Motivate Your Child

Sometimes it can be a challenge encouraging children to complete schoolwork (or do other things!) but a child who is motivated is set for life. If your child has a positive attitude and works hard to achieve their dreams – that is a great start.

So how can we help a child to get motivated? This guide will show you.


You may hear your child say, ‘Why? What’s the point?’

It’s important for a child to be able to see why they must do a task – especially one they don’t expect to enjoy. If they can see the bigger picture, or know what the purpose is, it becomes easier to motivate them.

If they are reluctant to complete homework, investigate the reasons. Perhaps they are struggling or bored. Work on this with them. If they are younger, it might be a good idea to sit with them while they work.


Setting goals is a fundamental part of motivating your child. Help them to set realistic goals they can expect to achieve. They can have short term goals (over the next week, or term) or longer term goals (over the next year… or ten years).

Ask ‘what would you like to…

  • …do?’ E.g. ‘Get into the football team’
  • …be?’ E.g. ‘Top of the class in Maths’
  • …have?’ E.g. ‘More friends’

They might set a goal for each school subject, or one overall goal.

  • Make sure their goals are within their own power, and not dependent on other people. For example: ‘Make Mrs Teacher a nice person’ may not be possible for them
  • Reality check this with: ‘What can you do to make this possible?’ or ‘How can you help this to happen?’
  • Ensure that goals are their own choice – and not yours! Children want to please you, but accept that they might not want what you want!
  • Children’s goals change, and not every goal needs an action plan. A six-year-old might want to be a princess! But if an eleven-year-old wants to be a doctor, talk through what they need to do to achieve it. That Maths homework might be more compelling if they know it will help them to get excellent grades – which will help them get into medical school
  • Help them to split things up into small steps. Explain the benefits of working to achieve each small goal to reach their bigger one
  • Offer support and praise

If their goals are huge – ‘be a millionaire’, or ‘go to Jupiter’ – don’t dismiss them out of hand. They might be achievable as future long-term goals, but they still need breaking down into small steps.

Action plan by asking these questions about their goal:

  • Why do they want it?
  • How can they do/have/be whatever their goal is?
  • What is the first thing they need to do?
  • Where will they do it?
  • Who with? Or who can help?
  • When will they do it?
  • And then, what will they do?

A compelling goal

Having a goal is fine, but how do you make it so irresistible that it motivates them into action?

Ask them to see themselves having achieved their goal – or to draw a picture. Make the experience of having achieved their goal feel real. Make it multisensory – How will it feel? What will they hear? (What will people say?) What will they see? (How will people look? Smiling? Happy?).

This will help them to have clear focus and they are more likely to work hard if they have ‘felt’ the success of getting something they really want.

Fear of Failure

Children measure themselves against others’ and can easily feel negative about their own achievements. Raise your child to be positive and strong, and teach them that, if they don’t succeed, they can try again.

Lack of self-belief or fear of failure can all contribute towards children feeling unmotivated. The BBC website offers useful advice on helping children to try new things, through developing a growth mind-set.

Help them to constructively criticise themselves and identify where they need to improve, and how they could do it.

Teach children that change can happen and, through determination and work, goals can be met.

Rewards and Praise

Rewards can be an incentive for children, but don’t bribe them with expensive items, or promises upfront. If you do reward them, let them select from a few options after the event. A sticker chart can be displayed in your home.

Some experts recommend that you praise effort, rather than achievement. Praise helps children feel good, but be realistic. If you give high praise to every single thing they do, your words will lose their value and have no effect.

Explain that you want them to try their best and, as long as they have done that, you will be proud of them.

Positive parenting

Maintain a positive mental attitude with your child and inspire them whenever possible.

  • This article has tips to help your child.
  • Encourage them to show you their work. Be enthusiastic about what they’re doing, ask questions and show genuine curiosity
  • Never make them feel that they are not good enough or that their efforts have gone unnoticed. Children can easily be disheartened and overly critical of their efforts - so don’t compare them to siblings, friends or relatives
  • If things haven’t gone well, particularly if they are doing important exams, help them not to dwell on mistakes. Keep their spirits up and move on
  • Suggest that they spend time on hobbies or participating in sports
  • Help to establish a healthy balance between work and fun, ensuring that they have time to relax and socialise

And finally…

Encourage your child to pursue their dreams, and let them know that you are there for them if they fall or falter.

But don’t overdo it. Often, letting them be is better than being a helicopter or tiger parent.

  1. Children might well be reluctant to do their homework! If your child always needs prompting, which of the following tactics is least likely to be successful?
    There could be many reasons, apart from laziness, why your child is reluctant to do their homework - maybe it's too hard, or too easy, or perhaps they are unhappy at school or even being bullied. Talk to them and find our what the problem is. Nagging your children and threatening them may work in the short term but any work they do under duress is likely to put them off homework even more. A better short term strategy is to make them face the consequences of not doing their work - detention after school might be enough to motivate them
  2. Children's hopes and dreams can be used to motivate them, even if they seem unachievable. Which of the following CANNOT be used as a long-term goal?
    Even dreams that are highly unlikely, so long as they are not impossible, can motivate children. To be an astronaut someone must do very well in Maths and Physics as well as maintain a good level of physical fitness. An interest in these subjects from a young age will set a child on an academic path, even if their dream of walking on Mars is dropped as they mature. Similarly, becoming a world class professional footballer is a tall order, but such a desire will mean that children practise sports, learn teamwork and keep fit. Unfortunately, in the real world there is not much call for dragon-slayers anymore! Such a dream does show great imagination though, so perhaps a creative career is on the cards
  3. When setting goals it's vital that they are things your child can control. Which of the following goals is NOT one that a child can make happen?
    Extra effort in their studies will almost certainly result in higher grades, and extra exercise will bring higher levels of fitness and strength. Children with fitness concerns may also wish to cut down on unhealthy foods, such as sweets or crisps, and this too can become a motivating goal. Sadly, for all our efforts we can't change others' personalities, so stopping a friend from bullying is beyond our control
  4. When setting goals for our children it is important that they...
    'Doing well at school' is not very specific and is open to interpretation. Getting As in all subjects offers a more concrete goal.
    Goals without deadlines, such as 'Learning to play the guitar' are easily ignored. When will you have learned - by the time you're 80 years old? 'Pass your grade one guitar exam this year' is a much more focussed aim.
    Goals must be ones that the child wants to achieve if they are to be good motivators. Maybe you want them to get As in every subject, but do they really?
  5. Visualisation is a technique using our imagination to practise, but does it really work? A study carried out by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that the muscles of those who imagined lifting weights...
    When we imagine ourselves doing something, our brains react as if it was really happening. When we imagine ourselves achieving our goals it does, believe it or not, make our success more likely. Encourage your child to see themselves completing their long term goals and this will help to motivate them
  6. A fear of failure can take away children's motivation. There is only one way to guarantee that we won't fail - what is it?
    The only 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that we don't fail is not to try - that's why many children are afraid to follow their dreams. To help them overcome their fear of failure, try to make them see that, if you learn from an experience, you have not really failed. Each attempt, whether successful or not, is a step towards achieving our goal
  7. Some children bounce back from failure and try to improve themselves. Others give up more easily, believing that they will never be able to succeed. What do we call these two ways of thinking?
    Research has shown that parents can help to change fixed mindsets. Praise your child's effort and encourage them to learn from their mistakes and this should bring about a more positive outlook
  8. Praising our children can help to motivate them but it has to be the right kind of praise. According to research, what would be the best thing to say if your child showed you a piece of work which was OK but not their best?
    Children can tell whether praise is sincere so over-praise doesn't go down well. It can also lower their standards - if they are praised even when they don't try, then why bother? Criticism of their work should always be done in a positive way, for example - 'That's good, but I've seen you do better. How could you improve this?'
  9. Positive parenting can have a huge effect on our child's education. In a recent study it was claimed that parental influence was the largest factor in the exam results of 16-year-olds. How much greater was it than any other factor?
    There are lots of things you can do to instil the right attitude in your children. Reading to them from an early age, having regular family time, talking to them, even letting them climb trees - everything we do affects our children's personalities. Even things which seem petty can help your child succeed at school
  10. According to new research carried out by the University of Texas, one of the following options will NOT help a child's education - which?
    Many of us think that involving ourselves in our child's schooling is the best way to guarantee results. However, it's been shown that strict parental involvement has no beneficial effect. What has been shown to help is to make children realise how important their education is. That way, they WANT to learn rather than HAVE to

Author: Linda Innes

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