mother and daughter hugging

mother and daughter hugging

You’ve probably heard the old adage “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that honey is the answer when it comes to motivating kids as well!

Keeping things sweet by motivating kids in positive ways instead of negative ways helps kids form positive habits and behaviors more effectively. While negative consequences can encourage kids to behave in a certain way out of fear, the best form of motivation--and the form of motivation that helps kids form lasting, healthy patterns of behavior--comes when the child is intellectually or emotionally satisfied!  

Motivating Your Child or Teen

Goal Setting

Setting Expectations

Motivating: Where to Start

How do you know where to start when you want to help motivate your kids? No matter what it is you're wanting to help them do, there are some key things to remember. 

It Starts with YOUR Attitude

Kids are literally hardwired to learn from you and to pick up on your attitudes. So, what’s one of the best ways to motivate your kids in a positive way? Have a positive attitude yourself! Take, for example, the start of a new school year. If you want your kids to be excited about school, set the stage by getting excited about it yourself--and expressing that excitement. For example, try saying things like, “Fourth grade is such a fun year! I’m so jealous,” or, “Sixth grade is going to be a blast. You’re growing up so much!” Instead of adopting an attitude that school is a kid-free parental oasis for you (which encourages kids to see school as a punishment), try seeing it the way you’d like your kids to see it--as an opportunity, an adventure, and something they can and should look forward to.

Help Your Child See the Task as Fun

What’s the difference between an exasperated parent trying to cajole kids into cleaning up their room, and giggles and clean bedrooms? Infusing positivity and fun into the situation. If there’s a tedious task that needs to be accomplished, making it into a game or approaching the task together is a great way to motivate kids. For example, try playing the game "Rockstar Cleanup" before bedtime. This is where you pick your child's favorite song (try to make sure it’s around 5 minutes long) and see if you and the child can clean up their room before the end of the song. Don’t worry about shooting for a deep clean--just set a goal of tidying up!  Adding an element of fun makes an intimidating or difficult task feel fun (just think of Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar!)

Motivating Your Child with Rewards

Rewards can be another great form of positive motivation. These don't have to be expensive, but they should be something your child can measure! For example, a simple jar full of cheap, decorative pebbles can make a world of difference for your kids! Simply give each child a small mason jar (you can make this extra fun by decorating the jars together!). Then, at the end of the day, spend a moment with each child talking about their accomplishments, chores, homework, and goals. For each accomplishment, a pebble goes into the jar. For example, one pebble for each chore they complete; two pebbles for doing a really good job or a kind deed; and three pebbles for getting a good grade. When the child fill up their respective mason jar, they earn a prize proportionate to how long it took to earn it. You could mark goals on the side of the mason jar to show the different levels! Conversely, you can also deduct pebbles for tantrums, bad behavior or fighting.

Where do your kids struggle when it comes to motivation? Try a few of these ideas to add some positivity into the motivation equation, and spend some time thinking about how to turn potentially negative experiences into positive ones. Then watch great things happen as kids model more good behavior and a positive attitude!

Learn More About Motivating Your Kid

Setting--and following through with--goals is an important way you can help your kids succeed. Learning how to determine what they want, lay out a path to achieve it, and celebrate the results is a skill that they’ll use throughout their lives in school, work, and relationships.  

Setting Goals to Help Your Child Succeed 

There's never a bad time to set new goals. When done well, goals keep your kids motivated and help them learn how to manage expectations and work toward something.

In addition to giving kids the necessary skills to accomplish great things in life, goal setting also comes with the added value of helping kids stay engaged and involved with wholesome, worthwhile activities instead of trouble in the form of drugs, drinking, or other destructive behavior. 

Ready to help your kids set goals, stay accountable, and keep motivated? Keep reading!   

Get Specific

The first thing to keep in mind as you approach goal setting with your child is that straightforward, specific goals lead to success! Instead of setting a goal to practice reading, set a goal to read for one hour before week, broken down into 15 minutes four nights each week before bedtime. Instead of setting a goal of getting to bed earlier, set a goal to start getting ready for bed at 8:30 each night to be in bed by 9:00. If your child’s goal is to make a sports team, set a goal to to practice skills several times each week for a set amount of time to prepare. Getting specific paves the way for consistency, clarity of the roadmap your child can take to accomplish a goal, and helps the goal seem more doable!

Work Together

Just as important as setting specific goals is setting goals with your child instead of for your child. As a parent it can be easy to take the reins and the attitude of “Mother/Father knows best.” However, setting goals with your child allows him or her to take ownership of the goal, talk through concerns or questions before committing, and gives them a sense of pride and purpose in setting out to accomplish something they’ve had the opportunity to buy into.

Work Backward

To set a goal with your child, sit down together to first identify what you want to accomplish--or the end result--whether that be getting a better grade, getting more sleep, learning something new, or making a friend. Then work backward from that result to identify the steps needed to accomplish the end result. Write these steps down, and keep them somewhere accessible (like a notebook) to review together periodically. For instance, if your child is feeling lonely and wants to make a new friend, these steps could include smiling at and saying hi to three new people each day, joining a club or after-school activity, or sitting by someone new at lunch once a week for a month. Identifying bite-sized steps that can be incorporated into a daily routine are especially effective!

Stay Accountable

After you and your child have gone through the work to set goals together and put a plan to achieve them into place, don’t let entropy take over! Regularly check in with your child to find out how things are going and express support and confidence; however, be sure these check-ins are motivated by genuine caring rather than nagging or reminding. Checking in can be as simple as asking a question, expressing your confidence that the child can achieve the goal, and celebrating any wins along the way.

Celebrate Victories with Your Child

Just as important as setting goals and staying accountable to them is recognizing progress and celebrating victories. When goals are achieved, don’t make the mistake of simply moving along to the next goal without taking the time to celebrate. This can be as simple as a hug, a heartfelt “I’m proud of you, great work,” or a special parent-child date night, depending on the goal and your child. Taking the time to celebrate and acknowledge a job well done helps your child feel validated and proud of what they’ve accomplished and the work they’ve done to get there.

Helping your kids develop the discipline and skills necessary to set goals and achieve goals is one of the best gifts you can give your kids. And the joy they (and you!) will feel as they reap the rewards of goal-setting in the form of new skills, accomplishments, and personal development is one of the most rewarding parts of parenting--and life!

Download Our Guide on Goal Setting

Helping Your Kids Set Realistic Expectations

Setting expectations is a very simple--but important--strategy for helping your kids succeed, and the good news is you can start from the time they are toddlers until they are off to college and beyond!

Setting expectations is one of the best ways to building their self-esteem and save yourself a few headaches along the way.

Imagine arriving at work in the morning only to be handed a surprise list of new assignments for the day. At 10:00 am, your boss stands impatiently outside your office: “Where is my report?” she asks, clearly disappointed that you haven’t tackled this task first--despite there being no indication of priority to the task list. 

Success would be all but impossible to achieve in this situation. Why? Because when expectations aren’t realistic, communicated in advance, and clearly communicated, the chances of success are slim and haphazard--for kids and adults alike. 

Be Realistic

The first key when it comes to kids and expectations is making those expectations realistic based on age, development and circumstances. For instance, if you child is sick, he or she may not be capable of behaving in the same way as when he or she is well. It’s not about lowering the bar for success, it’s about setting the bar at a reasonable expectation to begin with.

Age is an important factor when it comes to realistic expectations. A 5-year-old child will not be able to complete a game of Monopoly, sit quietly for long periods of time, or practice an instrument for several hours. Setting your child up for success means recognizing your child’s limitations based on their age and development (so going to a fancy 2 hour dinner with a 3-year-old probably isn’t the best idea).

Prepare for Success

The next key to success when it comes to setting expectations is communicating those expectations before it’s go-time. Before you go into any situation or start a task with your child, it’s important to talk through your expectations. This doesn’t have to be a drawn-out process--it can be quick and simple! For example, before you go into a grocery store talk to your child about what you expect from their behavior in the store (e.g., that you will not have time to stop at this toy aisle this trip, and that your child will be allowed to choose one type of snack).

With older children, it can be very helpful to talk through the morning routine or nighttime routine beforehand or even make a schedule that everyone can see of what things should be accomplished in the morning/evening. Doing this will help head off conflict before a situation becomes stressful in the moment. Something that will help you succeed in setting expectations is asking the kids questions. Before going into the grocery store with younger kids, ask them questions about what they think their behavior should be? For example, “Okay, we need to get a few groceries, what are the don’t-do’s while we are in the store?”

Communicate While Calm

A big part of setting the stage and explaining expectations beforehand is avoiding the stress and heightened emotions that go hand in hand with deadlines and pressure. While asking a child to put shoes on or accompany you to the grocery store might not feel like a high stakes activity or big deal to you, it can feel that way to a two-year-old who sees a dazzling aisle chock full of candy, or who isn’t sure if his or her socks will feel funny in shoes like they did yesterday. Taking the time to get on the same page while everyone is calm and collected helps your child feel mentally prepared. 

Again asking your kids the night before, “What do we need to for school tomorrow? Is it library day or PE day? Do you want to bring your lunch?” Answering those questions in advance will help avoid a stressful morning.

Don’t Make Assumptions

It can be easy to get frustrated when kids don’t comply with your expectations--but before you react, think about whether you’ve communicated your expectations clearly and completely.

For example, say you’ve asked your two children to get ready for school in the morning. You sit them down to eat breakfast and let them know that they have 10 minutes before it’s time to leave for school. When you return 10 minutes later, they have finished breakfast but are not ready to walk out the door with backpacks and shoes. Instead of getting frustrated, think about whether you could set a more clear expectation next time. Kids don’t have a solid grasp of time passage yet, so instead of saying “10 minutes,” next time say a specific time, like “8:00.” And instead of assuming that kids know what is implied by “leaving in 10 minutes,” specify that after eating breakfast they need to put on shoes and backpacks. For recurring tasks, clarify these expectations by making an easily visible chart with words or pictures for kids to reference.

Communicating realistic, clear expectations not only sets kids up for success in life--it also models the way they should set expectations with other people, and helps them feel in control and confident of their ability to succeed.

Interested in what you see here? Idaho Youth Ranch offers parenting classes to help parents develop skills to build and maintain positive relationships with their kids. Join our parenting gurus for this series where you can learn skills, ask questions, and have discussions in a non-judgmental, relaxed environment. Learn more about upcoming parenting classes at

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