Parenting In Focus: A child’s motivation versus a child’s burnout

We all want our children to be motivated to try new things, learn new tasks and attempt new and healthy behaviors. But how do you do that? What makes your child the one who tries new behaviors? What makes your child the one who wants to attempt a new task?

Let us begin by looking at ways we can easily discourage a child about learning. We don’t want to cause your toddler to experience burnout. What causes toddler burnout? When you are always the one insisting that your child learn her ABCs or colors instead of encouraging her to move ahead with some learning she chooses or some kind of play she wants.

Being too pushy about learning new things is guaranteed to cause burnout. You want to be the one who encourages your child to learn without pushing them. Always have the next lesson ready to go — rather than letting your child have a choice in what’s next — can cause burnout.

Don’t try to teach her the right way of playing with a toy; instead, let her figure it out through trial and error. Don’t be the one who opens the LEGO toys and immediately puts something together. Let her be the one who figures it out first. She will be motivated to try more after she, on her own, figures out what works.

Pace and patience

Don’t overdo the physical play. If you take her to gym class in the morning and then on a play date for the entire afternoon it may be too much. Instead, do one or the other. Physical activity is important, fun and good for you, but too much of anything can cause your child to feel negatively about a task.

Be careful not to over-schedule her day after day, week after week. Down time can be creative time when she can figure out what she wants to do. Involve her in what you decide to do or not to do.

Encourage her, but don’t make her feel that she isn’t worthy of your love if she doesn’t perform up to your standards. Let her do things her way and not your way.

At the same time, encourage her learning in fun ways. If you are driving around and you see a cow, make up a story about the cow. The next time, you tell your child one line of the story and then have your child make up the next line. Pretty soon, she will be able to make up a whole story and be proud of herself.

Creative growth

Another way to motivate your child is to let her be the leader. Follow her suggestions about which toys to play with or which books to read. Let her know you think her choices are good ones.

Try planning a project together. There are many kinds of things you can do. One fun project is to plant a garden. Figure out together what you want to plant, get the seeds, dig up the area, plant them, water them and watch them grow. This kind of project helps her learn about planning, organizing and sticking with a project.

At each phase, let her be the leader, and in many cases, the doer. This will even help her be ready for next year’s kindergarten class.

These are good examples of ways of motivating a child. You need to understand how to do this now, because you need to be doing this for a long time.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.