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Parenting Tip

February 10, 2015

How Can I Get My Children to Take Initiative?

Prodding kids along to get things done drains family life. We all know it. If only kids could see what needs to be done and take some initiative! Is it possible to train children to act without the continual pushing and prodding from parents? We say Yes! It is possible but it doesn’t typically happen without some intentional work.

In the preschool classroom a four-year-old learns to get out a mat, then a toy to play with on that mat. When he’s done playing, he puts the toy away and then puts the mat away before he gets out another toy. Yet the same child leaves messes all over the house at home. Why? It has to do with training and in our new book entitled Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told we’ve provided the roadmap you can use to teach your kids to be internally motivated in most any area.

Here’s how it works. First, parents need to move away from the reward/punishment model that stifles initiative in kids. Offering a reward gets kids asking about the minimum they need to do to get the reward. “Clean up your mess and you can play on the computer.” That approach, used over time, breeds selfishness in kids because they continually want to know what you’re going to give them if they do what you say. Children wait to be told what to do, and then evaluate the reward for obeying.

What’s the reason that a child should have for cleaning up a mess? Is it so the child can play on the computer, or because it’s the right thing to do? With the right plan, parents can train their kids to manage themselves more and rely less on parents to prompt them along.

Here’s Becky’s story. “I was frustrated with my kids in the morning. It seemed that they would wait around for me to tell them what to do next. ‘Get dressed… comb your hair… put your breakfast bowl in the sink… get your coat… find your shoes… and on and on it went. Then we made a change. I used the plan in Motivate Your Child to have my kids each create a list of the things they need to do in the morning from the time they get up until the time they get out the door. Then we broke up the list of tasks to do before and after breakfast. They each took their list and began to work independently. One of my children needed more training than the other, but now things run much better in the mornings and I do a lot less prompting. Even when I do have to give reminders I do it differently. I say, ‘Give me a report,’ or ‘What’s next on the list,’ further drawing my kids to their lists instead of relying on me. I’m eager to try this in some other areas of our family life too.”

Internal motivation relies on promptings from the inside to take action in four areas: Do what’s right, Deal with wrongs, Be honest, and Care about others. One of the signs of maturity at any age is demonstrated when a child takes initiative. Of course, it warms a parent’s heart when a child thinks maturely, or cares for someone else, or takes a stand for what’s right.

For ideas on developing internal motivation in kids, and helping them choose to do what’s right for the right reason, consider our newest book Motivate Your Child, A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told by Dr Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.

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