Why is it so hard to motivate kids? As parents, we often have a funny, inaccurate belief that our children won’t care unless we twist their arms. But the simple truth is that your attempts to motivate your child are probably working against you.

You can’t make your child care just because you do—in fact, you might actually get in the way of their motivation. What’s worse, the push-pull of trying to motivate your child usually turns into a power struggle. There’s something wrong with the picture if you care more about your child’s grades than he does.

If you’ve been getting in your child’s “box” and trying to make him care because you do, it’s important to stop and ask yourself this question, “What’s my child’s responsibility here? What’s mine?” If your child isn’t getting his work done, your job as a parent is to hold him accountable and teach him how the real world works. In the real world, if you don’t finish your work, you won’t get paid.

Give consequences to show your child what the result of his poor choices are, but don’t confuse the reason for doing this with thinking you’ll make him care about his math homework simply because you care about it. Consequences aren’t there to create motivation; you give them because you’re doing your job as a parent. The bottom line is that you can’t motivate another person to care. Your role, rather, is to inspire and influence.

As parents, we often feel responsible for our child’s outcome in life, but understand that this is never the case—ultimately, your child is responsible for his own choices. But because we think our kids’ success depends on us, we step into a place where we don’t belong. We’re taught that we need to somehow control our kids, so we often jump in their box without a second thought. We think we’re supposed to motivate our children to want certain things in life, but that only causes them to function in reaction to you. Your child might comply to get you off his back or even to please you, but that doesn’t help him get self-motivated. Again, you definitely want to inspire and influence your child. The goal is the same: we want our kids to be motivated—it’s how we get there that makes the difference.

The truth of the matter is, some children are less motivated than others. There are kids who are smart as a whip but who get report cards with D’s and F’s. Some sit in the classroom gazing into space despite the teacher’s—and your—best efforts. Maybe you have a child who forgets his assignments or worse, does them and never turns them in. Or you might have a pre-teen who doesn’t seem interested in anything and has no real hobbies or passions. Maybe your teen gives up easily or doesn’t want to try. In spite of your best efforts, he remains stuck or is starting to fall behind. (If you have other concerns, be sure to have the school and/or your child’s pediatrician rule out learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, depression, addictions and other conditions.)

If your child is one of the less motivated, it can be a source of great worry and frustration and sometimes even despair—and that’s where the trouble can begin. The trouble in this case is your reaction to your child’s lack of motivation, not the lack of motivation itself. When you get nervous about him, you try to motivate him from the grip of your own anxiety, and forget that it’s just not possible to make someone care.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your worry compel you to nag, hover, push, cajole, or over-function for your child?
  • Does your frustration cause you to yell, scream, beg, punish, and throw your hands up in despair?
  • Does your helplessness cause you to start fighting with your spouse, who never seems to do as much as you think he or she should do to get your child motivated?
  • Does your fear about your child’s underachieving cause you to keep trying to get him to change and to be more motivated?

If you find yourself doing any of the above, you’ve probably seen your child resist, comply to get you off his back, rebel, or dig in his heels harder. Let me be clear: Whether he fights you or goes along with what you want, the end result is that he will be no more motivated than he was before. You might eventually get him to do what you want, but your goal of helping him be self-motivated is still a far away reality.

If you’ve ruled out learning disabilities and behavioral disorders and your child still isn’t participating in family life, and isn’t doing chores or homework, somehow you probably aren’t holding him to the line.

In that case, you need to hold him accountable and provide the consequences that will guide him to the right place. You’ll get the video game once you get your homework and chores done. Do this along with standing back enough to find out who your child is. If he doesn’t seem to get up on time, step back a little bit and see what his sleep patterns seem to be.

If there’s a particular chore he dislikes, you might talk to him and see if he and a sibling could switch tasks. I’m not saying we have to suit everybody’s desires but it’s not bad to check in and see what they might do better with. Maybe your son hates loading the dishwasher but would like to cook dinner because he’s interested in becoming a chef.

In this way, you’re helping your child see himself and define himself. Get out of his way and really see him, and then get out of his head so he can think for himself. At the same time, hold him accountable to the basic things that he needs to do in life.

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Related content: Motivating Underachievers: 9 Steps to Take When Your Child Says “I Don’t Care”

How do you inspire your kids to motivate themselves? Here are six tips to help you influence them towards self-motivation.

1. Don’t Let Your Anxiety Push Them To Get Motivated

You will only motivate them to resist you or to comply to calm you down because they want you to leave them alone. This won’t motivate them as much as teaching them how to appease or resist you. It then becomes about reacting to you instead of focusing on themselves and finding some internal motivation. Your anxiety and need for them to care will just create a power struggle between you and your child.

2. Be Inspiring

The only way to motivate is to stop trying to motivate. Instead, work towards inspiring your child. How do you do that? Be an inspiring person. Ask yourself if your behaviors are inspiring or controlling. Understand that your kids will want to run the other way if you’re too controlling. Think about someone in your own life who is inspiring to you, and work towards that goal. Remember, the only thing you’ll motivate if you’re pushing your child is the motivation to resist you.

3. Let Your Child Make His Own Choices—and Face the Consequences

Let your child make his own choices. When it’s a poor choice, hold him accountable by letting him face the natural consequences that come with it. If the consequence of not doing his homework is that the computer is taken away, put the need to get that computer time back in his hands. If he finishes his work, he gets the time on the computer you’ve agreed upon. That will be a motivation for him in the right direction without you telling him what to do, how to do it, and lecturing him on why he should care.

As a parent, what you’re actually doing is asking yourself, “What will I put up with? What are my values and principles?” and you’re sticking to them.

4. Learn What Makes Your Child Tick

  • What motivates my child?
  • What does he really want?
  • What questions can I ask that will help him discover and explore his interests?
  • What are his goals and ambitions?

Step far enough away to see your child as a separate person. Then observe what you see. Talk to him to find the answers to the questions above. And then listen—not to what you want the answers to be, but to what your child is saying. Just listen to him. Respect his answers, even if you disagree.

5. Get Your Child to Want to Do the Right Thing

Imagine two doors. Door number one is for the parent who wants to get their kids motivated and do the right thing in life: get up, go to school, get their work done, be successful. Door number two is for parents who want their kids to be self-motivated to do those things. They want to influence their child to work toward the things they’re interested in. To not only do the right thing, but to want to do the right things.

Which door would you enter? If it’s door number one, then the way to achieve that goal is push, punish, beg, nag, bribe, reward, and cajole. If you decide on door number two, then you’ll reach that goal by asking different kinds of questions.

Rather than, “Did you get your homework done?” you might say, “Why did you decide to do your homework today and not yesterday? I noticed you chose not to do geometry yesterday, but you’re doing your history homework today. What’s the difference?” Be an investigator, exploring and uncovering, helping your child discover his own motivations and sticking points.

6. Your Child’s Behavior is Not Your Fault

Remember, your child’s lack of motivation is not your fault, so don’t personalize it. When you do this, you may actually contribute to the underachieving by creating more resistance.

Look at it this way. If you look too closely in the mirror, you can’t really see yourself—it’s just a blur. But when you get farther away, you actually see yourself more clearly.

Do the same thing with your child. Sometimes we’re just so close, so enmeshed, that we just can’t see them as separate from us. But if you can stand back far enough, you can actually start to see your child as his own person and start to find out what makes him tick—and then you’ll be able to help him understand himself as well. When you step back and observe, you’ll know what works for him, why he’s reaching for certain things and what really gets him moving.

There will be things he’s never going to be motivated to do but is still required to them. He may hate doing his chores and try to get out of it, and that’s when you give him consequences.

The goal is to influence your child when he has to do something he doesn’t want to do, and get to know him well enough to figure out what his own desires might be. As a parent, you want to strengthen his skills in defining what’s important to him. You want to help your child define for himself who he is, what’s important to him and what he’s going to do to make those things happen.

Our responsibility is to help our kids do that, not to do it for them. We need to stay out of their way enough so they can figure out who they are, what they think and where their own interests lie.

Related content:
How to Deal With Your Child’s Attitude

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For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (40)
  • Emma
    “Why did you decide to do your homework today and not yesterday? I noticed you chose not to do geometry yesterday, but you’re doing your history homework today. What’s the difference?” I can tell you exactly how my son would respond: "I don't know."
  • Amelie

    I have three kids. The eldest child I raised using rewards and everything was fine, but when he was about 5 years old, he accumulated the amount he needed and refused to do chores. I couldn't make him do anything else, because his already had a certain attitude to matters. Now he is 7 years old, it is impossible to force him to do household chores. I don't know what to do. I am not ready to put pressure on him, as it affects the child's mental health. With the second child, everything was somehow easy, he took the vacuum cleaner himself, helped clean the table and put away the toys. He repeated everything after me and I just praised him. The third child I raised using printable star reward charts. The son liked it, but the stars were constantly lost. Then we switched to the Manini app. Now the youngest child is 3 years old and we already know how to do a lot. I don't scold him if he misses something or doesn't want to do it.

    Now I think about it and wonder how different all children are)

  • Jane
    This is a great article. I knew I was doing it all wrong because it wasn't working! Now I understand why. Unfortunately, my personality makes me pushy like this. I am going to have to read this article over and over to keep reminding myself of a better wayMore to deal with this situation. Again, what a great article.
  • Dad that inspires
    I have 4 kids ages 4 to 11. Their mom and I split up last year. The younger two can entertain themselves well. The older two are depressed and not motivated after the breakup. I appreciate the suggestions and will research the topic through many authors. This is my firstMore reading. As the oldest sibling of 7 and our father drinking heavily and passing at a young age I know well about going from high motivation to none. I remember pretty much everything growing up. What I needed or expected and how I would teach or talk to my kids when I grew up. 30 years later I’m doing just that. My kids are same gender and age difference as myself and siblings. Yes I’ve seen how the constant nagging makes it worse for them. I’ve tackled it from many angles. What worked was honesty (just not too far) , trust, and relating with them. In that I found out my anxiety had slowed me down and been toxic for 30 years. I couldn’t preach what I wasn’t practicing. I reached out. Friends and family helped to show me ways to self motivate and have self respect. Now I have a new angle. Learning it with them. Best part is when it unfolds in front of them and they see first hand. I share comforting tricks with them. And the open up. I’ve been worried about the older two because i know first hand what it was like to be left to figure it out myself. I am lucky to still be here. Everything happens for a reason. I learned how to both relate and be their friend. And gain respect by showing respect. Lead by example. My daughter who went from hero to zero over the split up told me today that her face hurt from smiling so much today. They all went to bed with smiles. Persistence is key. It is my fault if they’re unhappy. I am their father. Every kiddo is different. So if one way doesn’t work try another. Real world comparisons help as well. I’m sure I will find flaws and correct them. When I finally took charge of my kids using maybe a third of their capabilities I knew what I had to do. Dont be like dad was. And find their special way how. Individually after together.
  • Shei
    I am a single mom of three and I am proud to say my kids are well motivated. They can handle themselves and I am not scared if one day I'll have to leave them. Then I met this man who is a single dad too, with two sons. WeMore decided to get into a relationship and help each other raise the kids together like a one big happy family. I somehow feel that I am a failure with his sons, they are a total opposite of my kids. I am having a problem with my partner too because he doesn't want me to discipline his kids the way I did to my kids. I need help.
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      Parenting differences are pretty common in most families, and tend to be even more pronounced in blended families. This is because you and your partner are individuals with unique experiences and family backgrounds, including parenting under different life circumstances. It’s understandable that you and your partner would disagreeMore in areas such as motivation, discipline and consequences. At this point, it could be helpful to talk privately with your partner during a calm time, and find some common ground. From there, you can develop standard house rules that apply to everyone living in your home. You can find some more tips in “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page and “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You. I recognize how difficult this must be for you, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • Maritza Budney
    Love the article on motivation, I am a nagger and a yeller, after reading this article I realized that my ways need to change, I need to stop blaming myself for my kids bad choices. Thanks for showing me ways to inspirer and motivate my teen daughters. I look forwardMore to more helpful articles. Gob bless
  • Liz Keating
    Very helpful.
  • shahanas
    my son has 12 years old and he is not interested to study and he performance in academic is very low. so, his teachers always calling me to compliant about him. how to motivate him? he know basics in subjects. means he realize spellings and write in a correct manner
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      shahanas Many parents are troubled when a child does not seem to take his education seriously, so you are not alone.  As pointed out in the article above, you cannot make your son care about his grades just because it’s important to you and his teachers.  This doesn’t mean thatMore you are powerless, however.  Something that can be useful is to https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/end-the-nightly-homework-struggle-5-homework-strategies-that-work-for-kids/ for him where he can earn things that are motivating to him (such as time with friends or electronics) by studying and completing assignments.  You might also talk with him about how he canhttps://www.empoweringparents.com/article/acting-out-in-school-when-your-child-is-the-class-troublemaker/, and behave appropriately at school.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your son.  Take care.
  • MRSUTAH831
    I have a 7 year old son and he has to go to his dads house every other weekend and he doesn't like going over there. I think his dad is part of his lazy and irresponsible behavior. I am military and his step dad is a police officer. WeMore discipline him and talk to him about consequences and all of that stuff. Take things away when needed. We make him do push ups, sit ups, and invisible chair which he hates. He still does not care though. We have really tried focusing on his behavior at school because the last 2 years were not very good at all. He had really bad behavior problems so this year is a fresh new start and he is doping much better with his behavior at school. He just has this "I don't care attitude about everything." We put him in karate to hopefully help with the discipline, responsibility, and accountability but now they are talking about maybe kicking him out if he doesn't change. He has a uniform he is supposed to wear every day at karate and always looses his top and always misplaces his bottoms and belt. We have tried telling him he is responsible for those items and if he doesn't have them they make him do push ups and he continues to not care and never has his uniform. I just don't know what to do anymore. We both work a lot and we put him in soccer and boy scouts so we aren't home very much through the week and still try to sit there and talk to him about everything. I have thought about maybe taking him to start seeing & talking to somebody so maybe that would help? I'm not sure. I just want him to be like us and be responsible, and considerate. He is just rude sometimes and has these moments where he has this really bad attitude. Do you have any ideas??
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      I hear you.It can be so frustrating

      when you are doing everything you can think of, yet your child continues to act

      irresponsibly and doesn’t appear to care about consequences.Sometimes it can be useful to use additional

      supports, like a counselor, to help you address inappropriate behavior.If you are not currently working with anyone,

      try contacting the http://www.211.org/ at

      1-800-273-6222.211 is a service which

      connects people with available resources in their community.In addition, keep in mind that consequences

      by themselves do not change behavior if your son is not learning what to do

      differently in the future.You can read

      more about this in our series https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-1-how-to-coach-your-child-to-better-behavior/

      and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-2-making-child-behavior-changes-that-last/.Please let us know if you have additional

      questions.Take care.

  • Stepmom

    Last year was a constant struggle to get my stepdaughter to do anything and she failed most of her classes. This year, she's repeating 10th grade and failing once again. Her father and I have no idea what to do. Her therapist wants us to be more positive and I recognize that last school year, her dad came home at 7 pm and it was a war over getting schoolwork done, emails with problems from teachers and things were very very negative. Then last spring, my stepdaughter was diagnosed with depression and spent 2 weeks in an in-patient facility due to suicidal thoughts. She's on medication but is not improving.

    She attends a high school with very high academic standards and she will not be allowed to stay enrolled there unless her grades and behavior improve. So far this school year, she has decided it's not worth trying. Her GPA was damaged so much by failing last year that it will be impossible for her to get into a competitive college and community colleges will take anyone, so her attitude is why bother. She's been failing to turn in homework, doesn't pay attention in class and even failed to report to a detention that resulted in an in-school suspension.  If her grades and behavior don't improve, next semester she will be sent to an alternative high school which has issues with gang violence and drugs. There is no possible way my husband will allow her to go there. Home schooling isn't an option since then either her father or I will need to be the bad guy enforcing her doing school work. Applying to private school isn't an option since her grades and behavior problems would preclude her from being accepted. Our only option if she is not longer allowed to attend her current school is sending her to some sort of boarding school for girls with behavior problems or mental illness. 

    I'm not sure how our family can afford a boarding school. Her mental illness isn't serious enough for insurance to pay. This could financially devastate our family, and my stepdaughter doesn't seem to care. She shrugs off being expelled. She doesn't care about the impact on the rest of the family.  I doubt whether the boarding school will even be effective since she has no motivation to do anything and doesn't care about any punishments. Honestly, I don't think she'll even want to come home. She has such a bad relationship with her father that she'll be happy to be gone.

    We're at a complete loss at what to do. I know depression can take years to treat or if she has some more serious mental illness, it could take even longer. How do schools usually handle teens who are mentally ill and not turning in homework? Currently she is given extra time and still doesn't do assignments so additional accommodations wouldn't be helpful until it's a free pass to do nothing.

    • Susan

      I’m a stepmom too. Almost 3 years ago my husband’s children were suddenly dropped at our doorstep by their mother, even though I know them since their were little is a different story having them full time. At the begging it was really hard. My stepdaughter who’s 14 years old was depressed and her grades were so bad that teacher would comment “ Not able to grade” she was really over weight and there was no “ motivational talk” that could help her, her brother who then was only 8 years old was a total mess. He would cry all the time he would attempt to hit me and his father, hated chores, school, homework, extracurricular activities the only thing he wanted was being in front of the TV. After almost 3 years things have change a little. My stepdaughter’s (15 years old now)grades are good, she will be going to 10th grade, just finished a college class over the summer and will be doing 3 AP classes, she’s in guitar classes and have lost 30 pounds, she now has a few friends, she thinks about going to college, she even wants to go to driving school, I don’t really have to be on her case as much about doing her chores or about brushing her teeth. My stepson was in therapy for a few months and his behavior has somewhat changed, he doesn’t cry for everything as he used to do, he still hate school- I did too- but at least complete his homework and does not complain about having to go to school. After all that said you may think that all our problems are solve, let me tell you “ they AREN’T”. Sometime we - Stepparents- kill ourself brainstorming about what else can we do to make them happy or to make them ready for future success but sometimes their emotional problems are deeper than we think, and those problems already existed before they came under our care. I used to consumed myself looking for things that could help them, they have all the things I thought they needed ; support, healthcare, clothes, friends, trips, extracurricular activities, but they still look like something is missing. My stepdaughter was caught “ Sexting” with a 25 year old guys who she met at a friends party, after that what we found was pretty bad. She was sexting with several kids at her school and many teacher would start sending messages to me and my husband about her being in the bathroom too long. She has developed kind of a addictive behavior sort of thing, is like she can’t stop. She hasn’t have social media for months but now she takes everything to the extreme if you let her, she can’t seem to have enough of anything. I talked to the school counselor and she said that she will refer her to a therapist she thinks my stepdaughter is at risk, her “ I wanted all behavior “ and her “ you only live once” behavior can get her into difficult situation that may be hard for her to get out of, so we are waiting on that. My stepson even though he would comply with things like getting ready for school or getting ready for swimming lesson he still needs constant supervision for the minimum thing like get your clothes ready, brush your teeth, go take a shower, getting the trash out-his chore-, he seems lazier than ever, never wants to try harder, he always wants to give up, maybe he’s depress too who knows. What I’m trying to say is that we can only do much, we trying to give the the right environment but we can’t not really change their inner environment, we can lead them to do it, but that’s about it. My husband, their father, does not really do much either, their mom is still figuring out her place in this world , she doesn’t have a place to stay, no job, no support system and only comes to see the children once a month “if”. I feel overwhelmed, always worrying, and thinking about their situation but sometimes we as stepparent have to step back for a minute and let them figure things out but their own, when I say them I’m referring to the children and their biological parents. Sometimes we think that children are better off with us ,which is my case, and maybe it is but children want to be with their mother no matter how disfuncional it may look, they don’t see the big picture , they’re not capable of, they’re too young, maybe they need the help to accept it, maybe it will talle them years, they hide behind all these behaviors or maybe is their coping mechanism, I don’t know, I wish I did. The only thing we can do is love them, show love to them, love ourself, respect them, teach them boundaries, what are your expectations in your household, the rest is just out of reach. I am trying, is hard, but that was what I accepted when I allowed the children to come and live with us, one day everything will change nothing is forever, and when that happens you will feel better with yourself because you were a helping hand at some point in their life.

      Good luck to you.

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      I hear how

      concerned you are about your stepdaughter, and the possible consequences of her

      current behavior at school.  At this point, I encourage you and your

      husband to work together with the school to develop a plan to help your

      stepdaughter meet her responsibilities, and hold her accountable for her

      behavior there.  Janet Lehman outlines some tips on this in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/when-your-child-has-problems-at-school-6-tips-for-parents/.  In addition,

      you might consider https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/

      with her at home about how she can meet her responsibilities at school.  I

      recognize how challenging this must be for you and your family, and I hope that

      you will write back and let us know how things are going.  Take care.

      • Stepmom

        RebeccaW_ParentalSupport The core problem is my stepdaughter no longer cares, so the teachers, school counselor, her father and I can have all the meetings we want, but nothing changes since my stepdaughter doesn't want to change.  There's no way to hold her accountable since she doesn't care about anything. She hasn't had a cell phone for nearly 2 years. She doesn't have any friends. She doesn't go to parties, play video games or do anything other than stay in her room. Last school year, she would be in trouble for not doing her homework and would hide in the attic to avoid her dad. We've had to seal off the attic to keep her out of there.  She goes days refusing to speak to me or her dad and then we finally sit down and are able to talk to her, she explodes and starts screaming.

        I wish the school would put a freeze on her grades and GPA and all of that would be out of the picture because it's putting so much stress on the situation, but they won't consider that. The teachers don't want to deal with her and want her out of their classes because she's not able to function there.  Her therapist is completely on a different page and doesn't want us even worried about school - but that ignores the fact that in January, we're going to have a make a decision about where she can be enrolled if she isn't expelled earlier.

        • Sofía
          So... What happened then? Did your stepdaughter get better? Maybe it would help to take away what you give to her, I mean, stop giving her internet, no more restaurants, no money for her to spend and chores in the house, try to explain to her that everyone has toMore do some work in life and that someday she'll have to live and gain a living by her own. So, if she wants to stay at home without working, she'll feel the consequences. What I'm rying to say is that you should show her what real life looks like, why people go out and work even if they don't want to... Give her a time, but someday she'll have to understand, also stop treating her like she has a mental illness or as a depressed person because it's better without tags. Another good thing would be to show her images and movies and news about the miserys in the world, maybe that way she'll start being grateful for her life.
  • HelpFrustratedMom
    My son will also turn 10 very soon. My husband had the idea of introducing my son to recreational basketball at the age of 7, with a city league, since my son showed some athletic skills and can watch basketball games all day. I thought this would be a greatMore bonding activity for the both of them and to learn work ethic, however, it has not turned out that way. My husband is a very competitive, hard working, ambitious person.... he claims since he was very young, but my son is the complete opposite. He is very laid back, lazy, intimidates easily, and unmotivated. This has brought great tension within the family. My sons has progressed over-time in being more aggressive and all the coaches he has worked with say he has awesome potential and great technical skill. When he is in his comfort zone or when feels like it.... he can play like a mini Kobe, however, he doesn't want to put in the work. Last year, my son joined a travel-ball team...at his request. Travel-ball is much more competitive, aggressive, and not to mention costly. We only ask for him to give his 100% percent. It doesn't matter if he missed the basket or if his team lost..... as long as he gives his all. After all we do have to pay monthly dues, pay to enter the facility, and most of the time drive an hour away for a game. He has trained with a coach one-on-one, my husband bought him  professional equipment to practice at home, he looks like a legit basketball player on the court with all his fancy gear, but the motivation will only last for a game or so. We have to give pep talk after pep talk or even threaten to take his basketball items away if he doesn't give full effort. He will do great then next game back to the usual lazy running and playing scared. Why do we need to give all these motivational speeches when this is supposedly a games he loves? Are we asking for too much? He is the one begging us to let him continue and makes promises about trying harder, but never follows thru. Should we just step back and see what happens? Is it not his time yet to be in the competitive environment? How do we motivate him not just in basketball, but in all aspect of his daily life?
    • Christina Lopez
      Maybe you can hold him accountable by making him work for something he likes. My daughter is the same as your son, she has every opportunity to be rediculously successful yet she lacks the drive. (We OWN a strength and conditioning gym for Christ sake!) her two loves areMore the iPad and her playroom. So I've decided to make a chart where she can earn time to play with those things by reading, doing chores and not goofing off in practice. I've relished her whole life I've never wanted to make her experience life as I did (on welfare and always missing out) but the temporary discomfort of missing out is what drives people to strive more. They're kids, and we are doing a terrible disservice by holding their hands in everything they do. Life is about earning your keep, they are going to find that out now or in 10 years. Might as well be now!
      • gymnasticsdad

        Christina Lopez I have the same lack of motivation/ambition issues with my 12 year old son. I am very concerned he will become one of the many lost soul 'safe space' kids of his generation. He has been a gymnast for six years and has never really applied himself very much or shown much drive or ambition compared to his teammates, despite his coaches urging. This is a pattern in his life and electronics and leisure related activities seem to be all he is really excited about. He is a good kid with a kind heart and he and I get along well, his mother and I do not but we are still married. Just being part of the team seems to be good enough for him, he has fallen to the bottom of the list of the boys at his level and aside for being embarrassed, he doesn't seem to care. He still participates because I pay the gym $500 a month so he can continue, we commute one out each way to the gym three time a week. At his level, he has to build more muscle and train his body outside the gym to progress in the sport. I workout with him every morning at 7am to keep him on track and make sure he is actually working and not just showing up to 'check the box' so he can claim he worked out, this is always a battle and I never ask him to do anything I am not doing. Its very frustrating because I am a achiever, stay fit and try to get better every day at most things. His mom and I are completely at odds on how to proceed with him. She says, just let him quit. I say, what is next and what will he do with all the free time he will inherits? She is not lazy, but does not exercise, has never been on a team or really competed outside of community theater. He agrees there are really no ambitious interests that will fill this void. We home school both of our boys and the younger one will continue in gymnastics 12 hours per week. He is a bit more gifted gymnastically but has also mentioned quitting if the older one does, my answer is no. 

        I would really like to hear from parents who let their kids quit activities like this and what the immediate and long term result has been. I will never quit motivating and inspiring my children in that order. Their lives and mine will demand results if they are to have a quality existence.

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It can be really frustrating when you feel as though you are

      putting in more effort into motivating your son to play basketball than he

      is.  Ultimately, your son is in charge of how much effort he puts into his

      playing, as well as figuring out his own motivations.  It’s not uncommon

      for some kids to enjoy playing the game for the sake of playing, and so they

      are not motivated by competition.  It’s also pretty normal for kids to

      engage in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/does-your-child-rely-on-wishful-thinking-how-to-motivate-him-toward-attainable-goals/; that is, making promises to try harder and do better, without a

      clear plan for exactly what to do differently.  While the choice of

      whether to keep him in his travel team is yours, you might do some https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/

      with him about what he will do differently to meet expectations moving

      forward.  Thank you for your question; take care.

  • Concernedmom
    My son is fixing to be 10. He wants to play sports to be with his friends. He has no motivation to actually do the work that needs to be done in order to do good at that sport. For instance....he wanted to play football this year because all hisMore friends play football. Not because he wants to play and loves the sport. (He played two years ago and it was a disaster. He's small and was scared of being tackled. So we didn't let him play the next year. This year he begged and begged and we reminded him what happened the last year but he said he wasn't going to be scared this year and he really wanted to play so we let him) well...same disaster! He doesn't want to put forth the effort to do good. He just wants to go to be around his friends. The problem is he's going to get hurt or end up losing the friends he has because he's just not putting forth the effort they are. I know the reasons he's not doing his best. He's scared to get hurt and scared to get tackled. He wants to play to be with his friends. How do you motivate in sports when he's doing it for the wrong reasons? He "says" he likes playing but it's obvious he doesn't! How do I motivate him to do his best and get over his fears so he doesn't get hurt?
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It can be very challenging when your child is playing

      sports, yet is not putting forth his best efforts.  The truth is, people

      become involved in sports for various reasons: physical activity, competition,

      peer pressure, social interaction, among others.  I hear your concerns

      that your son might get hurt playing football due to his lack of effort and his

      fears.  Something you might try is https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ about how he can participate more fully with the team.

      Ultimately, though, it is up to your son to decide how much effort he decides

      to put forth when he is playing and practicing, as well as how he feels about

      playing on the team.  Thank you for your question; take care.

  • SueDom
    My son is getting ready to go to college. His entire life he has set goals for himself and he is very hard on himself. He used to motivate himself to work out so he would be in shape for lacrosse however a year ago he became very sickMore and he can no longer play lacrosse. He is realizing his dream to play college lacrosse is not possible but has no goals otherwise. When I ask him if he is depressed he says no just frustrated because he can't find anything to motivate him at the moment. I feel like I am letting him down because I can't come up with anything to help him. He has been in his room trying to more or less meditate and try to figure this out. I am not sure how to help him. He won't talk to anyone else but me and I want him to feel good about himself before he leaves for school which is in a week. HELP!!!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      One of the hardest things a parent can experience is

      watching your child hurt, and feeling helpless to fix it.  I hear how

      difficult it has been for both you and your son to come to the realization that

      he will not be able to achieve his goal of playing college lacrosse.  And,

      truth be told, it’s https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-fixing-things-for-your-child-doesnt-help/ for your son.  Figuring out his happiness, his

      goals, and his own motivations are his responsibilities.  While it is

      helpful to be a supportive person for your son, it’s also important to

      communicate to him through your words and actions that you believe he is

      capable of handling this situation on his own.  College can be a great

      time of self-discovery for many, and offers numerous opportunities to realize

      new interests and goals.  I recognize how challenging this must be for

      both you and your son, and I wish you both all the best moving forward. 

      Take care.

  • Frustratedmother
    I don't have a homework problem, but an employment problem. My son is 25 and has not had a good job since he graduated from college. He didn't get internships, get involved in clubs involving his majors and left school not knowing what kind of job he could get letMore alone a job waiting for him. Post graduation, he took a sales job that was 100% commission. You can probably figure out what happened with that. He moved on to a similar job but with a paid training period. Once the training was over, he was not kept on because he did not sell the product(securities, insurance). He moved onto another job in a different field as a filler until he found something else. He never looked for anything else and was laid off when business slowed down. Now, he has been unemployed for a month and a half with no job in sight. He is extremely intelligent, but totally unmotivated. He has been like this his whole life. Help!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      I hear you.  It can be very difficult when your child

      lacks motivation, especially when he has so much potential.  The truth is,

      people generally don’t change until they are uncomfortable, and if your son is

      having his needs met without working, then it’s not likely that he will be

      motivated to look for work.  While you cannot make your son look for work,

      or obtain a job in a given field, you can set some boundaries for yourself and

      how you are responding to your son.  For example, you could look at

      limiting the amount of financial assistance you are providing if he is not

      actively looking for work.  You might also find it helpful to https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/ground-rules-for-living-with-an-adult-child-plus-free-living-agreement/ with your son which outlines your expectations and

      boundaries.  I recognize how frustrating this can be, and I hope that you

      will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your

      family.  Take care.

  • Mom in WI

    Thank you for the article.  We're really struggling with our oldest, a 13-year old girl who is wrapping up 7th grade and as the quarter's assignments are being logged by teachers into her online portal, it looks like her grades will be at an all-time low, likely with an F in at least two if not three classes and already a D in one.  The main issue is that she has not turned in the vast majority of her assignments.  She tests above average in ability, generally speaking.  Like 70th or 80th percentile...not a genius but she should not be failing.  We did have her tested for ADD (she does not have ADHD) and the results were somewhat mixed & inconclusive.  We are thankful to have a strong, respectful, loving relationship with her.  She is a lot of fun, has some athletic interests, has solid friendships, and the friends tend to get decent grades.

    My question is regarding natural consequences.  Mid-way through this school year and for about 4-5 months, we set up clear expectations (in writing) for privileges that were taken away for various academic infractions.  The consequences were tiered and escalating, starting with shorter-term loss of screen time, then loss of all electronics for longer periods, then grounding from social activities.  There were also associated rewards, in that she was going to get a trip abroad this summer (which she wants very much) if she didn't get anything below a C.  We stuck to this for months.  During this time, she was constantly in some type of state of bring punished.  It never produced a "rise" out of her or an improvement in her academics.  She never cared.  She said her friends just flat-out stopped asking her to do things on the weekend because they knew she was constantly grounded.  Without her electronics, she'd sleep away a Saturday afternoon.  We told her it was in her power to fix it and she would say "I know," and shrug.  We were always the police and we did not like it.  We held out for as long as we could, but when the report cards came out, it was clear that it didn't help.

    She says she's not sure why she doesn't care about her grades.  We've tried to describe what working life might be like for a high school grad, or even a high school dropout.  But she's completely un-phased, saying she'd like to be a bartender when she gets older.  (which sounds like a "screw you" answer designed to get a rise out of us, but her delivery reads very genuine to me)

    How would you approach setting up consequences?

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @Mom in WI 

      This is a common

      frustrating scenario experienced by many parents this time of year, so you are

      not alone.  When setting up consequences, it can be helpful to clarify

      both what you want your child to learn from the experience, and what your goal

      is for the consequence.  If your goal is to make your daughter care about

      her grades, or see how important academic achievement is for her future, that

      might be a difficult task to achieve.  This is because your daughter is an

      individual, and is fully in charge of what is, and is not, important to her. 

      In addition, at 13, she probably does not have the ability to foresee the

      potential impact of her choices now on her adult life, simply based on where

      she is in her development.  That being said, you are not powerless in this

      situation.  One step you might consider is to have a conversation with

      your daughter about what happened this year in school, what she learned from

      this experience, and what she will do differently next year, or during summer

      school if she is attending.  You might find additional helpful information

      in our articles, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-you-should-let-your-child-fail-the-benefits-of-natural-consequences/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/end-the-nightly-homework-struggle-5-homework-strategies-that-work-for-kids/. 

      Please be sure to let us know if you have any additional questions.  Take


      • Mom in WI
        RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Thank Rebecca.  Our goal is simply to have her do the work.  She has very plainly said that she does not expect or want to do anything differently next year.  I know this almost-summer time of year is a hard one for students, but the bulk of our clearMore goals and punishment/rewards happened mid-year.  Because the consequences we had set up were so ineffective, we decided to try another approach in the last quarter...to perhaps let the grades themselves be the natural consequence.  Maybe she'd be ashamed how poorly she did, for instance.  From what we can tell she seems to have failed quite spectacularly and couldn't care less.  We don't have any interest in beating her up about the grades that are already recorded.  But starting next school year, we don't know how to set her up for more success.  Everything we hear/read talks about natural consequences, but she accepts punishment (which is gruelingly constant) in a stoic manner without changing her academic patterns.  We want to set up some rules and consequences for next year but at this point we aren't sure how.
  • Adam McGoldrick

    There are some very valid points here. However, just because you don't know how to motivate a child doesn't mean it can't be done. Sure, the vast majority of parents have no clue how to do this, but the fact is parents can be very influential if they do things the right way.

    The first lesson is to avoid demotivating. You have written some good things on this but the number one thing that parents tend to do is correct their children. Kids hate being corrected and it doesn't take too many corrections to convince a child that they are no good at a certain thing, totally killing their motivation. Never correct a child when they are doing something you want to encourage.

    The second lesson is show interest in everything you want to encourage. Kids love and need attention from their parents, so to encourage or motivate them, show them you are interested. The best way to do this is to be interested. If your not interested and you still believe it is important, try faking your interest until you actually become interested.

    Avoid giving children the attention they need for negative things. If your children are getting all the attention they need by acting out, why would they be motivated to get the attention in positive ways? To achieve this you need to have good discipline strategies in place.

    Be vigilant, when a child starts to show some inclination to do the things you want them to do, make sure you acknowledge it. They need to know you notice, if you miss the opportunity to acknowledge something it may be a while before they try again.

    Concentration is hard for some kids, don't make it harder with poor sleep habits and a poor diet. It doesn't matter how motivated a child is, if they are tired they will struggle to concentrate and the same goes if they are on a sugar high or low. If you want motivated kids you must look after the basics.

    These are some real things you can do to motivate your kids, eventually their own success will start to motivate them. The more they feel in control of their destiny the more they will be self motivated.

    • SB in FL
      Adam McGoldrick What is a parent supposed to do to correct a child when they aren't reading correctly, when they interpolate words or just say the wrong word entirely?  That isn't supposed to be corrected?  I get the gist of what you're saying but don't understand how to apply itMore practically.
  • Maggs
    My daughter is 17 in the 9th grade, she is very social with family and friends and very good mannered. Active in sports but she is claiming is for her to be accepted by others. Not motivated with school work at all. I don't know how to help.
  • Todd
    My son is ADD and is unmotivated to do any schoolwork or any of his chores. All he wants to do is play with friends that are several years younger. Any attempts to take things away as consequences gets an angry and violent response ( i.e. Several holesMore in doors and walls). How do you handle this situation?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport


      This sounds like a tough situation. Holding a child

      accountable when he doesn’t meet expectations is important. It can be difficult

      to do, though, when you get a response that includes aggression and property

      damage. Many parents are unsure of how to respond to this behavior, so, you’re

      not alone. We have several articles that offer tips for dealing with anger and

      aggression. You may find the articles https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/angry-child-outbursts-the-10-rules-of-dealing-with-an-angry-child/ & https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/is-your-defiant-child-damaging-or-destroying-property/ helpful for learning ways of responding to this behavior. You

      want to be mindful as well not to give consequences in the moment when the

      behavior is happening. A more effective approach might be having your son earn

      privileges by meeting expectations instead of taking things away when he

      doesn’t do what he’s asked. You can say to your son something like “It’s time

      to do your chores. When you’ve finished your chores, you can have your video

      games” and then walk away. Don’t get pulled into a power struggle trying to get

      him to comply. I hope you find this information useful. Be sure to check back

      if you have any further questions. Take care.

  • Seeking Suggestions

    My daughter is lacking motivation related to her appearance as well as many other things.  She is living a lonely life and I can't get through to her that she is sending a message to others but giving the impression that she doesn't care.  Sometimes she is dirty looking.  She says my standards are too high and exaggerates my intension to the point of being ridiculous and blaming me.

    Any suggestions for how I can handle this?  I feel that I model positive behavior and make the effort to look clean, groomed and maintain acceptable hygiene.  You mentioned being a positive role model that is why I am mentioning it.

    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      Seeking Suggestions

      I can hear how much your daughter’s behavior distresses you.

      Addressing hygiene concerns can be tough. Sara Bean gives some great tips for

      steps you can take in her article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/poor-hygiene-in-children-my-kid-stinks-help/. Another thing to consider is

      making an appointment with her doctor and sharing your concerns. This could

      help to rule out any possible underlying issues that may be affecting your

      daughter’s behavior and choices. I hope you find the information in the article

      useful for your situation. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are

      going. Take care.

  • Sacarias
    Fantastic article! Thank you for all your help! God bless!
  • concerned parent
    thank you for these articles they reinforce what i know and if i can get my wife to read them it's going to help more.Any suggestions as to how to get my other to read this?
    • Sacarias
      You have to lead to water. Start doing what the article says and when your child starts improving, your partner will ask you where you learned what you are doing. Then, you can share the article and discuss together. Goodluck and God bless!
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