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Published on October 21, 2020

3 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn And Grow Positively

3 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn And Grow Positively

It was August 2007, and I was in a corner coaching my 8-year-old son. We were inside the Modern Sports Arena in Karlsruhe, Germany. Sam was in front of hundreds of people cheering, fighting for his first “World Kickboxing Title” in the under 25KG weight class.

Our journey getting to this point was a twisty road of arguments, tantrums, and growth for me and my son, Sam. On reflection, there were some motivational nuggets that, fortunately, I was able to apply in time to help our relationship grow positively.

From our journey, I’m going to share three key takeaways in motivating your child.

As a martial arts coach, I want to help my students improve their skills, techniques, and mindset. There’s a popular strategy for doing this. When you see a mistake in a student, correct it and help the student build good habits through repetition.

This sounds logical and straight forward—so does good parenting, but the approach is majorly flawed. Publicly correcting someone is the lowest form of human emotion—shame. What we are doing is publicly shaming the student and putting them into a negative mindset.

At home, we are privately shaming our kids and putting them into a defensive mindset. Our first strategy has to be the polar opposite.

1. Constantly Catch Your Child Doing Something Right

This reinforces the positive behavior you want to see. It does not mean you should never correct your child because there’s always going to be a need for this.

Think of your child as a bank account. If you constantly catch them in the moment of doing great things, you make a deposit. Every time you correct them, you make a withdrawal. It’s easier to swallow the withdrawals if there’s already a healthy balance in your kid’s emotional account.

If Sam had already heard “great effort on the pads” or “that kick was 100% accurate”, he was much happier hearing “keep your hand up when punching” if this was a key coaching point.

Tony Robbins has a great quote for this:

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Energy flows where attention goes.

Once you start looking for the great stuff your kids are doing, you’ll start to see more great stuff and this builds positive energy while interacting with them.

Being a parent is hard, but being their coach as well makes the relationship a lot more complicated. You have two hats to wear. So, on the days that they don’t feel like training, it can hit you two times in the face.

The secret here is to empower your child with choices, not ultimatums.

2. Choices, Not Ultimatums

Ultimatums come so very naturally to us when we’re tired. “Sam, grab your kit bag and get in the car or you’re banned from Nintendo for a week” is so easy to say when they do not want to train.

We are parents. We know what’s best for them, so we use ultimatums to reinforce our control, right? However, it’s usually our inner monkey voice that speaks when we give these ultimatums, so we’re not really in control at any point.

Instead, I’ll take a deep breath, clear my head, and say “Sam, we’re off training in 15 minutes. Do you want to get your kit in the car now or finish your game first?” It’s a subtle difference but with a choice like this, you’re taking “no” out of the equation and empowering your child to make a responsible decision.

You probably think that using your authority keeps you in control, but it’s a thin illusion. Nobody appreciates being told to stop what they are doing to do something else. It discounts their opinions as worthless, and they’ll resent your instruction.

The chore may get done, but you can feel the negative energy, and the task is never performed in a way that would make you feel satisfied.

There’s an opportunity to implement this approach all the time, and it builds a healthy relationship.

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“Would you like broccoli or cauliflower?” “Would you prefer to do your homework on Saturday or Sunday?”

When coaching my son Sam, I was getting much better results from applying this strategy. It could be as straightforward as “Do you want to work on your punching or kicking today?” or “Do you want to train on Saturday or Sunday this week?”

This could make all the difference to how the session started, with lots of positive energy right from the go.

The last tip is the hardest one to swallow as a parent. It’s all about us.

3. Monkey See, Monkey Do!

Kids mimic their parents—from how they talk to how they behave and act. We have a much bigger influence on our kids on what we tell them to do.[1] They’ll copy our attitudes, mannerisms, and so much more. This means that what motivates our children involves what we do as parents.

At first, we might think this is great. The big “but” is that they do not copy the characteristics that we want them to. They seem to focus on our bad ones and magnify them by a factor of 10.

I’m always learning how to be a better parent and coach. Just because I’ve been driving a car for over 25 years does not mean that I’m good at it. Many drivers spent a few months learning to drive, then repeat the same driving mistakes each year ongoing. If you’ve ever tried to teach your child to drive, you’ll understand how many changes there are from when you learned and how many mistakes you make that your kids are very happy to point out as well.

Telling them to ”do what I say and not what I do” is not going to win that discussion. If you want your child to be more confident. What have you done lately that demonstrates your confidence?

If you want your child to grow their self-esteem. Do you complain about wrinkles, waistline, or something else consistently within earshot? If you want your child to be a world champion in kickboxing, what are you doing to demonstrate excellence to your child?

The point here is that we all have room for improvement. You’re reading this article, so you care about developing as a parent.

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Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, says that kids “may not always do what we say, but they will always, eventually, do what we do.” So, most of what children learn about how to behave is from what we model. That’s why regardless of what you consciously teach your child, they will learn more from what they live with.

My challenge to you is to list 3 ways you can be a better role model for your kids and take action to follow this plan.

4. Bonus Tip: How to Supercharge These 3 Tips

There is one old school method of positive motivation that is much debated by scientists and parents: the power of extrinsic motivation or rewards.

Every parent has their opinion on this. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “You can have your dessert when you sit still and finish your dinner.” Did the child sit still?
  • “You can have a happy meal after we visit the doctor for your booster”
  • “You can play on your console if you do your homework”

The idea makes sense—reward a less appealing task with a more pleasurable experience. This is known as extrinsic motivation.

The problem with this approach is what Vanessa LoBue Ph.D. refers to as the “what will you give me for it” or “what’s in it for me?” attitude that we’ll develop in our kids.

But there is a subtle difference that makes all the difference that came out of the study made by Lepper, R. M., Greene. D., Nisbett. E. R. This was a study on preschool-aged children using a fun drawing activity. This is an activity that kids would be happy to perform without being instructed to do so.

Kids were encouraged to play with markers. One group was told they would receive rewards like gold certificates if they played with the markers. The other group was not told about any rewards, but some of the children still received them as a surprise for their efforts.

The outcome was that the children expecting the reward was significantly less motivated in performing the task than the children who were not told about the rewards or received one as a surprise.

Within this study lays the magic ingredient for motivating our kids to learn and grow positively. Promising rewards can actually reduce the joy of performing a task or intrinsic motivation.[2] But like the kids in the study, receiving an unexpected reward can positively reinforce the behaviors that we want to see.

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When you combine this with the above strategies. You’ll supercharge the results.

For me, when coaching my son. He was always going to get a happy meal after training. I’m a cool dad and like to treat my kids, but the timing of the treat makes all the difference.

When I stopped him immediately after performing a skill well that we’ve been working on and said:

“Sam, that punch was world-class. It was like the Bruce Lee Back Fist in ‘Enter the Dragon,’ and it helped me fall in love with martial arts all over again”. “Your choice—happy meal or subway, after class. You’ve earned it”.

I saw a smile on my child’s face that is priceless.

    Here, I’m combing tip number 1—constantly catch your child doing something right with an extrinsic reward. This is a powerful parenting tool. You just need to find a good compliment and match a good reward with the right timing.

    When it came to Sam’s last round in the world championships, fighting for a World Title in the under 25kg category, he did not win the Gold Medal. However, we both learned more about good parenting and Sam has some great lessons to pass on when it’s his time to raise kids of his own.

    Final Thoughts

    Someone once told me that when you read a good book over again, you don’t find anything new in the book—you just find something in you that you did not notice before.

    Just taking the time to read an article like this will help you look deep within yourself and learn how to motivate your child positively.

    It’s now 18 years since I started this journey with Sam to become a world champion. He never quite managed to win the title but took national champion and an international bronze medal for kickboxing. But by the age of 21, he is leaving university with ‘no debt,’ owning his first house and a pet axolotl called ‘Boba’.

    If you can successfully find the right approach to positively motivate your child, it will be transformational.

    More Tips on Motivating Your Child

    Featured photo credit: Mike Fox via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Psychology Today: How Do Children Learn Right From Wrong?
    [2] Psychology Today: Motivating Children Without Rewards

    More by this author

    Lee Douglas

    Martial Arts Coach and Self Protection Expert

    3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child 7 Positive Parenting Techniques to Raise Happy Kids 3 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn And Grow Positively

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    Published on April 30, 2021

    35 Easy And Healthy Dinner Ideas For Kids

    35 Easy And Healthy Dinner Ideas For Kids

    Parents jokingly say that the most challenging part about raising kids is deciding what’s for dinner. While it’s funny, there’s also a lot of truth to it. Kids can be picky. They love something one day and despise it the next. They also don’t care if something is healthy or not. And good luck ever getting dinner “right” if you have more than one kid. More kids equal more opinions.

    What can busy parents do to get their kids to eat healthy meals? How can mealtime be easier?

    First, you might be wondering if new recipes will even help. Picky eaters are good at refusing anything and everything. Kid-friendly meals won’t be beneficial if your child isn’t open to new things. Even kids that aren’t overly picky tend to shy away from new foods. Ironically, they also hate eating the same things over and over.

    So, what’s the best way to overcome meal-time frustration? Make it fun! Distract kids with a bit of creativity. They’ll be more likely to eat if everyone is relaxed and enjoying the meal.[1]

    Before I dive into the 35 dinner ideas for kids, here are some tips for getting young kids to eat and break out of that dinner rut.(Mayo Clinic: Children’s Nutrition: 10 Tips For Picky Eaters))

    1. Make Breakfast for Dinner – Switch things up by serving breakfast for dinner. Kids will love the surprise. Use fruit, bacon, and sausage to make it more filling. Some days can be exceedingly rough, so oatmeal and fruit can even be an option.
    2. Involve Them – Kids love to help and will be more excited to try the food they helped make. Touching and seeing the ingredients during the process can help your child become more familiar with them and ease their uncertainty. The biggest benefit is you’ll be spending time together, not to mention the value of learning to cook.
    3. Do Dinner Buffet-Style – Set food and toppings out on the table buffet-style and allow kids to dish up their plates. What works well for a buffet?[2] Tacos, pancakes, pizza, nachos, finger foods and chili are just a few of the many ideas out there. Don’t be afraid to come up with your own.
    4. Creative Presentation – Turning a meal into art is another way to get kids interested. Nothing makes food more interesting than when it looks like a face, flower, or boat. Get creative with how you present the food!
    5. Have Fun With Themes – The options here are endless. You could base it on your child’s favorite characters or focus on a different culture, region, or even history. This is a great way to introduce your child to how and what others around the world eat.
    6. Bribery – Sometimes, parents have to resort to shameless bribery to get kids to eat. It’s okay to use a little extra motivation to get kids to try something new.[3] We all need a boost now and then. Avoid using dessert as a motive to eat dinner, but what are some harmless bribes to try? For instance, stickers, temporary tattoos, extra screen time or bedtime book.

    Now, let’s get to the dinner ideas. Meal planning is just one more thing to do in an already busy day. This list of dinner recipes for kids can help. Remember, you can always make modifications to fit any dietary needs. These recipes are a good starting point and can give your tired brain a boost of creativity.

    1. Cheeseburger Pasta

      Children love pasta and cheeseburgers, so mix the two for an irresistible dinner for kids. Make it even better by using fun pasta shapes like shells or rotini twists.

      Get the recipe for this instant classic here.

      2. Tacos on a Stick

        Sticks make everything better when you’re a kid—so, why would dinner be any different? This meal doesn’t get any easier, either, scoring major points with parents. All you need are bamboo skewers and a few simple ingredients.

        Get the recipe here.

        3. Nacho Pizza

          This is another creative twist on two classic meals most kids will quickly devour. Go as crazy or as simple as you want with this quick dinner.

          Find the recipe here.

          4. Gnocchi Chicken Skillet

            Pasta with a unique twist makes for a meal that kids will be curious to try. This one is so good, it might become a favorite for parents, too.

            Check out the recipe here.

            5. Hamburger Pizza

              Another mashup and more burgers, the hamburger pizza is just too good to pass up—all the flavors of a burger in the form of a childhood favorite.

              Go here for the recipe.

              6. Chicken Noodle Soup

                No list would be complete without this classic. Cheat a little by using rotisserie chicken, and have this soup done in under 30 minutes. Say goodbye to the canned version.

                Find the recipe here.

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                7. Hot Dog Roll-Ups

                  Refrigerated crescent rolls, hot dogs, cheese, and bacon come together for a dinner for kids that can’t get much quicker.

                  Find out how to make this fun hot dog dinner here.

                  8. Tater Tot Nachos

                    Not your every day nachos, this recipe uses tater tots as a base. You can use whatever toppings you know that your kid loves to improve it.

                    Check the recipe out here.

                    9. Muffin Tin Lasagna

                      Muffin tin lasagna is just like lasagna but smaller. It’s perfect for little fingers and faster to make than the original.

                      Get the recipe here.

                      10. Frito Pie Casserole

                        Frito chips add crunch to this quick Tex-Mex meal. To make it extra special, turn it into Tacos in a Bag by mixing everything into individual bags of chips.

                        Find the recipe for this delicious meal here.

                        11. Cheeseburger and Fries Casserole

                          Cheeseburger and rise casserole—two fast-food favorites combined into one flavorful casserole. Why eat out when you can have a quick, hot meal at home?

                          The recipe can be found here.

                          12. Meatball Submarine Casserole

                            This dinner for kids may be a little less messy than the sandwich, but they will still love the meatballs, melted cheese, and warm bread.

                            For a quick midweek meal, check out the recipe here.

                            13. White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

                              The best of comfort foods gets a quick upgrade. Kids will still enjoy this favorite while parents can appreciate the grown-up flavor of white cheddar.

                              Get the recipe here.

                              14. Turkey Ranch Wraps

                                Easy, delicious, fun, and fast—what could be better? This meal is also easy to pack, making it great for those hectic nights when you’re on the go.

                                Find the recipe here, and give it a try.

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                                15. Big Mac Pizza

                                  Just saying the words “Big Mac” will get little ears to perk up. A pre-made crust makes this dinner a fast answer to those mealtime frustrations.

                                  Go here to find out how to make it.

                                  16. Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

                                    Homemade yet easy to make chicken tenders—what gets better than that? Add a side of vegetables and fruit and you have a complete meal that kids will happily gobble up.

                                    Get this easy recipe here.

                                    17. Meatball Sliders

                                      Sliders are a great snack or dinner for kids—small hands, small sandwiches. Plus, the tiny size makes them more fun than the original.

                                      Try this recipe here.

                                      18. Ham and Cheese Pockets

                                        Don’t let the idea of making homemade dough keep you from trying this recipe. You’ll be glad you did when you see how simple it is. Everyone will love biting into a ham and cheese pocket made with fresh bread.

                                        The recipe can be found here.

                                        19. Dorito Taco Salad

                                          Swap out tortilla chips for Doritos and watch kids find a new interest in taco salad. Use single-serving bags as the bowl, add the toppings inside, and enjoy having to do fewer dishes.

                                          Get the recipe here.

                                          20. Spaghetti Nests

                                            Kids love spaghetti, but they’ll be surprised to see it as little “nests” they can eat with their fingers.

                                            Find out how to make them here.

                                            21. Mini Chicken Pot Pies

                                              With only four ingredients and done in half an hour, what’s not to love about this dinner idea for kids? Homemade doesn’t have to mean difficult.

                                              Get the recipe for this comfort food favorite here.

                                              22. Sandwich on a Stick

                                                Save the time slicing, spreading, and piling and instead, put everything onto a stick. Kids will love pulling each item off, and you’ll love the easy clean-up.

                                                Find the recipe here.

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                                                23. Tornado Dogs

                                                  The name alone might be enough to make kids eat these. Hot dogs on a skewer are wrapped in a swirl of bread dough, making this a fun new way to eat an old favorite.

                                                  The recipe can be found here.

                                                  24. Homemade Spaghettios

                                                   

                                                    Make your own healthy version of Spaghettios at home with this simple recipe. It’s cheap, simple, and you have control over the ingredients. You might never buy the canned version again.

                                                    Find the recipe for this childhood classic here.

                                                    25. Kitchen BBQ Chicken

                                                      You don’t need anything fancy for this meal, though it will taste like you put a lot of effort into it.

                                                      Find out how to make this quick version here.

                                                      26. Puka Dogs

                                                        Polish sausages or hot dogs are used in this Hawaiian recipe. Pineapple relish and mango mustard add tropical flavors, and Hawaiian rolls are used for the bread.

                                                        Get the recipe here.

                                                        27. Instant Pot Chicken and Dumplings

                                                          Almost everyone loves dumplings, and it’s a nice side dish or dinner for your kids. Add chunks of chicken and creamy gravy—what’s there to complain about?

                                                          Get the quick version of this all-time favorite here.

                                                          28. Chicken Alfredo Casserole

                                                            Casseroles make for an easy dinner for kids, and this is one you might find making over and over. Pair it with a salad and you have a delicious Italian meal without the fuss.

                                                            Get the recipe here.

                                                            29. Pizza on a Stick

                                                              Bamboo skewers switch up yet another meal. This time, pizza gets a makeover in this creative twist.

                                                              Find out how to make these here.

                                                              30. Pita Tacos

                                                                Instead of taco shells, this recipe uses pita bread. Kids will have fun filling the “pockets” with taco ingredients.

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                                                                Go here for this delicious recipe.

                                                                31. Copycat Instant Pot Hamburger Helper

                                                                  There’s something classic about Hamburger Helper, but now you can make it just as quickly from scratch. Noodles, ground beef, and sauce come together in this delicious instant pot meal.

                                                                  Get the recipe here.

                                                                  32. Cheese Fondue

                                                                    Fondues open up the door for creativity. Children might even have a few ideas for foods to dip into the cheese sauce. Pretzel bites, bread, vegetables, and meat make good options.

                                                                    Find more ideas and the recipe here.

                                                                    33. Egg in the Hole

                                                                      This recipe is one of those quick breakfasts that would make a great dinner for kids when you’re in a rush. Make it even better by using a cookie cutter to make a fun shape in the bread.

                                                                      The recipe can be found here.

                                                                      34. Instant Pot Egg Casserole Bites

                                                                        These casserole bites are filling and quick. The small size makes them easy to eat and their clean-up a breeze. Kids can add their favorite toppings, too. Cheese, peppers, sausage, and bacon are just a few options.

                                                                        Find out how to make this recipe here.

                                                                        35. French Toast Roll-Ups

                                                                          Sometimes, it’s the simple things that grab a kid’s attention. This french toast recipe is sure to be a dinner they love and one you don’t have to feel bad about making.

                                                                          Find the recipe here.

                                                                          My Kid Still Won’t Eat—Is This Normal?

                                                                          Remember that kids go through stages. There will be days when your child barely eats, and there will be days when the hunger seems nonstop.

                                                                          Focus on the big picture and ask yourself these questions:[4]

                                                                          • Is my child eating a variety of healthy foods over the course of the week?
                                                                          • Is my child undernourished or growing normally?
                                                                          • Is food (or lack of) interfering with my child’s quality of life?

                                                                          It might be time to see a doctor if you see signs of health problems due to pickiness or lack of eating. The problem may go beyond stubbornness and be a symptom of a medical issue.[5]

                                                                          Keeping Family Mealtime Stress-free

                                                                          The less stressed you are, the less stressed your child will be. Forcing food will make the experience negative, leaving kids less likely to experiment.

                                                                          Here are a few final tips on how to encourage positive eating habits that will follow your child through life:

                                                                          • Keep meals stress-free
                                                                          • Offer a wide variety of foods
                                                                          • Don’t force eating
                                                                          • Encourage older children to try new food at least three times
                                                                          • Set a good example by eating healthy, and being open to new foods yourself

                                                                          With a positive attitude, fun ideas, and new recipes, you can help your child learn to love new foods. You can start with these 35 dinner ideas for kids to help you out.

                                                                          More Kids’ Meals Ideas

                                                                          Featured photo credit: Karo Kujanpaa via unsplash.com

                                                                          Reference

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