In this article, I want to share some motivational techniques for children to help you support your child through exams as well as provide them with study inspiration that will see them through to success. This is a compilation of my experience from many years of working as a professional life coach for kids.
Let me start with a real case.
A few years ago, I was working with this nice 15-year-old boy. His family and school were tremendously caring and supportive. However, at some point, he told them that he was going to give up on music (he was at grade 7 for Trombone). He mentioned he needed the time to study. The parents didn’t like it but trusted their kids’ decision making. After a few months, he mentioned how he was dropping off the rugby team. Again, he said he needed the time to study. At this time, the parents started getting suspicious.
While he claimed he wanted all the possible time to study, his day to day habits were not very good. He still had no motivation to study. He would mess around with his homework, procrastinate and resort to arguments when confronted by his parents. Consequently, as you can imagine, his grades were plunging.
We met a couple of times for kids coaching sessions, and it was always a joy to see him. He was intelligent, articulate and charming. However, he was also very closed in a few areas of his life, especially in the academic field. I had to be very careful when entering those areas, but with a good relationship, he allowed me to ask a few questions.
At one point, he burst, saying: Javier, “If I don’t try, I don’t fail. If I try and fail, I have only me to blame”
He then went quiet for a few minutes. When we retook our conversation, he swiftly moved into a different topic. As you can see, life coaching for children can be a tough nut. You need to be very observant and pick your words with caution.
Perfectionism and fear of failures are motivation killers.
The reason I am telling you this story is because I have seen it repeatedly in my years as a life coach for kids. A key reason for the lack of motivation is the fear of failing. However, in their mind, it is not so much as fear but a reality. They believe they will fail, thus, making their effort a waste of time.
Through all my learning and kids coaching sessions with young adults, I have managed to extract a formula for study inspiration. The secret of this formula is that all five ingredients need to be present to a good standard. If we miss one of them, it doesn’t work.
Let me take you through the five ingredients of my motivational techniques for children:
A realistic yet ambitious goal.
A plan of action
Understanding what support, they need and what support they have
Here is how it works when it at its best:
I have a goal that I feel I can achieve and will be satisfactory for myself and those relevant people around me (parents and teachers). I have a plan of action—I know what I need to do, how I need to do it. Know how to revise, how to take notes, how to keep on top of things. I understand that If I am behind on something I can ask from help from parents, teachers, online tutorials, etc. This gives me tranquillity to continue working.
As I put in place all these things, I notice how my work is improving, teachers compliment me on my effort, and I can see results getting better. This small but regular success motivates me to continue putting the shot. Finally, because I am being mature and organized, my parents trust me more and I get some additional benefits (maybe more time with friends, some treats here or there) but the most important part is the feeling of being proud of myself and the emotional support I get from my parents.
Simple, isn’t it?
We don’t need each ingredient to be perfect; life coaching for children requires them to be present at a good level.
Consistency is essential when teaching motivation for children.
I guess you can now see how missing one of those areas can create a domino effect on the others. For instance, If I have a great goal, a plan of action, but I have no idea what help is available to me, I will likely have some concerns. Consequently, these concerns will transform into worries and those worries anxieties. I will tell myself: “If something goes wrong, I have no plan B” or “I am not so sure what I am doing, I guess it’s a matter of time this will come down crashing.”
In my work as a life coach for kids with young adults, I take them through these five areas, and I encourage them to work them out with their parents. I normally ask them to rate themselves between 0 and 10 in each of those areas. Then I ask them to specify what is in each of them, and how they can make it go up by one or two points.
Most teenagers will start by overestimating their “score”. For instance, they will say “I am 7 or 8 in setting up a goal” but when you ask them what they want to achieve you might realize they don’t know how to define their goals. They are only telling you what their teachers told them. This is not wrong, but it is not their own goal. If they don’t own their goals, they will still have no motivation to study to achieve them.
Anyways, I ramble a bit. Back to my main point.
Now, I want to give you some more detail on each of those areas.
Setting Up A Goal:
What is important about this? It must be their own goal—not what their parents say or what their teachers want. It is about taking ownership of the goal and reaping personal rewards. When they start kids coaching process, I would suggest you set up a goal for the next month or maximum for the upcoming school term. Go beyond that and it will become too vague for them. Your role as a parent is to challenge them a bit but mostly to ensure they define those goals in a positive way. This is where study inspiration will come from. We wrote about goal settings in another article, click here to read more about it.
Creating a Plan:
They must develop a plan of action. This means answering the questions, “What do they need to do? When do they need to do it? How many hours? How will they organize themselves?”
It is fair to say that this will be the most difficult part of life coaching for children process. Young people tend to have not-such-great planning skills. However, I always encourage them to think on a week by week basis. It is likely that they will need around 4 weeks to learn how to do it properly and get into the habit.
Just a quick note. Remember this when we talk about the fourth ingredient: ‘experiencing success’.
Getting The Right Support:
They must define what support they already have and what they might need.Most children will have a couple of subjects of strength and a couple that are not so good. Talk to them about what they need for study inspiration. I am not only talking about tutoring. Of course, this is an option, but I am talking about extra lessons in school, online tutorials, or even doing some work with friends who can help them. While parents can help, it is important the teenager defines what help they need or want from you. For instance, I am reasonably good at maths, but for obvious reasons, English grammar is not one of my strengths.
The fourth ingredient is about ‘experiencing success’ or, in different words: ‘plan to win’. Make sure they can succeed in the first few weeks. Help them have a plan and a goal they can achieve. By having small wins, their confidence will increase, and they will want to do more. Also, the ‘no motivation to study’ excuse they often give will be a thing of the past. However, if they aim too high and don’t achieve it, they will become disappointed and probably won’t be looking forward to doing it again.
An important part of this kids coaching ingredient is constant re-evaluation. I suggest a casual chat every week. Maybe take them for a coffee and say, let’s see how it is going, what you need, what we can help you with. Most importantly, what we have learned this week—what we need to keep doing, what we can improve. As they become better at setting goals and planning, this will be much easier.
I don’t believe in material rewards (treats, presents, money). It’s ok to do them every now and then. However, the most important reward they will achieve is their sense of pride. When you work through life coaching for children processes with them, praise them for the effort they put in, for their commitment, resilience, concentration, rather than the outcome alone. I always suggest a 20/80 ratio, meaning that your praise has to be 20% about the result they achieved and 80% about the effort and skills they used.
Here is an example: “I saw your grades in maths improved. Well done, I am really proud of all the work you are doing and how you are learning to organize yourself. This is showing that your hard work and dedication is your best quality. Keep going.”
By the way, there is another article coming soon about giving praise. I suggest you see “10 seconds praise” and “effort vs outcome.”
And this is it for me today. I hope you like our article on motivational techniques for children. As you know, there are other articles on this site on kids coaching, how to improve study inspiration, and more to come to help you do it. Browse through my list of articles or feel free to contact me if you want me to address any specific topic PERSONALLY.
HAVE A GREAT DAY AND REMEMBER, KEEP YOURSELF HAPPY AND KEEP YOUR KIDS HAPPY BY HELPING YOURSELF AND HELPING YOUR KIDS.
One question comes up the most during parenting classes, “Why is goal setting so important when we talk with our children?” Read this real life conversation:
Me: “What is that you want to achieve?”
Boy: “ I want to play football and score 5 goals in the next game” (excited and thrilled)
Me: “Wow, that sounds like a lot”
Boy: “Yes, but that’s what I really want”
Me: “How many goals do you score normally in a game?”
Boy: … Silence
Me: … Silence
Boy: “Not many. In most games I don’t get to score a goal at all”
This script is a real situation from my kids coaching session with an 8 years old boy a few months ago. Goal setting is in every part of our lives, yet we struggle to do it properly.
From very early on we set goals for ourselves, we want to achieve something good, we want to validate ourselves. As parents, we also set goals to push our childrento do better and enjoy more.
However, what we don’t realise is the effects a bad goal might have on us or them. Over ambitious goals are as bad as too low goals or no goals at all. We all seem to know that. In the corporate world everybody talks about SMART goal setting and things like that, yet, only few people do it themselves. The situation is not different in parenting classes.
Finding the right goal and defining it in the right terms will be the difference between failure and success. Here are two simple techniques I use when coaching kids to set their goals
The excitement scale. How excited are you about your goal? Really excited? Thrilled? Then, change it as chances are that you won’t achieve it.
In our kid coaching sessions, I ask children to create their excitement scale. We represent it on a 1-10 scale in which 1 is boredom and falling asleep and 10 is hyperactive excitement. Then, I ask them to fill the gaps in between with whatever representation comes to their mind (ie. 8 is fireworks going off, 5 is a clock, precise and constant).
I ask them, “What level do you think you need to be to achieve the goal?” The normal answer is 7 or 8, sometimes they even want to be 10. We then rehearse through the journey to achieve their goal. Through games and talk they quickly realise that the more excited they are the worse they perform. Working as a life coach for kids I have realized that too much excitement can be counterproductive. The excitement can wear out with the slightest difficulty.
Eventually, they tell me things like “I think that I need to be at a 5 or maximum 6. If I go higher I get excited and with that I get nervous”
Then we work on defining the goal itself.
In that goal you set for yourself, what is under your control? What factors are mostly under your area of control?
The goal is to separate the part that he or she can really do, from the outcome. The effort and work that they have to put towards something vs the outcome. Most likely the outcome will be affected by a lot of other things that they can’t control or even know. During kids coaching session I help them to figure this out.
I can’t control who wins the race but I control how I prepare for it.
Its not under my control to achieve 25/30 right answers in my speed test, but I can control how I train and practice for it.
I can’t make that girl to be my friend. But I control how I talk to her or what I say.
In my last corporate job before I took to life coach for kids I used to tell my team, “You don’t control whether the client will sign the contract. However, you control how you prepare for the meeting, the communication you send, how you answer their questions”.
By focussing the energy on the things that we have more control over, we gain strength and confidence and perform our best. Also, we just have to wait for the results to come.
This is my kids coaching session conversation with the boy I mentioned at the beginning. This is how the conversation ended after a few other talks.
Boy: “I scored a goal today!”
Me: “That’s great, well done. what else happened?”
Boy: “I had a great time, I was in a good mood because I had gone to practice every week.”
Me: “Well done. Anything else?”
Boy: “Not really. I was just having fun and enjoying playing with my friends.”
And here is me thinking: “Just having fun and enjoying playing”.
Use every opportunity to provide empowering feedback and drive motivation in our children
Utilize every opportunity to give great empowering feedback to motivate your children
Before you go on reading, I want to make one thing clear: I love my daughter’s school. It’s outstanding and I wouldn’t change it for the world. In fact, in my years of working as a life coach for kids, it is one of the best I have seen. However, her latest school report can seriously affect her motivation. How do I help her?
For the last 3 months my daughter has committed to the school, worked hard, done extra homework, got assigned to several special roles, participate in open days, been made player of the match in several occasions, volunteer to help the dinner ladies, etc.
Basically she has done everything under the sun to show her commitment and effort. She has put hours of great work in every task and subject and I know it because I have seen it. Sometimes I wonder where she gets the study inspiration.
You can imagine my surprise when she got the most normal “positive approach” rate to her effort in all subjects—the same she has got ever since she joined the school. In my parenting classes, I always encourage parents to keenly observe and follow their kid’s progress.
You can say, it is not a bad rating—and you’d be right. It is not a bad rating, but, it is far away from the work she has put into this term.
So, why am I so upset?
I am upset because, without realising, we box kids and leave them there. Because when they are placed in a set, most of them will stay in that set. I am upset because eventually the children learn that “good enough is good enough”. At the end of the day “I am in set C because only the clever kids are in set A”. So, no need to work harder. This can easily make them to lose study inspiration. As a life coach for kids, they tell me this a lot.
I am upset because we give them a role that they take and never leave. We train them to accept what they have with very little change.
I am upset because we should be rewarding the effort not the outcome. Reward their drive, energy, enthusiasm, concentration, motivation, carefulness… whatever they are doing. The outcome is only a temporal thing. The effort is a learning for life. This is another point that I emphasize in parenting classes.
And I am upset, first and foremost, because despite some kids working really hard to push themselves, the lack of recognition demotivates them. I know it perfectly well because I was one of those kids who eventually gave up on himself. It took a lot to get myself back on track.
So what can I do now? I consider myself a responsible father and as a life coach for kids, I want my daughter to continue being enthusiastic, motivated and driven. I am also conscious the school has her best interest in heart, but this has the potential to send the wrong message.
Do I hide the grades? Do I make a fuzz with the school? Should I tell her, she hasn’t done well enough?
Here is what my experience working as a life coach for kids tells me to do: Understand, empowering feedback, re-define her goals, focus on the learning
Seek clarification from the school on each of those ratings. What has driven them? It is important to know the expectations of the school. In parenting classes, I tell them how bad it is to make conclusions based on assumptions. Also, I will ask the school, what has she done well and what is expected of her? What is expected of a child to move up one step up in the ladder?
In kids coaching, I use a very simple technique created by my friend Danny Maude: Best (3) – Better (1) – How. I will use this to give feedback to her. I observe this techniques builds tremendous motivation, study inspiration, and self esteem in children (and adults too)
The technique is as follows; 3 things she has done well and she is vey proud of. 1 things she can do more of or better next time. “How” can she do it better next time.
Keep the ratio 3:1. However, if there are 2 things to improve (“better”) , find out 6 things she did well.
Re-define her goals
With the information from school and, probably your experience from parenting classes, help her set some clear goals. Ensure her teachers know about it and there is a clear agreement on expectations. Help her monitor consistency. From time to time talk about what she is doing and ensure she has or can get the support she needs.
One thing I know from experience as a life coach for kids is that achievable goals are fundamental in boosting motivation in children. Consequently, this can improve their study inspiration. If the expectation is too high, they won’t trust they can make it. However, too low goals will make them to lose motivation to put in their best.
Focus on the learning
While it is great to get praise from others, bear in mind that sometimes the recognition will come, at other times, it will not. In both cases, be equally proud of what you’d done, how you did it, and what you have learnt. Those learnings are the steps in the journey. They are what make us better and help us grow academically, professionally, and personally.
And do you know what, it feels good to have a plan.
A good homework routine – Stage 4: make improvement and reward them
After a few weeks of coaching kids through homework routine, you will notice the effect. They’ll take on the routine happily and love the play time they have. You will be calmer and have time for other things as well.
It is important you continuously monitor how the process is working. This is a vital part of kid coaching. Maybe you find out that they need a bit of support ahead of an assessment or spelling test. Perhaps, they need to write their questions so they don’t forget at the end. It may also be that they need more support from their teacher.
Whatever area of improvement you are thinking about, take it through steps 1 to 3.
Is is aligned with the main goal?
Share it with them. Agreement is ideal but not mandatory
Implement without exception.
It is possible that you will get a bit concerned because they are used to presenting half finished homework. This is when having the teacher on board is paramount. Talk to them and ask them to challenge and encourage your child:
When they don’t finish the work, they should be reminding them
If they finish with a poor standard, they should be talking to you to identify where the problem is. If it knowledge, ensure they get more support. However, if it laziness, push them.
When they finish the work to a good standard, reward them. House points, stickers, a note in their diary or a simple high 5 will go a long way.
A good homework routine – Stage 5: be proud and enjoy it
After 4-6 weeks, the routine will be almost perfect. There will always be things to consider and small new challenges to face as you continue coaching kids. When this happens, ensure you go back to steps 1—4 and follow a similar approach. This way you will not only know the changes but complementing and improving on them.
Celebrate the work your children are doing. Ensure they are proud of their achievements and success. Let them see how much better the evenings are now.
Kid coaching requires constant reviewing with age. As they get into more challenging years (ie. entrance exams or 11+) they might need to increase the work they do. If this is the case, ensure you follow a similar approach and be very conscious on the time. It is ok to go from 45mins to 1hr or even 1hr 15min but be mindful of the amount of work they have and how long their days are. When coaching kids, you always have to find the balance.
After 3 or 4 months, when the routine is fully established, you can start thinking on what is the next area of responsibility you can give them. If the programme has worked well you will also notice them being a lot more responsible and autonomous in packing their bags, making their beds and things like that.
Ok, so you had the talk. They made a fuzz about it and you carried it on. The first few days were a bit difficult, they didn’t finish. Perhaps, you might be thinking they’ll never do it. So, you start giving them more time, sitting down with them, answering questions as and when they want…. you see where I am getting to. This is a popular encounter I get during my parent coaching classes.
However, through my many years of experience as a life coach for kids, the outcome can be costly. Here are the scenerios you will likely face and some suggested replies or recommendations:
– There’s not enough time. Well, there is if they focus on the work and their teacher will know that there is. They’d do a lot more work in school on that same time
– We haven’t learnt this. Really? I doubt it but in any case, leave it blank and tell the teacher tomorrow.
– It’s too difficult. Sure, maybe it is. I think this is one of the questions you want to ask me in the end. Also, talk to the teacher tomorrow and ask her/him to explain it to you again.
– Can I ask you a question? This will happen every minute in the first few days. However, the answer should always be the same: Yes, you have a few minutes at the end to ask me.
– I need your help on this one. Apart from spelling, it is rare that they’ll really need your help. I have to reiterate this during all my parent coaching classes.
– Can you write a note to miss? Avoid this like a plague. As a life coach for kids, I know this is the oldest trick in the book to pass on the responsibility to you. If you have any concern, talk to their teacher behind your children’s back, but ensure they feel responsible for their acts at all time.
– I left my diary/homework in the school. They will have to tell their teacher tomorrow. Do not argue or get upset. It is their responsibility to bring their books back.
– Why don’t you just tell me which answer is wrong. This is part of taking ownership and pride of their work. It is also fundamental for them to learn to review their own work.
I know it sounds strict, but, it is very important to ensure full compliance in the first few weeks. Once the routine is established you’ll be able to flex it and improve it without breaking it.
It is also very important that you communicate with the teacher. Let them know what you are doing. Ask for their help in checking their homework, giving the stickers or asking them to work a bit harder. The goal is for children not to feel afraid of their work the next day. Also, It is important that they are recognised for their work—even if not completed or perfect.
If they have a play day at home, ensure their friend also does the homework with them. If they’ve been away, make sure you go back to the routine the next day.
Part of the routine is to ensure they differentiate between homework time and play time. During parent coaching lessons, I don’t fail to remind parents that when their kids finish the homework, they should be allowed to choose what to do and enjoy their time.
It is likely that, you, like me, have been in a very different homework routine for a few years. Any significant change will challenge your children’s sense of safety. It might even challenge their perception of how much you care for them. It will definitively challenge their desire to have you near by every time they ask or look around. In my years of coaching kids, the last concern is the one that comes up the most in parenting classes.
For these reasons it’s very important that you clearly define the approach and share it with them, and any other adult involved.
Here are the basic rules:
– Define when the homework will be done. Try to make it the same time every day or, at least, the same routine. This could be just as they get home, or 30minutes after being at home or, in the morning. It doesn’t really matter. Howevrer, you can even ask them for their preference. Once it is agreed, minimise the exceptions. I always suggest to do it within 15minutes of being at home on Mondays to Fridays. This creates a powerful routine and frees family time for the weekend.
– Define where and how. Another part of setting the routine, as I often mention in parenting classes, is to ensure the place and conditions are as similar as possible every day—especially in the first few weeks. It is also important that they have the right environment with the right equipment and minimum disruption. For instance doing the homework in the kitchen while mum/dad is preparing dinner will create too many distractions. While this may seem obvious enough, when coaching kids, some of them still complain about this problem.
– Set up a clear time plan. Talk with the teachers and estimate how long it should take them on average. Give them a bit of time extra (ie. 40 mins instead of the 30 recommended). If you have children in different year groups, ensure each one knows their time. For those with less work, prepare a book or other quiet activity to do while their older sibling finishes. This will help them prepare for when they need to do longer work.
– No extension (officially). Let them know that, when the time is up, there is no more time. They’ll have to go with the homework as it is. I always advise to be flexible with the time in the first few days but not telling them. If you allow them 40 or 45 minutes, keep it to yourself.
– On the day. Take 5 minutes with them to clarify what they have to do. Let them decide the order in which they need to do it. Ask them to prepare the materials they need accordingly. Depending on the maturity of the children, call out time every 10 or 15 minutes. This allows them to understand their progress and time remaining. It is also important they realise that if stuck in a question, they need to move onto the other.
– Question time. It is possible that they have a few questions. I advise to allow them to ask you up to 3 questions maximum. The first few days it will be chaos and quickly they’ll learn which questions they can work out and which they need help with. When coaching kids through their homework, the last thing you’ll want is for them to shift their responsibility to you.
– Review work. Ensure they always allocate time to review their work afterwards. However, for the first few weeks, you need to review their work. If they haven’t got everything right tell them in generic terms (ie. “I think you need to review your math” or “review this page of maths”). If they still don’t get it right, after one or two tries, point them to the exercises they need to review and step back. This is one of the most tricky part of coaching kids. Most parents are pushed by ‘love’ to tell their kids the answers. However, let them get it right by themselves. Little by little they will get better at reviewing and you can start pointing out to the questions they need to address.
– Additional support. It is possible that your child really doesn’t understand a topic or the basic knowledge are not strong enough to comprehend it. If you feel you can explain it calmly and constructively, spend a bit of time over 2 or 3 days explaining the topic and maybe doing a few trial exercises with him/her (there are loads of resources online). I mention in parenting classes that it is important to limit this approach to a few minutes and a few days. Afterwards, they should either be able to do it by themselves or you will need the help of their teacher to reinforce those concepts.
The most important part: the reward. Ensure that they can use all the remaining afternoon/evening free time for play or doing fun stuff. This is the biggest reward they can get. This will be their main motivator in the short time.
All the rules above have to be shared in a positive way with the children. Let them express their views but be clear on the fundamental approach.