to eat on the way to school. Some kids have a very tough time waking up in the morning because they are not getting enough sleep. If you are concerned about this for your daughter, you might talk with her pediatrician about this. Check out this article for some more ideas: “’My Kid Won’t Get Out Of Bed’ Stop The Morning Madness Now”. Good luck to you!

Comment By : Rebecca Staples, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have an 18 year old that I have been pushing through school his whole life. This is his Senior year and he is not doing homework as usual and smoking weed and won't find a job. I want him to go to counseling but he won't go. What can I do?

Comment By : Ashley

I also have three kids, and the way I solved the proplem with them not getting out of bed was that they have to go to bed that particular day earlier. I started with a half an hour earlier until we figured out how much sleep that they actually needed to ensure that they got out of bed easily. It worked like a charm.

Comment By : Kaye

* Dear Ashley: Because of its impact on motivation, ‘smoking weed’ can get in the way of doing what you’re supposed to do, such as finding a job and doing homework. Your best bet is to first focus your energies on getting your son drug free. Pot influences pleasure, memory, thoughts, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement along with motivation. Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which make it difficult to quit. If your son is a long-term user or has difficulties giving up pot use, require him to work with a substance abuse counselor in your area. You son’s high school may be able to offer drug counseling or give you a referral. A great web site resource is: We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Rebecca, I am the mom that is still struggling with her 6 yo getting out of bed. I sat them all down a few days before school started and again after school started and let them know because of where we moved and going to two different schools that our leaving time in the morning is very important. We take showers, lay clothes, out have book bags ready, and even set out breakfast items. I am quite sure she is getting the appropriate amount of sleep. She goes to bed between 8:30 and 9:00 depending how much homework she has. She has no trouble falling asleep. This morning I didn't wake them up until 6:30 and all three of them laid in bed until almost 7:10 knowing that we leave at 7:30. I am so frustrated on a daily basis that I don't know what more I can do. I have tried to explain to them that mommy's job is very important and that people depend on me kind of like teachers depend on you to complete your homework. Every morning our house is in uproars. Very frustrated and feel very out of control!

Comment By : Mommyof3

My 11 yr old son is a lazy underachiever and I have no idea how to turn it around. He intentionally lies about, hides, or "forgets" homework. He leaves his HW planner blank each night so I won't know what he's supposed to do. The school refuses to check his planner because "it's his job", so I have NO way to enforce homework at home. The only consequence in school is an F, which is meaningless to him. He has consequences at home, but he doesn't care. He has no phone, no TV, no video games, no money, and nothing left to take away. I would gladly reward improvement, but that would involve homework, so he refuses. He is not learning disabled. He is exceptionally bright- bright enough to figure out that no one in the school will make him work, and bright enough to figure out how to tie my hands. I don't find out about missing assignments until the report card because his school has a no-parental involvement policy. They strongly argue that it's the student's job therefore the parent is not included. I am not even permitted to return to the school to get "forgotten" homework - a rule which overjoys my son because he knows he'll never have to do it. What can I do???

Comment By : CPColorado

* Dear CPColorado, Thank you for your question. It sounds like this situation with your son has been very frustrating for you. Because it leaves you empty handed, we do not recommend removing all of a child’s privileges for a long periods of time. We encourage using your son’s privileges on a daily basis to motivate him to do his work. For example: each day he would earn access to these privileges after his homework is complete, or after he has studied for an hour. This way, your son has more motivation to do the work and if refuses today, he always has another chance to earn his privileges tomorrow. You can also set up a daily incentive for your son to bring his planner home filled in. Check out this article for some more ideas: End the Nightly Homework Struggle 5 Homework Strategies that Work for Kids.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Ok so what do you do with the kid (15) that doesnt care if you take the x box,cell phone,tv,computer, etc. away. The kid who appears content with just laying in bed all day getting meteocre grades?

Comment By : bip

* To ‘bip’: It can be so frustrating when kids seem unaffected by the consequences we give. We recommend that you give the consequence anyway, even if your child acts like they don’t care. Remember, though, it is not likely to be effective for you to take away all privileges at once or to take away privileges for a very long time. And please note: if your child really doesn’t seem to care about anything, has lost interest in activities they used to enjoy, seems to sleep more than average, or is unable or unwilling to earn back privileges you have taken away, it would be best to speak with your child’s physician to make sure there isn’t something more going on here than just defiance. Here are a couple articles that talk more about consequences. The first article here also addresses what to do when kids don’t seem to care. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.
Child Discipline: Consequences and Effective Parenting
Kids Who Ignore Consequences: 10 Ways to Make Them Stick

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Great information but I feel consequences aren't working in my home. My child has an issue with power-VERY STUBBORN!! He is to the point that he doesn't care if things are taken from him. For example, he's failing a class; therefore, we said no games or TV during the week until your grades comes up. He said, "I don't care!" He keeps himself busy drawing because he never takes the time to draw because he loves his video games. I feel he's using his consequence time doing other things he normally doesn't do. I personally don't want him to enjoy anything, show remorse etc,….!! I’ve used yelling A LOT and have learned it isn’t helping the situation AT ALL!! I’ve REALLY calmed down A LOT. I feel it’s to the point we’ve ruined our child relationship. He has an attitude if we ask, “How did your day go?” It’s a lot of tension, he’s so mad because he thinks we‘re too strict. We’ve told him MANY TIMES, if you do better in class, don‘t back talk etc…., you can have your games back. That lasts a few days then here comes F’s, attitude and I don’t care again. We ruled out learning disabilities in third grade. THANK GOD I don't have problems getting my child out of bed. I'm very sad and feel this is a waste of precious family time.

Comment By : Sad momma

* To ‘Sad momma’: It does sound like you are very frustrated with your son right now. Here are a few articles about consequences that I think will be helpful to you:
"You're Grounded for Life!" Why Harsh Punishments for Children and Teenagers Don't Work
Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 1: How to Coach Your Child to Better Behavior
Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 2 Making Child Behavior Changes That Last

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

So okay I'm not the only one. I like the part, "It will be your choice." So one other thing I wanted to do for my 11 yr old son, take him to skidrow have him walk around and let him know that if he ends up "here," "It will be your choice." Is that too harsh?

Comment By : OMG

* To ‘OMG’: Your son is still a bit on the young side and that leads me to wonder what is going on that leads you feel you need to take this step with him. While this type of experience certainly might scare him, it’s not likely to be effective in changing his behavior. As James Lehman says, “You have to parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had.” Your child might need you to do more work with him to develop some new skills he can use to change his behavior instead. Check out these articles for more information:
Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 1: How to Coach Your Child to Better Behavior
Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 2 Making Child Behavior Changes That Last

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

What do you do with an 8-year old who refuses to wash his hands before eating at school in the hopes he'll get sick and get to stay home? I have spoken with him, his teacher and the principal, and there is no problem he is trying to avoid, it's simply that he would prefer to stay home. Staying home isn't fun - he has to stay in his room, rest and go without TV, but he doesn't care. For all I know, he's encouraging the other kids to cough on him. Would the 'natural consequence' let him be to flunk out of Grade 3?

Comment By : Jules

* Hi Jules: It sounds like you have a frustrating situation with your 8 year old! We recommend focusing on the consequences he receives at school for not washing his hands, and not giving additional consequences at home for this. What you can do at home is do some problem solving with him in a calm, business-like fashion. For example, you might say “I have heard from your teacher that you aren’t washing your hands before lunch. What is going on for you?” It might be helpful to explore the idea of bullying as well. Many times, when kids are bullied, they are targeted in places like bathrooms as these are enclosed spaces without much adult supervision. If you feel like your son might be bullied, a helpful resource is This site offers resources for both you and your son to recognize, and end, bullying. I am also attaching an article which you might find helpful: My Child is Being Bullied—What Should I Do? Good luck to you and your son as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I appreciate the thoughts that you have about natural consequences for "unmotivated" behavior, but what about truancy laws and child services interventions? What do you do when your child is TOTALLY ok with doing ABSOLUTELY nothing and not attending school/doing schoolwork?

Comment By : Concerned mom of 6 with 2 unmotivated students

* To ‘Concerned mom of 6 with 2 unmotivated students’: It’s so challenging when your child is just motivated to resist you at any cost. What we find to be most effective is to focus on what you can control. You can’t make your child go to school but you can report to the school that he or she is refusing to go and their absence is unexcused. Then, do what you can to hold your child accountable for his/her choice. For example, turn off the cell phone or disable the computer for the rest of the day. Our experts on Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner, recommend that parents with children who are refusing to go to school keep a record of their attempts to hold the child accountable for going. You can read some more helpful suggestions from Kim and Marney in this article: Parenting ODD Children and Teens: How to Make Consequences Work. We know this is hard and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Thank you, Sara, for your expedient response. I noticed that my original email had left out a key piece of information . . . one of the two children (who is 10) is formally diagnosed with Asperger's, Sensory Processing Disorders, and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity (because the diagnosis of Asperger's is mutually exclusive with ADHD). These diagnoses were confirmed through a second opinion using a complete ADOS evaluation and a multi-disciplinary team. This son struggles socially with frustration, and this frustration is complicated/amplified by over-stimulation. I think he prefers to be home because it is a calmer environment, and he feels accepted. We have worked with various behavioral management techniques for coping strategies; however, these techniques work for only a limited amount of time until fixations change. Do you have any articles that deal with helping a child who is on the spectrum? Anything that specifically addresses locating meaningful rewards would be helpful. Thank you so much for your help!

Comment By : concerned mom of 6 with 2 unmotivated students

* To ‘concerned mom of 6 with 2 unmotivated students’: We do not have any articles that specifically talk about helping children who are on the Autistic Spectrum because each kid on the spectrum has such individual needs. We find that with most kids problem solving and the development of coping skills is pretty much an on-going process as life is constantly changing. It might be helpful for you to simply continue to work on effective coping skills with your son as his needs change. It can be exhausting to keep up with—we understand that! One other thing to consider is to run any new strategies you are considering by your son’s local treatment team before you implement them to be sure they are appropriate for your son. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have a son who just turned 21 and is in a community college for the past 1 1/2 years trying to get a 2 year associates degree. I do admit that both my husband and myself are quite strict in the sense we want him to definitely have at a minimum a college undergraduate degree education to sustain in this world, which is ever so becoming competitive. Seems like he has lost all motivation due to repeated failures. He was quite good in middle school and in high school did ok, not bad. He did poorly in a traditional 4 yr college during his freshman year and had to be pulled out and we thought that he can better himself in a local college. As an individual he is very respectful and responsible in some ways. But when it comes to his education he gets very easily frustrated, distracted and loses motivation very easily. Also doesn't admit his failure, in order to find a remedy for it. Also doesn't go to anyone to get help, like for e.g. he could go to his professors get one on one help. Looks like he just goes through the motions of going to class and coming back. Barely making it through. I could use any advise/help in this regard.

Comment By : LShiv

* To ‘LShiv’: It’s so frustrating to see your child not living up to his full potential and not really taking true responsibility for his academics. It sounds like he is almost done with his Associate’s degree and that is a great start! It sounds like he has worked really hard and hopefully he’s developing some skills that will help him with additional education in the future if he decides to pursue it. What might be helpful is to start setting some firm limits around his grades and the privileges you provide to him. For example, perhaps he has to get all C’s or better to keep the cell phone service you pay for. Basically, it’s most helpful to focus on a single goal and come up with a way you can hold him accountable. With young adults, letting them be uncomfortable can be a good way to motivate them, whether he’s uncomfortable without his phone, without using your car, or without some other privilege you restrict. I’m including a three part article series about adult children for more ideas on how to set up some limits and consequences to help motivate your son. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.
Failure to Launch, Part 1: Why So Many Adult Kids Still Live with Their Parents
Failure to Launch, Part 2: How Adult Children Work the "Parent System"
Failure to Launch, Part 3: Six Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

This article gave me an ah ha moment. But my son will also hold back, which totally blows my mind. example: he is a talented baseball, football player, very fast, yet I will see him purposely hold back. when I confront him, he will finally admit it, its that obvious. this is very frustrating because its like watching your child distroy themself.

Comment By : mims

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Motivating children, Unmotivated child

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