The Importance Of iMotivation For Your Child: Interview With Douglas Haddad

Have you ever heard about ‘iMotivation’ as a way to motivate your child to perform to the best of his abilities? Curious to know more? Read on and find out.

By Dr Meghna Singhal

The Importance Of iMotivation For Your Child: Interview With Douglas Haddad

Motivation drives children to learn, excel, and succeed at everything they do. But as we know, parents are challenged in finding ways to motivate a child and keep the motivation levels high. Douglas Haddad is an award-winning middle school teacher in the United States. In his best-selling book, The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential, he talks about what you can do as a parent to motivate your child through ‘iMotivation’.

Here are excerpts from a truly engaging conversation we had with Douglas Haddad. It’s a ParentCircle Exclusive:

You coined the term iMotivation. What does it mean and how does it impact child’s behaviour?
Getting a child iMotivated has nothing to do with Apple products. Rather, iMotivation is the internal or intrinsic motivation that a child possesses — without the influence of an external or extrinsic reward. This is evident when a child is willing to work hard, on their own accord, to achieve a task or goal. Introducing different activities helps children discover their interests in life. A child’s ability to persist and continue with a task, despite obstacles in their way, is a sign of an intrinsically motivated child. Children who experience success at a challenging task tend to display positive, engaged emotion, and welcome more challenging tasks. Children who possess a high level of iMotivation have a low dependency on adults and do not seek adult approval or assistance in helping with tasks. They do not do something to receive a reward such as money, candy, a toy or excessive praise, but rather for the internal feeling of satisfaction.

Are children today struggling with self-motivation because they are used to instant gratification – everything is instantly available at their fingertips ?
With so much information available at the click of a mouse or a press of a button, today’s generation of children find themselves getting access to almost anything they are looking for at the drop of a hat. I don’t find children these days struggling with self-motivation so much as they are struggling with sticking it out to accomplish a long and arduous task. Their perseverance and endurance are qualities that are in question, especially when they aren’t able to accomplish a given task so readily. I’ve noticed that many children are looking to solve their problems with the latest app, or by typing away with keyword Google searches, or trying to find a shortcut to solve problems that require a well-thought-out plan.

What strategies could parents use to enhance their tween/teen’s internal motivation?
Many children need help in setting goals. Start by helping a child set personal goals that involve their academics, chores at home, and leisure activity. Start with an easier-to-accomplish goal to enable them to experience success early on. This will automatically boost the child’s self-esteem and make them more apt to want to do well and create goals on their own. Make the goals specific. Helping a child visualise the steps necessary to achieve a goal is very helpful to their chances of successfully accomplishing the task.

How do you help children in your classes who struggle with motivation? Could you give us a few examples?
My primary goal as a teacher is to connect with every child in any way possible. I have each of my students fill out a ‘getting to know you’ card at the start of the school year. Each student writes down their interests not only in the subject matter that I teach, but also in the passions of their life outside of school. I have found the adage, “A child doesn’t care that you know until they know that you care” to be so true. It is at the forefront of my philosophy about effective teaching. I’ve noticed that when you have developed a rapport and built trust with students, you can tap into their personal interests to better spark their iMotivation in other areas of their life. Being available for students, not only for afterschool help, but also as a listening ear, shows that you care, and is very important for earning their respect. A simple ‘I believe in you’ or ‘You can do this’ is sometimes all a child needs to hear in order to get started and keep on going.

What should parents NOT do when trying to motivate their tween/teen?
Comparing a child to their sibling is the kiss of death. Saying things like ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother or sister’ is not fair to that child and typically does not render an iMotivated child. Furthermore, using external rewards such as money, food, a toy/game or excessive praise will not increase a child’s sustained motivation over the long run. The reason being, the perceived success is not being driven by the child personally, but rather by some other source outside of themselves.

In your book, you talk about the P.R.I.C.E technique. Could you elaborate on that? How could parents use this technique to enhance their child’s motivation?
The P.R.I.C.E technique is something that I have designed to help parents who are either frustrated with their child’s lack of motivation or are struggling with their child to obtain power. The technique utilises specific genuine praise to encourage desired behaviour.

  • P stands for ‘Personalise’ the praise (for example, “What a great job you did at raking all the leaves in the yard.”)
  • R stands for ‘Reason’ for the praise (for example, “You didn’t need to be reminded that we needed the yard clean.”)
  • I stands for ‘Include’ the child’s specific desired behaviour in your praise (for example, “raking the leaves”)
  • C stands for ‘Contribution’ of the child’s behaviour (for example, “Thank you for being a contributing member of this family and taking care of keeping our yard tidy.”)
  • E stands for ‘Encouragement’ for future desired behaviour (for example, “I really appreciate you raking and cleaning up the leaves in the yard and am glad that we can count on you when it’s time to clean up the yard.”)

How do you make learning interesting for children in your classroom?
Making connections with students is the foundation upon which all learning is laid. My belief about making learning interesting for students is by making it relevant and relatable to their own lives, and meeting each student where they are in their own learning journey. My goal as an educator is to create a safe, welcoming environment where all students can explore different possibilities each day, ask and answer questions without the fear of judgment from their peers and/or teacher, and have the freedom to research different topics of interest and discover their abilities and passions through much self-directed learning. Lessons are designed to be challenging and thought-provoking where students are allowed to utilise their multiple intelligences to solve an array of scientific problems.

In India, there is a lot of emphasis on academic achievement and grades. In some of the top institutes of the country, the competition is so stiff that a number of students attempt suicide because they can’t deal with the pressure. What would you say to parents of these children?
I am fortunate to teach in a community that is highly diverse. The student body consists of a mix of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and other foreign students. Over my 20 years as an educator, I’ve witnessed a high emphasis on academics by children who either moved from India or from parents who emigrated to the United States in their adult life. For true learning to continue, there has to be an iMotivation that is beyond grades. Additionally, the risk of damaging a child’s mental health becomes greater when a parent incorporates an authoritarian approach of parenting where there is a higher level of parental demandingness and a low level of parental responsiveness to their child’s emotional needs. My advice to parents of these children is to find a happy medium and try an authoritative approach to parenting. So, there would be an equal level of parental demandingness (high expectations academically) and parental responsiveness (actively listening to a child’s needs).

A mother complains about her 10-year-old who is always playing violent video games, is not interested in academics, and is mostly sulky. What would you say to this mother to motivate her tween to study (or do something else, other than killing pretend people)?
My advice to a mother trying to deal with cantankerous behaviour from their child would be to ‘share the power with your child’. That may seem like the parent is ‘giving in’ to their child’s demands. However, it is just the opposite. I have seen that when parents provide their tween with an option to either play their video game for 30 minutes now and then do their homework or delay gratification by completing their homework with high quality in its entirety first and receive an extra 15 minutes thereafter. If their choice didn’t translate to a successful outcome, no need for alarm bells to go off in the household. There is always tomorrow to try something new. This kind of ‘negotiation’ puts the child ‘in control’ or so they think where they begin to experience the power and accountability of their choices. Furthermore, teaching children about consequences is crucial to witnessing a long-lasting behaviour change. I would ask the parent of a child who is repeatedly demonstrating contentious behaviour to consider three important questions: (1) What specific system do you have in place if your child doesn’t comply with your expectations/rules that you set forth? (2) Is your child aware of the specific consequences for his/her actions if the rules aren’t followed? (3) Do you follow through consistently or cave in on the prescribed consequences when the rules are broken? A lot of needless butting of heads can be prevented when a solid system is put firmly into practice.

What would you say to a father who is concerned that his 12-year old, who is otherwise brilliant, but barely does enough to get by at school? How could he help her care more about her studies and school without squandering away her potential?
Holding high expectations for a child, or for that matter any person, is crucial to achievement of any kind. I have seen parents try to inculcate in their children respect and a strong work ethic. First, I would suggest for a father of a 12-year old to be patient and sensitive towards their child’s maturational development. During this time, consistency, routine and support are vital for a healthy transition into adolescence. By providing opportunities for a child to explore their world, children are able to freely investigate and discover their interests. However, there is nothing wrong with sitting down with your tween and setting some goals. The key thing is to make the goals specific and attainable. These can be great confidence boosters and increase a child’s willingness to attempt and complete challenging tasks.

In your book you talk about taking the bull out of bullying. What can parents do to coach their tween/teen to deal with verbal bullying?
Whether it’s gossip behind another peer’s back or a conversation taking place on social media, educating a child to become ‘emotionally intelligent’ can help them avoid becoming a bully or a victim of bullying. Helping a child understand why children their age behave the way they do with others, often gives them an understanding as to why some children are nicer than others toward their peers. Having regular conversations with a child early on about being respectful and kind to people from all backgrounds promotes acceptance and self-respect that empowers them for a lifetime. Furthermore, it is important to teach a child to stand up for themselves and be an ally to those in need. Children need to be aware that their actions on others can have a lasting impact on how other children feel about themselves. Make the child aware that bullies often feel insecure about themselves and their derogatory actions may be a longing for control over other children they perceive as weaker or inferior in some way so they themselves become accepted and don’t get picked on.

In your book you talk about the R.E.V. method that can be used by parents when their children break rules. Could you please elaborate on it?
The R.E.V. method is a tool that parents can employ with their children when they are having difficulty following the rules. I’ve learned that children desire three main things: to be loved, accepted, and understood. This technique is a way to open up the communication lines between parents and their children. The R stands for reflective listening and responding. This starts by repeating what a child has stated without any interpretation or spin put upon the statement. The E stands for empathy. Showing compassion for what a child is going through demonstrates that you care about them. Saying something to the effect of ‘From what you told me, I can imagine that you feel...’ Lastly, the V stands for validation. Here you can use your personal experiences as a frame of reference saying how much you understand how they are feeling. First, start by repeating what the child just said (to the best of your ability) as this will show that you are truly listening. Then, follow up with something to the effect of ‘Looking at it from your point of view, I can see why you would feel that way.’ Validation does not mean agreeing with the child, but rather understanding and accepting the child and his/her situation.

What would you suggest to a parent who is struggling to get her child to be more active and eat healthy?
A healthy lifestyle first starts at home by stocking the shelves with healthy foods and frequently introducing them to children from an early age. This will train their brain to like the taste of these foods. Using a little trickery through disguising the bitterness of vegetables by adding different seasonings to enhance the flavour is another technique to get children to eat healthier. Children like contrasting colours. Therefore, providing a variety of them is a strategy to get a child to get in their recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Offering fruit for dessert from a young age can also help encourage children to make healthier choices. Encourage physical activity by doing something active as a family on a regular basis. Ultimately, whatever you decide to do, be a role model for good health and an active lifestyle.

Given that teen drug use is becoming rampant across the world, what could parents do to help their tweens stay away from drugs?
First and foremost, the most powerful weapon to help parents influence their children to say no to drugs is through EDUCATION. Research supports that positive parenting practices have a protective effect against a child experimenting with illicit drug use. Having the tough conversations early on and often with your child about the real-life ramifications is essential to a child developing the character and leadership to stand up and make good choices throughout their life. Showing first-hand accounts of people who have chosen to go down the road of using drugs and the specific consequences they have faced because of their choices can serve as a powerful deterrent for a child who is heading down this path.

You also perform on the stage, play piano, and write music. Have you ever incorporated music as a teaching tool in your classroom?
For many years, I have written educational music and created music videos to help bring to life challenging scientific concepts, such as physics-related concepts, genetics, cell structure, function and reproduction, the human body, microscope and scientific method. I saw these videos as visual catalysts to increase student engagement and as great differentiated learning tools for students to preview and review the material over and over until they felt that they have mastered an understanding and application of the various concepts.

In a nutshell

  • Children with a high level of iMotivation do things to feel satisfied, and not just for the sake of getting rewards.
  • When teachers make connections with students, it lays the foundation for an enriching learning experience in the classroom. Learning can be made interesting by making it relevant and relatable to children’s lives.
  • Transition to adolescence is easier for a child who experiences consistency, routine and support.

What you can do right away

  • Provide opportunities for your child to explore the world, investigate freely and discover his interests.
  • Help your child set specific goals - in academics, extra-curricular activities or even doing chores around the house. Helping a child visualise the steps necessary to achieve a goal is very helpful to their chances of successfully accomplishing the task.
  • Be a role model for good health and lead an active lifestyle.

About the expert:
Douglas Haddad is an award-winning middle school teacher and best-selling author of The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential. He has taught over 2,000 students in his nearly 20 years as an educator, working with children from all different backgrounds and abilities. He has spoken with hundreds of parents and has worked with them to better understand and communicate with their children in a loving way.

About the author:
Written by Meghna Singhal, PhD, on 8 July 2020.
Dr. Singhal is the Manager, Global Content Solutions at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).

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