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7 Ways to Motivate Children When They’re Totally Unmotivated

Written by Natalie Maximets
Natalie is a Certified Transformational Life Coach and Content Writer for OnlineDivorce.com with experience in self-development, family building, and psychological well-being.
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All parents dream of raising motivated children and giving them access to better life opportunities. But what if their child does not want to develop and learn or refuses to strive for success? How to motivate children with such complete indifference to what happens around them?

You probably have used several methods already, such as threats, bribing, and punishment, depending on your parenting style. Some of it might work in certain circumstances but prove useless in others.

So, how can you spark your child’s interest in doing vital activities without pushing them away? There are quite a few strategies involving nurturing internal motivation and changing priorities and perspectives.

This article will talk about major factors that inhibit a child’s motivation and some mistakes to avoid while helping return it. You’ll also learn seven practical approaches to motivate kids to excel in life. Some might be more applicable to your situation than others since all kids are unique.

So, let’s get down to the juicy part already.

Why Do Children Lose Motivation?

Most children want all their time to themselves and are very annoyed when asked to do even the most minor chore or school assignment. Does that sound familiar?

The bright side is that you are not alone in struggling to find a magical way to motivate your kid. But the less bright side is that you’re not always in control of your child’s behavior and can’t lay your motivation on their minds.


A loss of motivation is common in children. The child’s interests dynamically change as they mature. Things that motivate a child at one age may suddenly become irrelevant at another life stage.

It has more to do with intrinsic motivation that occurs when a child is engaged in doing something pleasurable rather than bringing some material prize. But several external artificial factors can also affect a child’s motivation.

If we take the level of school attainment motivation, there are six inhibitors researched by Dr. Beth Hennessey:[1]

  • Competition
  • Time limits
  • Expected reward
  • Surveillance
  • External control
  • Expected evaluation

The way a child performs in different conditions also depends on their personality. That is why there are no universal methods to increase motivation in all kids.

7 Ways to Motivate Unmotivated Children

Some spectators might label unmotivated kids as lazy. But what is laziness, if not the total loss of motivation?

If they don’t lie in bed day and night (in which case, they might suffer depression), their drive is still there, but it lies in a different place than you would like.


Unfortunately, there is no 100% effective way to motivate any child anytime. Still, some motivational ideas for kids work better than others and are certainly worth trying.

1. Correct Your Parental Expectations

If a child lacks motivation, it may be because of harsh self-criticism caused by failing to fit the parents’ high standards. As a result, the fear of external criticism and devaluation prevents a child from taking up any activity.[2]

So, here’s a solution. You can realistically assess your child’s abilities and talents and stop pushing them too hard. What motivates your child at school is focusing on those activities that bring them joy and a sense of satisfaction.

For instance, if your kid prefers history lessons to math, promote this love and express your interest in this subject. Show them that you approve of their hobby and are ready to help or be a part of it if needed.

2. Plant Ideas for Your Kid’s Life Plan

Most children live in a bubble where their parents supply them with shelter, food, and some luxuries, depending on their financial standing. They haven’t tasted the grown-up life yet and have no idea how it works. For this reason, many teenagers grow up with a low level of responsibility.

That said, you have two options to shake up your child. First, if your teenager refuses to study because they think it’s useless, show them the reality of most people who drop out of school. Be careful not to offend anyone and suggest that working long shifts on low-paid jobs is unlikely to be your child’s sacred dream.


The second step is to help your kid explore some exciting careers that they might want to pursue. Talk about their strengths and ask about their passions. Then, make a list of several areas of their interest and specify the skills they require.

Some examples of what might motivate your child are working in the medical field, creating music, or starting a business. It’s essential to abstain from criticism at this moment. Once your child finds an exciting future possibility, their motivation will improve dramatically.

3. Invent a Reward for Doing the “Boring Stuff”

Isn’t it amusing to hear so many parents complaining about their kids hating housework? How many people have you met—an adult or a child—who enjoyed it that much?

Naturally, many of us strive to create comfortable living conditions, which pushes us to wash, scrub, and cook. It’s our choice as responsible adults, but it doesn’t work that way with kids.

Sometimes, the only motivation for children’s engagement in housework is a specific reward. It’s called extrinsic motivation, or the one that powers the tasks with external rewards, such as praise or money.

However, plan what reward to present to your child for accomplishing assigned chores carefully. Make sure that it is age-appropriate. And don’t forget to mention how well they’ve done their job, even if it wasn’t exactly flawless.


4. Shift Attitudes

The younger your kid, the less effort you make to correct their behavior by motivation. For instance, imagine that you want your 3-year-old to learn that helping around the house is good and cultivate this habit in the future. How can you motivate toddlers to do something?

Kids at this age mostly watch and imitate grown-ups.[3] Thus, you can provide a positive example to your child and show them that achieving small goals is fun.

The key factor here is to provide the opportunity for success. For this reason, make the task small and easy-to-accomplish, so that your kid wants to repeat the success later.

5. Offer Your Help

Previous success can easily motivate your child to do well in the future.[4] Unfortunately, many kids are intimidated by the fear of failure and prefer to avoid doing some tasks to stay on the safe side.

What can you do? Break the task into smaller achievable pieces, set short-term goals, and assist your kid in accomplishing them.

Be careful not to do the work for them. If it’s a school assignment, look through books and other informational sources together. Guide them to find the solution on their own while staying at their side.


At the same time, don’t put a time frame or say something like “You’re wasting my time” or “How many times do I have to show you this?” If they fail to achieve outstanding results, don’t let them feel your disappointment. Instead, your goal is to inspire them to learn things and enjoy the process.

6. Praise the Process as Much as the Result

Motivation in preschoolers and elementary school kids relies on the external reaction from grown-ups. How a parent motivates their child at this age differs significantly from how they approach middle and high-schoolers. Essentially, there are three critical mistakes you should avoid:

  • demonstration of a correct solution before a child finds it independently;
  • lack of praise for trials without significant results;
  • refusal to help a child learn a new activity.

Children need constant encouragement and do not respond well to criticism. So, instead of only praising a satisfactory result (for example, when a child completes a puzzle), say that you noticed how much effort they put into the task and that you liked their diligence.

7. Don’t Blame Your Child for Their Personality

Sometimes, no matter how many waking hours you spend motivating your child, your effort may have no effect on them—and it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s all about the child’s personality, which rarely complies with our vision of what you want them to be.

You can struggle to motivate your son to clean his room and wash his clothes. You can plead, argue, and cajole, and maybe he will obey occasionally. But if he does not share your attitude toward cleanliness, no amount of reward, punishment, or praise will change that.


Final Thoughts

The critical factor in starting and completing any activity is motivation. Thus, its loss is detrimental to a person’s chances of accomplishing positive results. But it’s also dynamic and can be nurtured by applying the techniques described above.

So, keep your cool, stay patient, and try different approaches. And most importantly, surround your child with love and care, no matter how well they perform at school or behave.

Featured photo credit: Keren Fedida via unsplash.com


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