Turn On Your Brain
Recently a young man described the method he used when he was reading. “Well, I just read,” he said. “You know, I open the page and I look at the words.” In other words, he was just waiting for the words to create an impression on him. But words by themselves are just clusters of sounds coded into funny little shapes and printed on the pages of the book. No amount of wanting or trying would get those words off the page and into my friend’s brain without a conscious effort on his part!
This lesson applies to motivating children as well. An unmotivated mind is a passive mind. Motivation means finding a way to show your child that changing is to his or her advantage.
Children can begin this process by learning that while life is full of joy and triumph, it may also contain failure. Because we love our children and don’t want them to be hurt, we often try to take away their failure. If we fight too many battles for our children, or shelter them from the stings of little defeats, they never learn that victory is won at a cost.
Children must learn that engaging in the battle is fun. Failing is not wrong! It is a cause for celebration because it means we are trying. Learning this requires a subtle paradigm shift. We have been sold a bill of goods about self-esteem and failure because someone told us that failure damages self-esteem.
Nonsense. Failure allows healthy children to develop self-esteem. Knowing that a child can try, fail, and try again is the beginning. It helps to develop the confidence that somehow he or she can cope (“Somehow I can figure this out”).
Next we must teach our children that if they learn certain basic sets of rules they will experience success. In order for children to build a healthy self-esteem, they must believe that they live in a world that they can understand. In other words, the child must be able to say to himself or herself, “Even if I don’t succeed right away, I am capable of understanding, trying and eventually succeeding.”
The next step to motivating is to help the child relate the task to something that is important in their own life. Why will this be a good thing to do? What will I gain from the change?
Small challenges and rewards
Our job as parents is to help children find the answers to these questions by using examples from their day-to-day world. Initially, you can help this process along by creating small challenges and giving occasional rewards for trying. Offering stickers, praise, tickets to the water slide or even the occasional cheeseburger can be part of a child’s motivation. Obviously the best and longest lasting motivation comes from the development of a healthy self-esteem and confidence in his or her own mind. But occasional treats are not entirely bad.
Children with passive minds will not develop healthy and robust self-esteem. Being active means making the attempt. Being passive means waiting for someone or something else to act for us. Helping a child to develop an active mind is not only one of the greatest gifts a parent can give but also one of the greatest challenges we can face.