Is your child struggling to stay motivated and focused? Then don’t miss
today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, as our guest Stacey Wolking reveals the
biggest mistakes you might not know you’re making.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Stacey Wolking. She’s a
former homeschooling mom and one of HSLDA’s educational consultants. Stacey,
it’s great to have you with us today!
Stacey Wolking: Thanks Mike! It’s really great to be
The motivation breakdown [0:26]
Mike: Now Stacey, this week we’re going to talk about
motivating your children to succeed. So when parents come to you and say, “I
don’t know what to do—my children just don’t want to learn,”
what’s the first thing you tell them?
Stacey: Well Mike, a lot depends on their age. Kids up to about 6
or 7 have a nearly unquenchable curiosity. So if they aren’t motivated to learn,
then we’ve possibly squashed that with a bit too much structure or not engaging
them enough. Now if they’re a bit older—say up to fifth grade—we can
often get them excited about learning by adding in some music or games or activities. I
love lyrical learning and audio memory. Besides enhancing their memory, the cheesy
songs will get you all laughing together.
Now if they’re older, we want to get them invested by letting them make some
choices. Make a point of asking for their input as they come with their own goals
and plan of action.
Mike: Stacey, in your experience, what are some things that can
cause a real lack of motivation in children?
Stacey: Well, it’s totally natural that parents sometimes get
overwhelmed by the emotional demands of little ones. But we need to take advantage of
this early window of curiosity by really engaging with them. And that takes time.
Answering their many questions is good, but on the other hand we need to teach them
the skills and the desire to figure things out for themselves. We can do this by
responding to their questions with a question, which will help them develop their
powers of observation and critical thinking skills.
Now if kids are older and uncooperative, it’s often because they are not
feeling heard or part of the decision-making. They can get frustrated when they have no
say in the matter. So the key here is to slow down and purpose to engage with your
children of all ages.
Cultivating independence [2:03]
Mike: Stacey, how can parents create a home environment that
fosters self-motivation and independence in their children?
Stacey: When they are young, give them their own to-do list. They
will love the sense of accomplishment that comes with checking things off that list
just as much as we do. When they’re a bit older, say third or fourth grade, with
your assistance, let them create their own to-do list. We want them to be challenged
but not feel loaded down with too much work. So let’s help them find that right
balance. When your students see the big picture by having their own list, they will be
more inclined to figure things out themselves and move on without us.
Also, be sure to capitalize on your children’s interest and help them see the
value of what they’re learning by applying it in real life. Eliminate
distractions and establish and consistently enforce clear rules and their expected
progress. Teach them how to learn efficiently by staying focused, breaking a task down
into small steps, and applying good study practices. And don’t assume kids know
how to be organized. We need to teach them how to organize their time and their
And lastly, make it worth their while. Incentives do motivate kids! Years ago, my
kids were so motivated to get their chores and schoolwork done by 3pm so they could
watch Wishbone—it was a dog’s reenactment of classic literature.
They loved it so much, I’m not even sure they realized that it was educational.
Our goal is to create a stimulating environment, yet not a demanding one. This will
motivate them to take responsibility and work independently.
Encouragement vs. constructive criticism [3:27]
Mike: Well Stacey, what roles do encouragement and constructive
criticism play in motivating children, and how can parents know when to you one and not
Stacey: Well personally, I found this to be very tricky. Even with
the best of intentions, my constructive criticism was not always taken very well. I
think we’ve all heard the saying: For every one criticism, our children need to
hear 10 positives. Well obviously, that can be really tough to do. But the truth is,
young kids 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, “Well 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. Also when we praise their efforts, not just their successes, we make it
okay to make mistakes. The truth is, we’re all motivated by praise, aren’t
Another key issue is respect. I’ve 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. Kids desperately want to be taken seriously, so
validate their feelings and opinions. Encourage your students to ask questions and
express new ideas without fear of ridicule or correction. And if you can’t agree
with them, encourage them with “Well, I hadn’t thought of it that
way,” or “That’s an interesting way of looking at it.”
And lastly, if you’re discussing a problem, ask them to come up with a
solution. Then we need to be good listeners and be flexible and willing to try a new
Mentality matters [5:03]
Mike: Stacey, what are some of the biggest pitfalls parents can
fall into when trying to motivate their children—and how can they avoid them?
Stacey: More than anything, I would say it’s the way we talk
to our kids. Sadly, we often get into the ‘us-the-parents versus
them-the-kids’ mode, when instead our kids need to feel confident that
we’re on their team and will help them accomplish their greatest goals and
desires. Most kids naturally tend to be optimistic idealists, and we seasoned and
sometimes weary parents can unwittingly steal their spark with a bit too much of a
reality check, when instead we should be encouraging them to try new things. If it
doesn’t work out, it’s okay—there will always be something to learn
from their mistake.
I’ve also found kids react strongly to ‘do as I say, not as I
do’ and ‘say what you mean and mean what you say.’ These
may be old clichés, but as kids get older, they become very sensitive to what
they perceive as a parent’s inconsistency.
Another big issue is making sure your home is a safe and trusted environment where
your kids can discuss and wrestle with thoughts and ideas without fear of being laughed
at or ignored—including from their siblings. Let them know that the family always
has each other’s backs. You could have regular family meetings where the kids
feel safe to bring up anything. I know of families who have a ‘weekly
blessing time,’ where each person says something they appreciate about each
family member. This can do wonders for creating family unity, which in turn motivates
The key to motivation [6:30]
Mike: Stacey, what is the most important advice you have for
parents who are trying to get their children motivated and working hard?
Stacey: Well we don’t mean to, but I often see parents holding
their kids back—and especially their firstborns. It is often hard for parents to
see that their children are growing up, which unwittingly sends the message that we
don’t have confidence in them. Have you ever had the experience of being away
from your children for a few days and coming back, you think, “Whoa! When did
that happen? When did they get so big?!” For some reason, we tend to continue to
see them as little and often forget to give them more challenges and more
responsibilities as they grow up. So periodically, we need to step back and get a fresh
perspective. They truly crave to be seen as mature individuals worthy of our respect.
So let’s communicate our trust and confidence in them.
They also really need to know that you think they are capable. Not only should we let
them make some choices, but also allow them to take some risk as they will often learn
from natural consequences. By letting them take some risk, we convey that we believe
they have what it takes to make it in the world. That confidence will create initiative
and motivate them. Encourage them to do things that challenge and stretch them. This
helps them feel grown up, and when we give them lots of opportunities to prove
themselves, it lets them know that we believe in them and see them as capable. When
they are confident, they will be motivated.
Mike: Well Stacey, it’s been a real blessing having you on
the program this week. And thank you so much for sharing your insights and experiences
with us. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.