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Motivating children

Subha Parthasarathy, Sept 5, 2013, DHNS

LET GO

The learning process of children gets affected when their thoughts, feelings and pace is questioned or hurried. Subha Parthasarathy proposes ways to support and encourage them rather.

Eight year old Rahul was refusing to sit with his mother and solve the 100 piece puzzle, which was purchased because he had shown interest in solving similar puzzles. Earlier, Rahul would sit for hours and enjoy doing the puzzles but now he was finding all kinds of excuses for not playing with the puzzles. This was confusing to the mother.

Parents want their children to be motivated enough to learn new things and skills. Shruti, a seven year old, enjoys being in the swimming pool wearing her jacket. Her mother, seeing her enthusiasm, enrolls her for a coaching program. First few days go fine and after that Shruti refuses to go for coaching and when she does, she cries all the time saying, “I hate this,” and “I want to go home.”


The above mentioned examples highlight two aspects about children;
* Children are naturally interested in learning, and
* The learning process gets affected when their thoughts, feelings and pace is questioned or hurried.

Interestingly, a child is constantly learning new things whether we want them to or not. They are learning how to juggle with different subjects at school, work   with their peers and teachers, learn new sports, make time to attend various classes etc. In this process, all that they need is support and acknowledgement for the challenges they take up.

Acceptance and allowance

So the question is, “Does that mean we just leave the children to themselves and do nothing about their learning?”

What would happen if Rahul is given some space to progress with the puzzles at his pace? May be it would take some time to reach a 100 piece puzzle . Would that be so bad? We do carry a belief that children learn faster when they are young and need to learn new things quickly. It is also true that there is no age for learning.  Quite often, adults learn new skills even after 60 and appear to enjoy learning new things.

What would happen if Shruti learnt swimming at the age of 10 instead of seven? How different would her life be? We need to question and take stock of the thoughts we are working with. Many a time, it stems from our belief, “We did not learn or did not have the opportunity - now our children should learn new things quickly.”

The first step for a parent is to let go of the belief that if the child does not learn now, he/she will never learn it. When we let go of this belief, we become relaxed. Working from a relaxed state we are able to accept our children as they are and allow them grow at their pace.

Encouraging to enjoy learning

The next question is what can parents do to motivate their children? Do children need to be motivated? Do they understand the need to learn things on their own? There are definitely certain things, as parents, teachers, and adults we can do for the children to encourage them to enjoy their learning.

* Communication with children: Talk kindly and honestly with children about where s/he thinks his/her interests and abilities are. Then share your own opinions, based on your observations of them. Look for common ground, but never dismiss the child’s self-assessment as inappropriate or unrealistic. Create an open environment by allowing the children to dream instead of suppressing their dreams by telling them how it is not possible.

* Concentrate on the process: When we are constantly looking and focusing on the end result, we might miss the opportunity to look at the enormous amount of work that went into every step and the progress made by the child at every step. Understand the child by using language which facilitates the child to move forward from the point where they are stuck.
* Ask open –ended questions (How, what else, How differently… etc)
* Identify the specific place where the child may be stuck with something
* Identify opportunities in each experience rather than problems.
* Allow them to think instead of providing solutions.
* Encourage them to set goals for themselves, however small they may seem to the adult (e.g. dressing up oneself, brushing, eating, how much do I want to get in a test etc)

Here are couple of beliefs that can help while working with a child;
* They are capable

* They have the ability to think and solve many of their problems
This in turn will help children understand their strengths, think on how they can improve their skills and work towards their goals instead of working towards goals set by parents.

Promoting healthy attitudes

Focus on what the children “have” instead of constantly focusing on what they do “not have”. Sometimes things do not go the way we want and we call this a “mistake”’. This is just an “experience” from which we have the opportunity to learn and maybe do things differently next time.

Being constantly focused on “mistakes” can cause children to be demotivated. As adults, we can work with the attitude that we are constantly learning all the time. This helps children to develop a healthy attitude towards any kind of experience.

We need to appreciate children by;

* Being specific about the work done
* Making children aware of their strengths
* Taking interest in their feelings and thoughts about work
* Using anchors like thumbs up/salute/smile/hi-five etc
Striking the spark that motivates children produce an internally fuelled quest for their goals that no amount of external rewards, threats or pleas can equal. Self –motivation helps individuals to develop their greatest potential and as parents we can in various ways facilitate the process for our children so that they can reach their potential.

As someone beautifully puts it, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and assign them tasks and works but rather teach them to long for the sea.”

Let it be the child’s goal and then we will get the answers for our questions, “Does my child need motivation or how to motivate my child?”

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