Monday, November 17, 2014

How do you teach self-motivation?

I remember a number of years ago I was watching Dr. Phil on TV (I swear this is not a confession post!), and he was talking to a mother about how her constant hovering over her children, telling them what to do, being the overzealous soccer mom, was a disservice to them.  One of his points was that she was constantly providing external motivation, so much so that her kids would have a difficult time finding their own internal motivation.  I had never heard of this before, but it certainly gave me pause.

I look around at the people in my life, some of whom seem to have tremendous drive, others of whom are very stuck or unmotivated.  How much of it is personality?  How much of it is in reaction to trauma?  How much was ingrained at an early age?  Truth be told, I don't know, but I do know that - to the best of my ability - I want to create the possibility of self-motivation for my son if that even can be done.  I mean, can you actually teach someone self-motivation?  

On the one hand, no.  I don't think you can.  But on the other hand, I think you can create a space where someone can step up, motivated, curious, and excited to take on the world.  Here are some things I do.

1.  I don't cram my opinion down my son's throat.  Sure, there are times when we talk about things like safety.  At the end of the day, my opinion is the one that holds the most weight in this category; however, there's still room to listen to his thoughts and hold space for his upset. 

2.  Listening to my son's opinion.  I hear what he has to say and ask questions. I model active listening to him, and also sit or crouch to his level.  I want to feel as connected as possible.  I want him to know I heard what he said, and I understood him.  I also want him to think about different facets of what he's come up with.   Now, I don't grill him, but I am truly interested in hearing what he has to say. 

3.  Create free time throughout the day.  We aren't rushing from one activity to another. This means he has space to actually discover activities on his own.  I've been amazed by how some cut up 2x4's have been turned into a train, planes, a carwash, cars, a road, etc.  My son comes up with these on his own.  

4.   Necessity might be the mother of invention, but so is boredom.  From the "I don't know what to do" comes an inkling of an idea. I strongly believe if we are constantly telling our kids what to do, when to do it, then they never get to discover, internally, that resource of creativity.  And here's the thing: all kids are creative.  They are born with it.  It might manifest in different ways, but they have it.

5.  Don't squelch self-motivation with too much screen time.  Certainly my son has watched videos on YouTube and played Endless Alphabet (cool app!) on my iPhone, but at the same time, I monitor what he's doing and have to admit, it's a bit scary to see how glazed over his eyes become when he's engaging in screen time, even with an active engaging app, even with a snake video where he's asking questions about whether snakes eat each other (the answer is - for some snakes - yes!)

I love seeing what my son comes up with, having him talk about what he's doing and thinking, finding a delicate balance between asking questions to expand his ideas and simply letting his ideas free float and evolve at their own time and pace.  Parenting.  Sometimes it seems so effortless and other times, it feels like some delicate dance in the dark. 

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