Do you ever look at other people’s kids and say ‘I wish mine were like them’.
Why is it that some kids just seem to be motivated, skilled and have the right attitude when mine are just lazy?
If this is you, it doesn’t mean you love them any less, it’s just that you may have some ‘late bloomers’.
The fact is most kids are motivated, just not necessarily motivated by the things that motivate you. Homework doesn’t, but playing sport or video games probably does.
The good news is the old saying of ‘they will grow out of it’ may be true.
The pre-frontal cortex which is the ‘executive centre’ of the brain and responsible for emotions, attention span, perseverance and flexibility develops at different rates. Sometimes it isn’t until late adolescence before it kicks into gear and isn’t fully developed until the age of 25.
The question is, what can parents do to avoid going mad whilst we wait for their brains to develop?
Here are my top 5 tips for managing unmotivated kids.
- Look at the whole kid. By this, I mean don’t get hung up on school grades or sports performance. What are they like with their friends, their family or their peers? Are they a good, friendly person who relates well with others, has a social conscience and obeys the rules? If they are then these are often greater predictors of future success than grades on a test. Understand who your kid is on all levels, and all roles they play in life, and you will probably find things that make you proud. They’ll appreciate it when you notice.
- The power of ‘when you’. When you become an adult it becomes clear that you get things only ‘when you…’. For example you get paid ‘when you’ work, you get fitter ‘when you’ exercise and get more friends ‘when you’ are friendlier. Help your kid learn this by using ‘when you’ to good effect. You get dessert ‘when you’ eat your dinner, you get to play videos ‘when you’ finish homework, you get to play in a game ‘when you’ go to training. This helps kids learn structure and consequences even before they are mentally able to grasp it by themselves. Some psychologists say kids can’t learn this concept until they turn 12. I believe if we can teach a dog to sit up for a treat, we can teach a kid that the ice cream doesn’t come until the carrots are gone.
- Motivation or anxiety. What you see as lack of motivation and put down as laziness is often anxiety about not doing well. We adults avoid doing things that make us anxious and kids are no different. Understand what is going on in your kids mind and create actual solutions to help. Just saying ‘don’t worry, you’ll eventually get how to do trigonometry’ won’t help the anxiety, but getting a tutor or asking the school for help – actually finding a solution – will relieve the anxiety. It will also relieve the perceived lack of motivation to study. Remember its actions that will help in these circumstances, not words.
- Create good habits. For example, teach them how to study properly and remove distractions that prevent them from concentrating. Understand that their little brains are prone to distractions so remove them as much as you can. Also utilize the school to find out what they are telling your child so you can be on the same page. Consistent messages will eventually sink in.
Importantly, concentrate on the now…not the future. Understand that your child hasn’t reached their peak yet and will not be perfect. Be careful of constantly driving them forward.
Right now is the most important time in your kids life so concentrate on that, not what they are going to do when they are adults… when they are no longer your responsibility.
Finally, understand that you are the one who genetically programmed your kid so if their brain is developing slower than some kids, it could be your fault.
Nathan Burke started his career as a schoolteacher before the demands of elite level football with St Kilda F.C. took over. Following a successful corporate career he founded Nathan Burke Consulting – a Melbourne based firm that offers High Performance Training and Coaching solutions to corporates, schools and sports teams.