Motivation is a huge topic. So many times I have parents complaining to me that their child doesn’t seem motivated and they want to know how they can motivate their child to be more driven. The short answer is: you can’t. The long answer is: you can help coach or guide them to find more motivation within themselves. Especially with kids with learning disabilities or other challenges, finding the motivation to do the tasks that are hard for them can be especially tricky.
Bobby is a 4th-grade student diagnosed with a specific learning disability in reading. He loves sports and thrives on the soccer field. However, when it comes to reading, he is extremely resistant and any time he reads it’s because his parents have either promised him something afterward or threatened him with not being able to do something he wants to do. Both Bobby and his parents are at their wit’s end and feel like they can’t continue on like this anymore.
When something feels good and is rewarding, it is motivating. There are many things that can make something feel good but generally, it is fun, you are good at it, it is interesting, it is meaningful, or you really want something / are determined. But how do you motivate for something that isn’t these things?
There is intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Simply put, extrinsic motivation is being motivated by external factors. For example, praise received from adults is an external factor in motivating kids. Intrinsic motivation is being motivated by something internal. For example, Bobbie might be intrinsically motivated to become a great goalie in soccer because he’s good at it and it feels good.
William Stixrud and Ned Johnson wrote a captivating book called “The Self-Driven Child” which I highly recommend. In it they talk about letting kids make their own choices and parents acting as a consultant for the child versus telling them what to do. When the child is given the choice to do something, you can increase their level of motivation by letting them understand the pros and cons of their decision.
I would also add the need for goal-setting to provide more motivation. Have your child choose his/her goals. The goals should be achievable and measurable. If I was working with Bobby, I would ask him what his goals are with reading. He might respond something like “to never do it”. With that, I would reply, “do you really think you can go through your entire life without being able to read? Do you think this a realistic goal?” Then, I would work with him to help coach him on a more realistic goal. Maybe he decides his goal is to finish 1 entire book by the end of the school year (for struggling readers, 1 book is enough – whatever they feel is manageable will aid in increasing their motivation to do it). I would have Bobby write down his goal first. Then I would have him tell me all the ways he is planning to reach his goal.
Read 1 book by the end of the year (we would also talk about which “just right” book to choose along with a book that is high-interest)
1. Read at least 3 pages 4x/week
2. Will do my reading before dinner time, while mom is cooking dinner
3. Won’t watch tv or play with toys until my reading is done
Motivation is also driven by things that are interesting so make sure the book is something the student is into. For Bobby, he might pick a book about a famous soccer player. The final step is letting the child pick out a reward once the goal is achieved. I would suggest something like “going out to ice cream and a movie” rather than a toy or money. Once they feel like they’ve accomplished something that was challenging for them, their level of motivation increases dramatically. Really have them reflect on the feeling it gives them and watch their smile light up their face. It’s truly magical. I’ve attached a link to my goal-setting worksheet but there are many to choose from online. I like to use one that is simple, and to the point. Keep it somewhere in plain view so they can always be reminded of what they’re working towards!