“You can steer yourself in any direction you choose” – Dr. Suess. His book Oh, the places You’ll go? has been one of the most popular choices as the graduation gift for preschool children over the years. The intention is to reinforce the belief that children are naturally endowed with curiosity and the capability to work on their curiosity. Children believe that they can do everything! They always imagine what they want in great zest and detail. It is up to us as adults – both parents and teachers – to not shake off that belief as we are the biggest influencers around them. A big responsibility that, isn’t it?
What drives children to do things they should and refrain from doing what they shouldn’t? As adults, we know that how we respond to what is happening around us is always up to us. We are in control of our responses with the deeper understanding of the fact that whatever is happening around us, to us, with us, may not be under our control at all times. What we do is take control of our actions in a given situation. Once that is done, we can increase our circle of influence to situations or people around us. There would still remain a wider area, that would always be outside of our control but will influence our well-being. How can we instil that attitude of optimism and grit? How can we extend that influence to our children?
Kids have a strong sense of connection with parents and that is a very powerful tool for motivation. Studies have shown that children who feel secure in their attachment to their parents are more resilient. It is known now that character strengths like curiosity and self-control are teachable skills.
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How shall we invest in their character? Here are 5 effective and time-tested ideas for your consideration:
1. Rewards and consequences
- It is true that rewards can sometimes be useful in getting things done in the short term. This works in organised sports. However, it is also true that when this is applied to manage behaviour, your child will become dependent on rewards. Consequently, when the reward stops, the behaviour stops. When the reward is not good enough, the behaviour is also not good enough. The benchmark of the quality and quantity of the reward will continuously need to rise higher if reward is used regularly to motivate your child.
- Even if the activity you want your child to engage in is intrinsically enjoyable, if your child associates it with extrinsic motivation, the child will stop doing the activity if there is no extrinsic reward as it has been observed that a reward-centric method somehow extinguishes the child’s passion.
- When your child complains about a task at hand, share your thoughts on why you think the activity is useful. If your child is unwilling to clean up the room, understand why – is he/she tired or bored or finds the task too complicated and possibly does not know where to start from. Same goes for homework and any action that is considered as a chore by the child.
- Avoid using should or must as part of the instruction. Replace them with could, consider, because, however, etc. and get on the same side of the problem as your child. Work out the solution together.
- Lace your asks for tasks that are particularly disliked by your child with creativity - like using a puppet or a song during clean-up time.
- Use challenge for tasks that you want done quickly, example - racing a sibling home from the park.
- Give choice for non-negotiables. Say for dinner time, child can sit either next to you or next to dad. For brushing - it can be before bath or after.
4. Expectation setting
- Set realistic expectations from your child by understanding the actual capabilities and interests while you set the bar. The key word here is “realistic”. For this you need to keep your mind open. Children blossom at different rates. Do not compare your child with other children or impose your personality on him. But, remember to keep a track of milestone development.
- Appreciate when some expectations are met or exceeded. For example - if the child has got a B+ after getting C or is practicing regularly for a match or a concert, praise the effort that he/she is putting in.
5. Role model
- This is simple but often forgotten in the pressure of parenting. When you are working and your child needs your attention, instead of saying wait a minute and then take half hour, give realistic time for the wait. If it’s urgent, address it right away. Remember, everything that the child wants you to hear is important. You would want your child respond to you similarly, for example – when you are headed to the airport and are waiting for your child to join the group, at that point in time, “just a minute” by your child will mean exactly that.
- Show by example how conflicts can be resolved by modelling it yourself. For example, when you have differences with your spouse or with anyone that the child can see or hear, be mindful of the tone of your voice, your body language, the approach you are taking for conflict resolution. These are all learned behaviours and can influence the child.
- If you want the child to learn manners, you are the best role model. Start from using please and thank you to whoever serves you, including your house staff. Also, do not use language you don’t approve of for your child at any time.
For years, it has been believed that cognitive capabilities are the key drivers of success. However, over the years, research has shown as has my experience of being an educator, that persistence and grit, self-control and optimism are some of the key qualities that help children succeed and remain happy. A strong and positive relationship with parents motivates the child to not only achieve but exceed their own capabilities.
The author is a journalist, educator and parent. She writes about matters that concern a child’s success and well-being. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.