Tips for motivating your kids

Do requests to your child to clean up his room, unload the dishwasher or help with yardwork always seem to fall on deaf ears? Getting your kids to do what you want them to do does not have to deteriorate into a war of wills, parenting experts say...

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Reflection in mirror of smiling girl with pigtails cleaning bathroom. Artfoliophoto /

Do requests to your child to clean up his room, unload the dishwasher or help with yardwork always seem to fall on deaf ears?

Getting your kids to do what you want them to do does not have to deteriorate into a war of wills, parenting experts say. Certain communication strategies have proved to be useful in motivating kids.

The first thing to remember is, don't ask.

"Don't start your request with 'Would you please ...,' " said Molly Soeby, parent resource coordinator with the North Dakota State University Extension Service for Grand Forks County and a certified advanced trainer of the Nurtured Heart Approach, a program aimed at teaching parents and others how to help "difficult" kids use their intensity in successful ways.

"When the brain hears a statement that sounds like a question - like, 'Would you please help me clean the house?'- it (implies) there are options," she said. "When we hear a question like that, we start thinking of options to not do what we're asked; we just do."


Use declarative statements instead.

"End the sentence with a period, not a question mark, (such as) 'I need you to come to the table' or 'I need you to pick your room up,' " Soeby said.

Be specific

To a young child, a messy room may be overwhelming, so be specific about what you want the child to do.

"When you say something like, 'Pick up your stuffed animals,' you're making it really clear what you want," she said.

Soeby cited an example of a father she met in a Nurtured Heart class who was part of a blended family. The children in the family needed "a lot of affection," she said, but he could never coax a hug from his stepson.

"He would ask, 'Can I have a hug?,' and the little boy would always say no. After taking the Nurtured Heart classes, the father changed his request to, 'I need you to give me a hug,' and the child did so, right away.

"That shows we process statements differently," she said.


By setting rules, communicating expectations and taking a calm approach, you'll increase the chances of attaining the results you're after.

"Every minute, a child is going to decide whether or not to listen to the parent," Soeby said.

When parent and child disagree or reach an impasse, "(the child) can control us-you can get drawn into anger and ranting," she said.

Establishing consequences for kids' misbehavior or lack of action is a good thing, but there's a difference between consequences and punishment, Soeby said.

"(For example) your kid may (forfeit) the keys to the car if they're late coming home ... (but) you don't have to lose the relationship over it. We can still have a nice evening (even though) she may be mad. You can say, 'Let's watch a movie; have some popcorn with me.' "

Decision making

To motivate young children to carry out tasks, parents "need to be aware of where their motivation is, and give them ownership of what they're doing," said Judy Milavetz, an early childhood educator at UND.

Typically, children around the age of 2 "will reject your help," she said. "That's part of their independence or autonomy that's so necessary for emotional and social development. They want to do things they see you doing. The challenge is directing them to a safe way of doing things ...


"The best way to have success (in motivating kids) is to let them take the lead," she said. "Give them time and attention. Any weakness on the part of the child (presents) a way for us to invest in them."

Children seek out their parents' attention, Milavetz said. "It makes their life more meaningful and builds self-esteem if we're talking about what they're doing-talking and showing that you're noticing (their actions)."

Milavetz does not recommend using incentives to motivate a child, noting that "in reality, in the long run, that doesn't work," she said.

"Incentives change the whole connotation, the idea that we work together to help each other. It sets up the tasks as (something) unpleasant that requires a reward to make it palatable.

"It causes the child to think about the tasks differently. It changes (the task) to something you're interested in, but the child is not."

To get your kid to pitch in with household tasks, "invite their input," Milavetz said. "In terms of chores in general, make it more of a democratic process. You could say something like, 'By the time we get to Saturday, there's way too much to clean up. What can we do, every day, so we don't spend all of Saturday morning cleaning? There are jobs that need to be done every week; which ones would you like to do?' "

Approach this conversation as a problem-solving process, she advised.

"Children in kindergarten through 8 years old can be more involved in the discussions. It encourages them to think of ways they can help. They can see what their strengths are, see the bigger picture and that your expectations are flexible."

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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