How to Motivate Your Child

az-9-ways-to-motivate-your-kids-janine-walker-caffreyChildren, just like adults, often perform better when there is a proverbial carrot dangling just ahead. A bit of motivation can work wonders to guide your child towards better behavior or improved schoolwork. Sometimes this motivation can come from your household or it can come from tutors at Takelessons.

The old fashioned chart is the generally the simplest method for you and your child to gauge his progress. A simple check mark in the allotted box will provide accurate statistics for both of you to view his betterment.

Last month, I printed a table that I had created in Word that consisted of three rows (for my three children) and forty columns. I chose the number forty, bearing in mind that if each child receives 2-4 checks per day in his row, the chart would be finished in about 2-3 weeks.

Younger children have a lesser understanding of time and delayed gratification. Toddlers should receive their reward daily, while children in the 3-5 age brackets can wait one or two weeks in anticipation of their reward. Thirty days would be the maximum time for a school-age child to obtain their reward. Teenagers can have longer-term goals, with ninety days being the longest stretch of time they ought to wait.

It took my children between two and three weeks for them to garner all of the necessary check marks for good behavior on their charts. I should note, that my children had asked for diabolosafter seeing others in the neighborhood with the Chinese yo-yo. We wrote “Diabolos” on the top of the chart, and all of the children eagerly anticipated the day their chart would be completed, and they would get their prize.

Ad their check marks neared the end of the forty boxes in each column, my children looked for opportunities to earn additional checks and finish their charts. “Mom, can I get another check if I sweep the kitchen?” and “I shared the snacks from my friend’s birthday party with my brother- may I please have another check” were commonly heard!

It was a joy to have my competitive children looking out for one another, and search for opportunities to demonstrate good behavior! Find an object your child desires, print out a chart, and watch the growth in their behavior and their check marks!

9 Ways to Motivate Your Kids to Achieve


  1. Michelle says:

    Regarging the Motivation category suggestions: My daughters are seven years apart, ages 4 and 11, and don’t have many things in common to have as a goal. I can think of a couple, but then I’d be done in six weeks. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

  2. Great question, Michelle. I don’t think they need the exact same reward. I would make a chart with a picture of the 11-year-old’s goal and another chart with a picture of the 4-year-old’s goal side-by-side.

    Or, food will always work… everyone loves a trip to the ice-cream parlor at any age:) At one point, we went to 7-11 for slurpees when my children finished a no-coming-out-of-bed-after-bedtime chart!

  3. Do you think that dangling a reward in front of them takes away from the real purpose of helping each other and being nice to others, just because that’s the right thing to do – not because there is a reward involved? Just curious.

  4. Michelle says:

    Children need to be trained to do good things. The external (the “carrot”) reward is sometimes a good way to train them. When the good behavior is in place then the reward will be changed to be a more internal (“I want to do good things because it makes me, or those I care about, happy”) one.

  5. Natalie Valles says:

    We have charts that are posted on my children’s doors and we fill them in with stickers. In fact, sometimes picking out the new stickers is the reward itself. We have modified the charts over the years–potty was the most crucial I guess. At that time, we had packages of underwear hanging on the door as well. (My daughter really liked to even just hold and look at the panties each night after we reviewed ho many stickers she earned! She had to fill the whole week with multiple daily stickers to get them–and when she had an accident, we were able to say, sorry baby, next time you get to try again for the sticker!) Well, our charts have grown. my son came up with the idea that we should have a daily to do list as well so we knew what were going to do. And eventually he learned that it was ok to modify the list if we “needed to do something!” (But now he makes his bed and picks up his own clothes. And it is cute to see daddy’s handwriting on the list with the kindergardener’s writing of the word “computer time”.) Charts are a greeat motivator!

  6. Natalie Valles says:

    The chart starts them off with the nature of fullfilling thier own needs/wants. You eventually wean onto saying things like, “wow, that was so nice of you to think of her, help her,” whatever, and give no mark on the chart.If they say, do I get a mark, you just say, well “sometimes you get a mark, but not everytime. If I gave you a mark on everything you do that’s great, there’d be no room!” Eventually, selective marks are best because just like in real life, sometimes you get noticed for the good you do and sometimes you don’t.

  7. We just toilet trained our 3 1/2 year old son with the aid of a chart: I discovered that he doesn’t even need a prize at the end of the chart – the act of knocking boxes off his chart (we color ours in) was enough of a carrot for him!

  8. This is such a huge subject – thanks for initiating the discussion, Ellen. Here are a few thoughts:

    1) to reinforce Michelle’s comment (Kids need to be trained….), Dale Carnegie says “Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthiusiastic”. In other words, attitude sometimes follows behavior – and it’s much easier to teach behavior than it is to teach attitude. If we can teach our kids to behave in a desirable way, their attitudes often follow.

    2) As for checklists, I love them (we help parents create them on our website). To build on this idea, I find they work even better if the lists evolve over time. For example, if you have multiple children and a dishwasher, it’s often good to rotate responsibility for emptying the dishwasher, perhaps once a month. Same idea for walking the dog, etc. And as each kid gets older, some things can be dropped from the list (as they become an ingrained habit, like brushing teeth) while other things should be aded.

    3) Like many systems, kids are enthusiastic for a little while – I found that initially, my kids loved to check things off their list (especially the younger ones (6-8) – but they quickly tired of it. Thats’ another reason why it’s great to link their responsibilities to carrots, as Ellen suggests. This helps to create a sustainable system that works across several years (our experience with our 4 kids is that age 6-15 is the right range)

    Some parents use privileges (eg an extra hour on the computer or a later bedtime), others use allowances (not all or nothing, though) and some use both (we use both).

  9. I like much of what you describe here. In fact, I’m a member of a terrific website that even makes a lot of this easy to do (doing it manually takes a lot of time, which we don’t have!). I like it a lot better than tracking spending on sheets of paper, or spreadsheets, and it’s more fun for kids.

    It’s at, in case you’re interested.

  10. M. Kinnear says:

    What a great idea. Both my boys are difficult to motivate when it comes to school because they are so different and have varying strengths. I needed some advice like this…THANKS!

  11. I am new to this website and I have a great six year old daughter that most of the time is wonderful but she does have those phases where she turns into another child but I am gaining patience during these moments which are few. I love the advice everyone gives and am going to incorporate those things into our routine

  12. Has anyone used a chart to curtail a certain behavior? My son is constantly picking his nose and eating what he finds (yuck, I know!). I was thinking of doing a chart for each day that he DOES NOT pick his nose, but I think that a whole day is a lot to ask at first??? Any suggestions???

  13. Linda,

    If he is constantly picking his nose, maybe something is bothering him. We live in a dry climate and that is an issue. Try saline nose drops and have him blow his nose several times a day. You’re right eating stuff off the ground is disgusting. I have an almost 4 year old and he understands about tummy aches, germs, etc. Try rationalization.

  14. We have tried all different types of reward charts and my son just gets bored with them and doesnt care whether he is rewarded or not. Any suggestions on keeping his interest?

    Also…I am probably just as unfocused as he is…so it is a big challenge for me to keep up with it too…any other ideas besides using a chart? THANKS!

  15. How do you motivate a 16 year old boy to do well in school? He does well on his tests (90’s) but poorly on his assignments. He just said he doesn’t want to make goals or be stressed.

  16. Hi Linda,

    I read this article and what you had to say sounded great. Can you give me some tips on how to motivate a 6 year old boy. I am a single mother and I work full-time. My son does have a hard time at school staying focused is difficult and he’s one of the boys that seem to be a “troublemaker” in his class. How can i help him to want to do well in class and not get into “problems” in school.

  17. Sarah Burgos says:

    Charlene, I just read your post and don’t know if you received a reply yet. I work with children, and specifically worked with children who had special needs, or behavioral problems (some very mild to severe). The most important thing to do I think is to praise your child as much as you can. Children who are constantly hearing that they are being “bad” tend to live up to that expectation, and get angrier/worse. The more kids are praised (ie. sit with him during homework and make a big deal after even one question is finished, or if he is mostly well-behaved at school one day, take him out for ice-cream) and encouraged, the better they do. Another thing to consider is possibly getting an evaluation for your child to rule out A.D.D./A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder w/ or w/o hyperactivity). The difficulty staying focused and “troublemaker” symptoms are classic for this disorder. For children with that problem, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and be “good”, nomatter how hard they try. The more their parent understands about this disorder, the more mercy they will receive, and the better they will do in school, life, etc. Lastly, a chart is a sure-fire way to motivate your child and build self-esteem. You can give him stickers for each chore or responsibility he completes (start with easy ones- anything you can find as a reason to praise and reward him), and may compile these stickers or checks to a larger reward at the end of the week (may be end of day if he cannot wait). Instead of punishment, use rewards as motivation for proper behavior in school, etc. Praise, not punishment, is what these kids in particular really need.

  18. I am wondering if my son has conduct disorder. He just turned five and is in kindergarten. He has a tendency when younger kids like him (rather love him) he acts weird and sometimes heartless he does not hurt them but gets bugged and pushes the other kid.Or acts or says things in a way that the child or the parent of the other kid feels hurt.When I point out and say what he did is wrong he throws a tantrum and says things like “you don’t love me”, I am bad kid etc.. He seems to overreact and always seems to get angry for silly reason. We talk a lot to him especially me I try to rationalise with him. Then he will understand for a few days but again he does the same thing.I tell him how much I love him all the time. So now what I do is when he acts out I pretend to get angry and sad and say mockingly “you don’t love me” whatever he says to me. Then we just crack up. But the question still remains if he has that conduct disorder since he is our only child yet.

  19. I am wondering if you ever got a reply, Anne? My son is exactly the same way. He gets A’s on his tests, but is sloppy with or forgets to turn in his homework, and doesn’t put a full effort in on projects, so he ends up with a weird report card — A’s on all the tests, C’s, D’s and F’s on some homeworks and projects, and ends up with a B- even though he clearly knows the material. He thinks it is a waste of time to need to show his knowledge via homework, and can’t be convinced to just “play by the rules of the game” and just do it. It is disheartening to see a smart boy get much lower grades than he could, and I don’t want it to end up affecting his college choices down the road. He’s only 12 now, but what happens if he continues this into high school? Nothing seems to motivate him, and most certainly not charts with stickers. Help?

  20. alogo joel says:



  21. I agree that you can get a lot from your children with motivation, but I also believe that there has to be a fine balance of positive and negative reinforcement, so if the motivation does not work then they I think you need to change tactics and basically take away privileges until the issue is resolved. I think as a parent motivation should come first, and then if you cannot motivate the child, you need to move to discipline.

  22. My daughter is 11 years old and I’m finding it hard to motivate her. She does not put in much effort into her school work, projects, girl guides activities, etc. I have always thought this would develop in time, however she is now 11 and showing no signs. I have tried encouraging her and being positive, as well as telling her she needs to do well to succeed, etc however she does not seem worried and it seems she wants to take the easy option all the time. Does anyone have any ideas? Thank you

  23. My son is 16 and is fully capable of making great grades. The problem is that he isn’t motivated to do his work (at home or at school). We’ve tried everything for over a year now and nothing is working. The reward system has had zero effect. The punishment system has had zero effect. He says he’s going to try harder but never does. The other day he got a zero on what was basically a “gimme” project. All he had to do was keep his work in a notebook and he got a zero. The challenging thing about that particular assignment is having to punch holes in a piece of paper and just simply didn’t bother to do it. I’m at my wits end and thinking in terms of military school. Any suggestions?

    • Melody Spier says:

      In my experience the reward/punishment system works best when children are young. When my kids became teens I had to rethink my entire approach.

      The first thing I did was talk to my teen to determine why they felt it was unimportant or they weren’t motivated. Was it because they were bored with the subject or they didn’t understand it? Was it because they couldn’t see the ‘big picture’ to see how it related to their soon-to-be adult life? Maybe they had a conflict with a teacher or student within a particular class. We had to figure out what the root of the problem was before we could address it.

      The second thing we did together was determine what “success” meant for that child. Just because I wanted him/her to get straight A’s and maybe their sibling had no trouble doing that, did not mean the other child would follow suit. If the best my child could do (at that moment) was get C’s or complete 50% of their homework, that was fine – as long as they consistently did their best to reach that success level. As they grew more confident and motivated, we upped the level they needed to reach.

      I talked with their teachers to let them know what was going on, how we were addressing things and such so we kept a line of communication open with them. Some of them weren’t pleased that we felt 50% of homework was okay but others understood that 50% was better than nothing.

      In addition, I helped both of our children prioritize their assignments. We kept a calendar so we all could see what was due and when. Many times kids get so overwhelmed with assignments they can’t seem to even get started (I do that as an adult!) so the calendar was a great way for them to keep track.

      We also, from an early age, paid attention to what kind of learner our children were. Did they do better by reading, some by listening and some by doing? So as teens, if they seemed unmotivated by learning history and it was because they didn’t understand or because reading/listening wasn’t their method of learning, we would take them to a museum or rent a movie that helped them “get it”.

      Probably one of the most significant things we figured out was that they had to understand how doing whatever it was related to life. Sure, some subjects were tough to apply it to but the more they could understand this, the more accepting they were of doing the work. For example, the child was completely unmotivated to participate, do homework or even as you say, punch holes and keep track of work in their earth science class. They couldn’t see how knowing any of that would apply to them. But once they figured out that it had to do with geology – earthquakes, volcanoes, astronomy – stars, planets, space, etc, then they became interested and more motivated.

      A few other things that helped…
      1. No arguing/compromising. Once we had everything above in place, we set expectations that were meant to be followed.
      2. Homework had to be done in a quiet area away from distractions – but not in their bedroom where they might be sidetracked. We actually made homework a priority before TV could be turned on at night.
      3. Praise for small things even not related to school work. We made them understand that we all fail at some things but that doesn’t make us a failure and that our love was unconditional.
      4. Rewards – not given as a direct result of homework but because we saw how responsible they were being in all things. Sometimes we would give them cash and take them shopping or let them have a ‘teen party night’ (movies, pizza, etc).
      5. Tutor/extra help – at times my husband and I had trouble helping our kids with certain topics. So we pulled in outside help. It might be a family member, neighbor, church member, another student or even staying after school to work with the teacher.

      All of this boils down to being active in your child’s life & education. Working with them to figure out what motivates them, what struggles they need to overcome, making them understand how things apply to the big picture and just being proactive.

      Sorry for the novel length answer but I hope it helps in some way.


  24. Motivation is an issue – I have a ‘just teen’ boy (13). He believes it is alright to take things lightly eg… grades in school do not matter now – he believes he will do better when it matters. He is capable and smart. My concern is that he needs to understand the basic concepts right now and learn to apply them to get the good grades. He gets bored easily once he understands the concept – does not want to practice – does not aim at perfection … everything is ‘ok’!!! How do we manage this? We have to be constantly after him…. wake up…. brush your teeth….. finish your studies….. bathe……pick you clothes….. eat your vegetables….. go to bed….. I hope you get the picture. I have tried the carrot method and also tried taking away privileges with very limited success…. help!!!!

    • Melody Spier says:

      I just posted a big reply above that might help you too. But here are some other suggestions…

      We all learn from mistakes and it’s okay to let them fail in sometimes. If they flat refuse to do work in a particular class, let them fail so they have to take it over the next semester or year. Sometimes the hardest lessons learned are the best lessons. I was a kid who always had to learn the hard way but I still remember every one of those lessons and I never repeated one either.

      In my kid’s school there was one particular teacher that was really tough to get along with (for kids and adults). That left my child unmotivated to do anything in that class. But after explaining to them that refusing to do the work meant failing the class which in turn meant they had to deal with that teacher another year, they were much more motivated. They still only did a half baked job on their homework but I figured if that’s all I was going to get out of them and they were doing ok in the rest of their classes, then that was fine.

      For things like getting them to eat their veggies, get their clothes ready, bathe, etc. Let them make some of those decisions on their own. If they choose to not to eat veggies for a while, fine. If you’re worried about them getting the right vitamins, see if they will drink a V-8 or make a pot of homemade vegetable soup. What I’m saying is these things are small issues that really aren’t going to make a difference in the big scheme of things. Kids have to learn to make choices on their own so give them some space to make those choices and deal with the consequences (good or bad). In addition, nobody is perfect and constantly being pressured to do better can create a lot of unnecessary stress for your child. They will be okay even if they wear unmatched, wrinkled clothes, have messed up hair, don’t shower every day, etc.

      Natural consequences are sometimes the best. If they don’t bathe for a few days, what happens? The kids may tease them about being stinky. I bet it won’t take too many times of that before your child is showing daily.

      How are you handling things? If they don’t wake up in time, what is the consequence? Do they miss school or do you adjust your own schedule to accommodate them? If you’re accommodating them, stop! That’s only feeding the problem. Make them miss school instead.

      Perhaps you can set an expectation that they have to attend school on time every day in order to be able to attend the basketball games on Fridays So that means they have to get up on time and get themselves ready. You’re not saying “be up at 7am every morning or no game on Fridays” because that is too “do this- get that”. Instead you’re saying “we expect you to be responsible enough to get yourself to school on time every morning – how you do that is up to you”. If they do, then you can say “since you have shown responsibility, we know we can trust you to go to the games too. So go enjoy yourself.”

      For the teeth brushing. You could try the shock method – no I don’t mean electrocute your child! LOL Talk to your dentist and see if they have pictures that they can show to your child of real mouths that weren’t taken care of. Maybe they would be willing to do this during your child’s next follow-up. Or maybe they would be willing to let your child sit in and watch a procedure (with the patient’s permission of course) so they get first-hand experience at what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth.