Motivation in Motion

by Laura Kujubu

For the most part, my oldest daughter has always been what some may consider a “motivated” or “driven” child. However, I’m noticing that in her pre-teen years, she’s slipping ever so slightly. Over the past few months, she has forgotten to do a homework assignment over the weekend and left completed homework at home. I’m also noticing that time management and organization can be challenging. Beyond schoolwork, I’m finding I have to constantly give reminders before a few easy daily chores are done.

Although most would say her behavior is typical for her age, it’s still a bit worrisome to me. I try not to be the hovering, annoying parent, who nags, checks and double-checks, etc. But at the same time, what are the alternatives to make sure your child is getting done what needs to get done?


One of the best strategies to motivating your child is for them to want to do what is expected, whether that be to study for their spelling test, fold the laundry or clear their dishes.

One of the first steps is to have an open discussion with your child regarding expectations, while also letting them be part of the decision-making. For example, regarding the daily chores – what chores do they choose to put on their list? Would they rather do the dishes on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays? Of course, when it comes to schoolwork, they don’t usually have choices of when or what they want to do regarding homework/projects. But you can create choices of where they study; for example, create a workspace together with your child, where they feel comfortable, organized and settled while studying. Decide together when they will start their homework – will it be right after they get home from school or after-school care or will it be after they’ve had some downtime? Either way, pick a schedule that leaves them enough time to complete their work and also gives them some control.

Also, a low-pressure, patient talk with your child to find out why they’re feeling unmotivated, especially if this is a sudden behavioral change, is helpful. What do they think is going on? You can ask your child if there’s something happening at school, with their studies, with their friends or at home that’s making them feel unhappy and/or unmotivated. Get teachers involved as well and ask what they’re observing.

Getting Situated

A great way to get your child motivated is to help them get organized. For most kids, being organized is not an innate skill but one that needs to be learned, supported and encouraged. When a mountain of homework sits in a pile in disarray, your child will be less motivated to tackle their studies. Similarly, numerous chores can be daunting.

As stated before, get their study area at home set up in an organized fashion. Help your child prepare folders and binders for various subjects and projects. Also, give them a weekly planner in which they can write down their different homework assignments, as well as a schedule for how to work toward completing a long-term project.

Checklists are also great tools — somehow when it’s down on paper, responsibilities and chores seem less overwhelming. Your child can also get the satisfaction of checking each off as they complete one after another.

Reward or No Reward?

Kids should not always be given extrinsic rewards — when these rewards are removed from the picture, motivation can disappear. But small rewards every now and then for doing certain things, such as doing chores without being asked or meeting a goal at school, can be great motivators. However, verbal praise and support is just as valuable and important. Be enthusiastic when your child does more than asked at home or does well in activities such as school or sports.

So the middle of the road may be the best course to take – small rewards as motivators at times, but try not to use them as your sole form of incentive or reward.

Setting an example as an active and organized parent is also important. Show them how achievement and rewards are not often reached in a short amount of time and take persistence and effort. And let them know, without pressuring them, that your expectations are high for them. You know they can do something they’re striving for, but they just need to work hard toward reaching it.

So before I say for the fifth time in a row to my pre-teen daughter to set the table, I’ll need to figure out the best way to get her to want to set the table. This may involve some form of negotiation, discussion or even possibly a reward. Either way, I’m hoping we both get what we want in the long run.


Laura Kujubu is a freelance writer and editor in California. She has two elementary school-age daughters who keep her on the go — from soccer games to play dates to school events. Writing, running (“not nearly as much as I would like to”) and just hanging out with her family and friends are what keep Laura grounded and happy.