8 ways to motivate your child without threats

Aspire Counseling includes a specialty in individual and family therapy for children and their parents.

You have told your child to take a shower, brush their teeth, pick up their messes at least 100 times and it still has not been done.  Sound familiar? By now you feel exhausted and frustrated having to ask your child to these simple tasks over and over again; are they even listening to you?  How can you possibly motivate your child without feeling like you are constantly yelling at them? Here are 8 ways to help you get them going.


1. Set goals and make a plan

Goals will need to be achievable and age appropriate.  In order to reach these goals you will need a plan. Help your child create a strategy for reaching their goals.   The plan should be step-by-step and done in increments. If your child has not brushed their teeth in a while, getting him to brush his teeth twice a day, every day is not going to be achievable right away. Start small. Your child’s goal could start with brushing his teeth once or twice a week. It’s not the time recommended by the dentist but hey, you’re getting your child to brush once or twice rather than nothing.  After your child has made this goal for a good amount of time, try making it three to four times and so on. Include your child when making goals.  Asking him to do too much right away could set him up for failure from the start.

2. Encouragement

Encourage your child!! Let her know that you believe in her.  Let your child express feelings and concerns and really listen.   Ask your child for input, ask her for an opinion on things and show her that you value that opinion.  Your child is an individual and may have different views than you, let her know that it is okay.

3. Celebrate accomplishments/ Rewards

Celebrate your child’s achievements, no matter how small they are!   Let your child know that you are proud of him, who doesn't like hearing that?!  Offer positive reinforcement that will inspire your child to keep challenging himself.  In some cases accomplishments will call for a special treat: ice cream, family game night, 10 extra minutes later bedtime, an hour of video games, etc. Rewards can take on many different forms and do not have the break the bank.  Rewards like high fives or special one-on-one time are some of the best rewards as they promote positive relationships. Celebrate with your child. Focus on the strengths. Maybe math is not his best subject, but he worked really hard to get that C+ on the test. Celebrate!

4. Make things competitive

Challenge your child to some healthy competition.  Make the competition about positivity and strength.  Losing should never be about weakness; “Last one done is a rotten egg” is probably not how you want to introduce the competition.  Instead, make the outcome something fun like: "If you clean the living room before I finish the kitchen, you get to choose what to make for supper!"

5. Stay calm/don’t shout, argue, beg or plead

Staying positive and calm will help the situation to not escalate into a full blown argument.  Try describing the situation instead of assigning blame. Instead of yelling “You didn’t do the dishes AGAIN and now I can’t make supper!,” calmly say “When the dishes are not done, I have trouble finding clean dishes to use to make supper”.  Children usually already know they have made a mistake, and honestly, who loves listening to lectures? Keep it simple and to the point.

6. Don’t offer empty threats

"If you don’t eat your supper, you can’t go to grandma’s house..." Empty threats don’t work!  These threats are never carried out and kids will catch on to this. They will figure out that their parent will back down even if they continue their behavior.  This will teach your child to misbehave because he or she will not have to face a consequence. 


7. Don’t do their tasks for them   

Let your child make mistakes!  Turn mistakes into learning opportunities.  If she forgets her backpack at home, let her face the natural consequence--late homework.  If we tell kids to clean their room and then just end up cleaning it for them, what is the learning opportunity?  You have taught them that if they don’t do it, their parents will. As parents we would love to make things easier on our kids, but then how will they face obstacles in the future without you?  Instead of doing things for them, lead them by example. Children are influenced by the world around them, with your actions and attitudes having the strongest effect on them. By setting good examples it can help your child from making unhealthy choices.  

8. Follow through

Use deadlines.  Have your child complete the task in an appropriate and specific time-limit.  Giving one hour to clean his or her room may set them up for failure if the room is a disaster.  If this is the case, assign a specific task or portion of the room to be cleaned in the time limit.  Make sure your child is clear about the time-limit and the consequence to follow if it is not done by that time.  It is up to you to follow through with the time-limit and consequence.  Otherwise it becomes an empty threat. It is also important to follow through every time to show your child consistency.  Eventually, he or she will catch on and know you are serious each and every time.