All children are born with a nearly unquenchable curiosity and a strong desire to become independent individuals. How many times have you heard your toddler say [or scream], “I can do it myself!”? This God-given natural motivation to learn, fill up their little sponge-brains, and be independent serves them well.

Experts say that kids tend to be innately self-motivated till about six or seven years old. It’s totally natural that parents sometimes get overwhelmed by the emotional demands of little ones, but let’s try not to miss this window-of-opportunity to help them develop the skills and attitudes that will feed their life-long self-motivation and initiative.

So slow down, seize the moment, and apply these six principles to inspire their self-motivation. And if your kids are older, don’t despair, we can still make some adjustments that will “light their fire” of motivation.


Sadly, all too often, we unwittingly squash a child’s natural curiosity and independence because, frankly, we can get tired of or overwhelmed by the myriads of questions they ask and the additional time it takes to let them be independent. For example, we all know it takes more time to let them do chores, get dressed, or do a task all-by-themselves.

Of course, we need to answer their (many) questions, but on the other hand, we want to teach them the skills (and the desire) to figure things out for themselves. One way to do this is by responding to their questions with a question that will help them develop their powers of observation and critical thinking skills.

So the key here is to engage, and that. takes. time. Yes, it may be quicker to just answer their question, or do it for them, but it is far more productive when we teach them to be independent and how to think things through! Since kids truly love to be challenged, when given the opportunity, they will usually rise to the occasion.

Now, if kids are older and unmotivated, it’s often because they’re not feeling heard or part of the decision making; they can get frustrated when they have no say in the matter. We want to get them invested in their learning by letting them make some choices. Make a point of asking for their input and coming up with their own goals and plan-of-action.


I think we have all heard the saying: for every one criticism, our children need to hear ten positives. Obviously, that can be really tough to do. But the truth is, young children are naturally motivated to please their parents, so let’s be specific with our praise as well as give them hope for their mistakes. When they mess up, you could say, “That didn’t turn out so well, did it?” or “What could you try different next time?” Our kids will feel empowered to try new things AND do them well when we create circumstances for them to be successful or make a point of “catching” them doing good. This will build their self-esteem, which is vital to self-motivation.

Also, when we praise their efforts, not just their successes, we make it okay to make mistakes. The truth is, we are all motivated by praise, aren’t we?

Be sure to “say what you mean” and “mean what you say.” If we tell them that we will get off the phone and help them tie their shoelaces in two minutes, but it stretches to 15, they will learn how to deal with time the same way. The next time you say, “It’s bedtime,” and they say, “Just two more minutes,” you can bet they won’t mean it either. And speaking of clichés, I’ve found that kids also react strongly to “do as I say, not as I do.” Especially as kids get older, they become very sensitive to what they perceive as a parent’s inconsistency.

Talk to them with respect. I found it helpful to ask myself: would I talk to my friend this way? Everyone wants to be treated with respect, especially kids. Nothing conveys our love and respect better than asking them how they feel and what they think. So ask them questions and find out what motivates them and makes them tick.

Kids desperately want to be taken seriously, so acknowledge and validate their feelings and respect their opinions. Encourage your student to ask questions and express new ideas without fear of ridicule or correction. If you can’t agree with them, encourage them with “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” or “that’s an interesting way of looking at it.” We must be careful not to be dismissive or laugh at them—and we must avoid those dreaded eye rolls. Don’t say, “You wouldn’t understand,” instead, help them to understand. Never compare them to their siblings or others; instead, help them find their own uniqueness.

If you are discussing a problem, ask them to suggest a solution. Then we need to be a good listener AND be flexible and willing to try a new approach. (Be prepared, they often come up with some creative and unorthodox solutions. This is where we get stretched to keep an open mind.)

Encourage your child to dream/think about their future by asking them questions, but avoid influencing their thoughts.

Set a great example and be sure to apologize when you are wrong.

Include them in adult conversations, especially when you have company in your home.

Middle School tip: It seems like around the time that kids get to middle school age, they can often come across as a bit self-absorbed and selfish. To get them to tune in and listen, start out talking about how it is going to affect them. Try saying things like, “If you would like to go to your friend’s house, please first take out the trash,” or “You will earn some video time when you kindly play with your little brother,” or “I know you would rather not mop the floor, so please take off your muddy shoes.” Or start a sentence with, “Which would you prefer . . . ?” or “I am so pleased with you when you . . .” See if that doesn’t help to catch their attention.

Read on in this series to learn about tips three and four!