If there is one quality I want my children to have, it is a sense of motivation.
I want my kids to know the value of hard work and how it will help them reach their goals. But sometimes, I look at today’s society and wonder how I can go about building motivation in my own children.
I might take some flack for this, and I am ok with that, but I’m not a fan of participation trophies or medals. To me, trophies are meant to set an individual’s accomplishment apart from the rest.
That said, I also don’t think the Most Valued Player should be the only player receiving a trophy. I won trophies for Most Improved Player and Best Sportsmanship growing up and think these awards are just as important as any awards that focus on outcome only. I feel these categories are just as motivating to young people. I can improve a lot and be rewarded for it without being the MVP. Being sportsmanlike and creating a positive atmosphere that helps drive my team to victory or supports them when they do not win can contribute just as much as if I’d been the high scorer for the season.
You might remember I have referred to myself before as a ‘recovering overachiever.’ I’ve apparently always had a drive to work hard. (Although, I admit, maybe too hard). I attribute my drive to my parents, who always stressed the importance of working hard and doing my best.
As I grew up, I knew what it was like to succeed, but I also knew what it was like to fail. Failing frustrated me. However, it also motivated me to try harder. The desire to do better was always there after I faced an obstacle.
Last year, I read a news story about a high school sports team that held tryouts. When the team was picked and announced, there was a student who did not make the team. This individual was quite upset about it. I can’t blame her for being upset. It is hard to have a dream that does not come to fruition no matter how old or young you are. However, this student’s parent appealed to the school administration. The parent wanted their child included on the team despite not being picked to join the team based on the tryouts.
I know from experience that when your child fails, you feel it too. We all want our kids to succeed and when they don’t, a chunk of our hearts goes right down with them.
But the result of this parent appealing to the school administration was that the team was ordered to include everyone. Anyone who wanted to be on the team, could be, and no one could be cut. The intent of the decision was to make it so that no one’s feelings would get hurt. I can tell you from reading the article, it did not achieve this goal. The students who worked very hard, prioritizing practice of their skills for tryouts over other enjoyable events and made the team were upset. These students said they felt as if their hard work didn’t matter.
The moral of the story for all parties is that life isn’t fair. However, I feel terrible for the students who worked hard only to have their accomplishment diminished in value when the rules were changed. In a lot of ways, I felt angry that the school administration made the decision they did.
I picture these students trying to get jobs as adults. If someone more qualified gets the job, are these kids going to have their family write letters to CEOs saying they need to create a job for their children? Of course not. At least I hope they won’t. The appropriate response is to go back to the drawing board, revamp your resume, seek out more training to make you a more desirable candidate, maybe seek out some new interview tips, and try again.
I want my kids to have the drive to try again if they don’t reach their goals. If I can instill this motivation inside of them, I know I won’t have to worry so much about them as adults.
The desire to try again will take them far. So, I started thinking about specific ways I believe that I can, as a parent, go about building motivation in my kids. The following is a short list of ideas I came up with:
1) Help my young kids figure out what activities they’d like to try.
This does not mean I will sign my kids up for every activity our local Parks and Recreation program offers, as fun as they all may sound. What I want to do is present 3 (maybe 4) activities to my children that fit within our family’s schedule. Then, I will let them choose which one or two activities they’d like to try at a time. Together, we can navigate what activities go over well and which do not.
2) Assist my children in setting attainable goals.
This goes for academics and extracurricular activities.
One of my flaws as an overachiever back in school was being a perfectionist. I had goals, but probably too many. In college, I drove myself insane having such high standards for myself. It was a blessing and a curse at the same time.
I think what I can do with my kids while they are little, is help them set small, reachable goals. For example, maybe one of my children doesn’t end up being so good in math class. Maybe we set a goal for how much and how consistently they work on math for the year.
As far as activities go, maybe the goal during baseball season is to become better at catching the ball. In that case, I might practice more catching than batting in our backyard.
3) Give them specific feedback and encouragement.
As a Speech-Language Pathologist, substitute teacher, and now a second grade soccer coach, I’m going to do the best I can to give the children I’m working with praise and constructive instruction on how to do better. In graduate school, they always taught the sandwich method of giving feedback. First, you provide the child with praise, then tell them how to improve, then give them another piece of praise. For example, ‘You did amazing with hitting at baseball this week! When we practice next time, we’ll work on helping you open your glove better to catch the ball. But you did a great job moving towards the ball when it was thrown to you!’ I need to do more of this with my own children to help boost their self-esteem and help them not be as discouraged by their challenges. This is a great strategy for building motivation.
4) Demonstrate positive thinking.
I need to be excited about activities for my kids. Even though dragging myself out of bed to get to sporting events early may not be my cup of tea, I’m going to try to do it with a smile. Kids pick up on their parents’ moods and attitudes towards activities. If I am moping around when it comes to soccer, they may feel negatively towards it too.
5) Be a model. Share your personal goals with your kids.
Children follow their parents’ and caregivers’ leads. Putting my own motivations on display demonstrates healthy ways to set goals. All summer long, I’ve made a billion to-do lists. My son has watched and helped me make lists of what needs accomplishing. Despite the fact that there’s not many academic or sports activities included on my daily to-do lists, he always begs me to let him cross items off my list as we achieve our goals together. He seems to feel a great satisfaction when doing so. I’m hoping he sees me using this method build motivation and apply himself to academics or his own goals.
My children are also aware that I have other goals; I share with them what next knitting project I want to do that may challenge me, what I want to learn to cook, and what my future running goals are. One thing I want to do more of is share my successes and my failures with them. I want them to understand that I don’t always succeed the first time, either. I am human and it takes time for me to learn skills, too. I want them to see my drive to work hard in action and learn from my example.
In the end, I just want my children to learn to try their hardest.
I do not want them to give up on their interests even when they don’t succeed. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If I can encourage my own children to live by this concept, I will have accomplished my goal.