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Motivating the Unmotivated

Kid doesn't want to eat vegetablesSo often we find ourselves struggling to get the children we love to do the things we know are important. So often their reluctance is a major obstacle. You know the quote:

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”

Quite frankly, that is not very helpful. A wonderful friend and author of many books, Suzanne Stevens taught me the second part of the quote that changed my life:

“But you can make them thirsty by salting the hay!”

Now that changes everything… Simply put, it’s all about motivation. Motivation, however, can be a moving target. Perhaps, when you’re salting the hay, it’s important to understand what motivates the individual child.

Rick Lavoie, author of The Motivation Breakthrough, explains the different types of motivation. Different people are motivated by different things.

The different types of motivation are:

  • Power and Control
  • Rewards
  • Prestige/acknowledgement
  • Praise and Encouragement

Individuals who desire power and control require choice, clear expectations, and some level of accountability. Children motivated by rewards require a meaningful and thoughtful approach to providing benefits for their accomplishments. If prestige is a primary source of motivation then insuring that child receives continued validation, along with public acknowledgement is key. Some people really appreciate praise and encouragement. Being very specific with the kind of praise you give is critical to nurturing the success of these young people. Finally, it is important to never underestimate the power of a charismatic adult in the motivation of a child.

I have found that so many of the children we work with here at SOAR share an unwavering need and desire to be Helpful. Given a sense of purpose and appreciation, these young men and women will go to great lengths to be helpful and a support to others. Once in that helpful frame of mind, individuals can be encouraged to find new ways to practice responsibility. In conclusion, remember to find the key that unlocks a child’s motivation, and remember to “salt the hay.”

By John Willson, M.S., LRT/CTRS

Executive Director of SOAR