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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

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    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 February 11, 2021

    3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

    3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

    I’m old enough to remember how the cane at school was used for punishment. My dad is old enough to think that banning corporal punishment in schools resulted in today’s poorly disciplined youth. With all of this as my early experiences, there was a time when I would have been better assigned to write about how to negatively discipline your child.

    What changed? Thankfully, my wife showed me different approaches for discipline that were very positive. Plus, I was open to learning.

    What has not changed is that kids are full of problems with impulses and emotions that flip from sad to happy, then angry in a moment. Though we’re not that different as adults with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and stimulants such as sugar and caffeine in our diets.

    Punishment as Discipline?

    What this means is that we usually take the easy path when a child misbehaves and punish them. Punishment may solve an isolated problem, but it’s not really teaching the kids anything useful in the long term.

    Probably it’s time for me to be clear about what I mean by punishment and discipline as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different.

    Discipline VS. Punishment

    Punishment is where we inflict pain or suffering on our child as a penalty. Discipline means to teach. They’re quite the opposite, but you’ll notice that teachers, parents, and coaches often confuse the two words.

    So, as parents, we have to have clear goals to teach our kids. It’s a long-term plan—using strategies that will have the longest-lasting impact on our kids are the best use of our time and energy.

    If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, then it becomes easier to find the best strategy. The better we are at responding when our kids misbehave or do not follow our guidance, the better the results are going to be.

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    3 Positive Discipline Strategies for Your Child

    Stay with me as I appreciate that a lot of people who read these blogs do not always have children with impulse control. We’ve had a lot of kids in our martial arts classes that were the complete opposite. They had concentration issues, hyperactive, and disruptive to the other children.

    The easy solution is to punish their parents by removing the kids from the class or punish the child with penalties such as time outs and burpees. Yes, it was tempting to do all of this, but one of our club values is that we pull you up rather than push you down.

    This means it’s a long-term gain to build trust and confidence, which is destroyed by constant punishments.

    Here are the discipline strategies we used to build trust and confidence with these hyperactive kids.

    1. Patience

    The first positive discipline strategy is to simply be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to get results. Remember I said that we need to build trust and connection. You’ll get further with this goal using patience.

    As a coach, sometimes I was not the best person for this role, but we had other coaches in the club that could step in here. As a parent, you may not have this luxury, so it’s really important to recognize any improvements that you see and celebrate them.

    2. Redirection

    The second strategy we use is redirection. It’s important with a redirection to take “no” out of the equation. Choices are a great alternative.

    Imagine a scenario where you’re in a restaurant and your kid is wailing. The hard part here is getting your child to stop screaming long enough for you to build a connection. Most parents have calming strategies and if you practice them with your child, they are more likely to be effective.

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    In the first moment of calm, you can say “Your choice to scream and cry in public is not a good one. It would be best to say, Dad. What can I do to get ice-cream?” You can replace this with an appropriate option.

    The challenge with being calm and redirecting is that we need to be clear-minded, focused, and really engaged at the moment. If you’re on your phone, talking with friends or family, thinking about work or the bills, you’ll miss this opportunity to discipline in a way that has long-term benefits.

    3. Repair and Ground Rules

    The third positive discipline strategy is to repair and use ground rules. Once you’ve given the better option and it has been taken, you have a chance to repair this behavior to lessen its occurrence to better yet, prevent it from happening again. And by setting appropriate ground rules, you can make this a long-term win by helping your child improve their behavior.

    It’s these ground rules that help you correct the poor choices of your child and direct the behavior that you want to see.

    Consequences Versus Ultimatums

    When I was a child and being punished. My parents worked in a busy business for long hours, so their default was to go to ultimatums. “Do that again and you’re grounded for a week,” or “If I catch you doing X, you’ll go to bed without dinner”.

    Looking back, this worked to a point. But the flip side is that I remembered more of the ultimatums than the happier times. I’ve learned through trial and error with my own kids that consequences are more effective while not breaking down trust.

    What to Do When Ground Rules Get Broken?

    It’s on the consequences that you use when the ground rules are broken.

    In the martial arts class, when the hyperactive student breaks the ground rules. They would miss a turn in a game or go to the back of the line in a queue. We do not want to shame the child by isolating them. But on the flip side, there should be clear ground rules and proportionate consequences.

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    Yes, there are times when we would like to exclude the student from the class, the club, and even the universe. Again, it’s here that patience is so important and probably impulse control too. With an attainable consequence, you can maintain trust and you’re more likely to get the long-term behavior that you’re looking to achieve.

    Interestingly, we would occasionally hear a strategy from parents that little Kevin has been misbehaving at home with his sister or something similar. He likes martial arts training, so the parent would react by removing Kevin from the martial arts class as a punishment.

    We would suggest that this would remove Kevin from an environment where he is behaving positively. Removing him from this is likely to be detrimental to the change you would like to see. He may even feel shame when he returns to the class and loses all the progress he’s made.

    Alternatives to Punishment

    Another option is to tell Kevin to write a letter to his sister, apologizing for his behavior, and explaining how he is going to behave in the future.

    If your child is too young to write, give the apology face to face. For the apology to feel sincere, there is some value to pre-framing or practicing this between yourself and your child before they give it to the intended person.

    Don’t expect them to know the ground rules or what you’re thinking! It will be clearer to your child and better received with some practice. You can practice along the lines of: “X is the behavior I did, Y is what I should have done, and Z is my promise to you for how I’m going to act in the future.” You can replace XYZ with the appropriate actions.

    It does not need to be a letter or in person, it can even be a video. But there has to be an intention to repair the broken ground rule. If you try these strategies, that is become fully engaged with them and you’re still getting nowhere.

    But what to do if these strategies do not work? Then there is plenty to gain by seeking the help of an expert. Chances are that something is interfering or limiting their development.

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    This does not mean that your child has a neurological deficiency, although this may be the root cause. But it means that you can get an objective view and help on how to create the changes that you would like to see. Remember that using positive discipline strategies is better than mere punishment.

    There are groups that you can chat with for help. Family Lives UK has the aim of ensuring that all parents have somewhere to turn before they reached a crisis point. The NSPCC also provides a useful guide to positive parenting that you can download.[1]

    Bottom Line

    So, there your go, the three takeaways on strategies you can use for positively disciplining your child. The first one is about you! Be patient, be present, and think about what is best for the long term. AKA, avoid ultimatums and punishment. The second is to use a redirect, then repair and repeat (ground rules) as your 3-step method of discipline.

    Using these positive discipline strategies require you to be fully engaged with your child. Again, being impulsive breaks trust and you lose some of the gains you’ve both worked hard to achieve.

    Lastly, consequences are better than punishment. Plus, avoid shaming, especially in public at all costs.

    I hope this blog has been useful, and remember that you should be more focused on repairing bad behavior because being proactive and encouraging good behavior with rewards, fun, and positive emotions takes less effort than repairing the bad.

    More Tips on How To Discipline Your Child

    Featured photo credit: Leo Rivas via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] NSPCC Learning: Positive parenting

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