Do you want to teach your child new skills, but find it difficult to get him to participate in learning activities? Those who find the most success with getting the child to consistently go along with their instructions will have taught the child, through their previous interactions, that there are payoffs for listening to them and engaging in activities with them (e.g., structured learning activities).
What do we mean by “payoffs” for going along with the instructor? We need to teach the child that good things will happen for the child when he follows directions and engages with the adult. Perhaps the parent delivers words of praise to the child. Maybe there is a fun interaction between the adult and the child (e.g., tickling the child, pushing the child higher on the swing, etc.). Maybe the adult provides the child with his favorite toy or lets the child watch TV for a few minutes. If the child consistently sees that interacting with the adult leads to these “good things,” the child will be more likely to comply with the adult when the child is asked to do something. Thus, it’s always beneficial to establish yourself as someone that is “fun” and as one who can give the child things that he seeks.
Before attempting to place a lot of demands on your child, spend some time playing with him—have fun together and allow the child to see that his interactions with you are fun and not work. When the child consistently enjoys his interactions with the adult, the child is likely to seek out the adult for continued, positive interactions in the future. Building this type of positive relationship will increase the likelihood that the child will be more willing to engage with you, even if you are teaching him new skills. Once the child is consistently approaching you and seeking you out, consider some of the following pointers as you begin the process of teaching new skills during daily routines and within more structured learning environments.
- Make fun activities or desired objects available to the learner immediately after he completes a couple of easy tasks.
- Initially, tasks should be easy, minimal, and ones that the child can quickly complete.
- Work your way up! After the child is consistently responding to a couple of simple demands, carefully increase the amount of responses required to get the thing he wants. Don’t increase the workload too quickly or the child may lose his motivation to continue responding for you!
- Occasionally see if the child wants to earn something different for his continued, active participation—if he shows signs of that he is losing interest in getting tickled or receiving bubbles, he will make it obvious (e.g., his attention will waiver, might appear disinterested, or leave the instructional session). In these situations, the adult should consider changing the activity (or desired object) to a new and more exciting one. Always make sure that you have something that the child wants to play with or earn access to at that moment in time.
- End the learning activity on a good note. Stop while you are ahead and don’t push the child too far. If the child views learning as fun and not stressful, and that it’s linked to the things that he enjoys, he is likely to be more motivated to participate in learning activities again in the future.
Take the time to build a positive relationship with your child, it will go a long way toward developing his motivation to interact with you. As Dr. Partington always says, “We want the children to run to us, not from us!”
For more information and for a description of highly effective strategies on how to motivate your child to respond to you during both structured and typical daily routines, check back in early February of 2018 for the release of our newest book from the Teach Your Children Well® series—Learning to Motivate, Motivated to Learn.