Motivate your child

By Drum Digital
14 October 2014

WE LIVE in a highly competitive society where everyone – children included – are constantly bombarded with messages to be the best at everything.

Yet some children are quite happy to not be one of the top achievers. Should moms be worried about this? And how do you motivate your children to do their best without putting too much pressure on them? We asked experts for guidelines.

If your child is happy to be second best it’s a sign he or she has a good self-image, Durban psychologist Claudette Jordan says.

“We have to be careful as parents not to unconsciously teach our children that their value only counts if you win or you’re the best at something,” she warns. “If this happens they’ll soon learn to strive to earn approval and use whatever means at their disposal – sport, musical talent or academic achievement – as an avenue to build their sense of self-worth.”

Children should be raised to feel they have value just because they are, not because they’re good at something. “They should be taught to celebrate their uniqueness, that each of us is born with different gifts and strengths and that we’ll not necessary be good at the same things as our peers.”

If you can establish this foundation you’ll raise your child with a good self-image. “Whatever actions they engage in become an extension and a celebration of who they are, not an opportunity to plug a hole of neediness for affirmation or recognition.”

Beware of laziness

On the other hand it can be dangerous to not motivate your child at all, Claudette says. “Children might get into a pattern of laziness of diminished responsibility and get by with doing the bare minimum. Sometimes motivation has to start of externally but with the goal to make this intrinsic to your child.”

Parents must create an atmosphere where it’s not about “winning” or “being the best”, but rather about giving your best. “Then we are encouraging pride in the attitude towards and process of engaging in an activity rather than the end result.”

How to motivate your child

The most important thing to remember is that it’s about your child, not you. “His participation is not your means to live vicariously through him and in so doing improve your own self-esteem. That is immature, selfish and totally unfair on the child,” Claudette says.

Let the child be the main decision maker and remind them they chose the musical instrument or sport themselves. Also ask them what they’d like to achieve in certain field. Claudette has the following tips:

  • Guide children to set realistic goals that are within their abilities and for which can make time on their programme, keeping in mind their other responsibilities such as homework, socialising with their friends and family time.
  • Praise their attempts rather than the results.
  • Teach your children to be proud of themselves and not to rely on praise from others.
  • Be supportive and encouraging, not critical and controlling.

On the sports field

There can be no sporting achievement without children motivating themselves, says Pretoria sports psychologist Greyling Viljoen. “If you put too much pressure on a child he’ll become demotivated and stop an activity at the first opportunity, or perhaps become ill or injure himself. The child must first and foremost want to take part in the sport.”

If children do take part in competitive sport you must distinguish between the achievement and child. “Children are inclined to say: Poor performance means I’m not good enough. Then a parent should rather discuss the match and focus on a tactic or technique that can be improved.”

It’s also a good idea to emphasis hard work, not performance, Greyling says. “When you set goals with your child talk about goals along with the process: What must I do to get where I want to be? Emphasise the goal is to train a certain number of hours a week rather than being among the top three.”

- Suzaan Hauman

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