How (NOT) to Motivate Children

Updated: Jan 9


Take a look at this behavior chart. What do you notice: That most kids are on green? Or that Brodie and Micheal are the difficult ones here?

If you have children in school, you may be familiar with the "Card" system of classroom management. At home, you may have used a token system to encourage your child to use the potty or do chores. The goal of this article is to explain why these external motivation systems are not helpful in the long run of your children's lives and relationships - and what you can do instead.

As always, remember that we do the best we can with the information we have when we have it. SO, if you have used/are currently using such a behavioral management system with your children/students, I pray that you may read this with an open mind, knowing that there is NO condemnation here, and after reading, feel free to leave your respectful comments, questions, or concerns so we can dialogue about this issue!


I taught kindergarten for ten glorious years before having Gabriel in 2005. I was young, full of energy, knowledge (but maybe not much wisdom...), and I absolutely LOVED every single one of my 30 - 60ish students a year (The difference between half day and full day kindergarten back then).

This LOOK is NOT the way I wanted to be remembered by the children in my care.

Some years, I used a type of behavioral management system by turning the kids picture cards around (in essence, the photo of the child was facing the wall rather than the actual child 😳) for behavioral infractions (not following directions, talking out of turn, and so on).

Some years, I used a system in which their names were written on craft sticks and if they weren't following directions or were being disruptive, I would remove their stick from the container and they wouldn't get a "prize" or sticker at the end of the day.🤷🏻‍♀️

Some years, I just believed that they would follow the expectations that I set forth and, when they didn't, I probably used my tone and facial expressions to shame them. 🤦🏻‍♀️


It was all awful. Demeaning. Even sometimes arbitrary since a child's behavior may have been no big deal to me yesterday - maybe I even laughed at their antics - but today I am tired and crampy and YOU. ARE. ON. MY. LAST. NERVE... "Turn your card!"


Of course this kind of system "worked" with children who were anxious to please...but at what cost? How much of the "Do what I say and you get good things" led into them eventually asking, "What am I going to get for this" before deciding whether or not to do what was expected? Don't we WANT children to do the right things simply because it's the right thing to do? And, as a Christ-Follower, I know that "doing or being GOOD" is not what saves me - it's Jesus alone!!


I KNEW I had to find a better way. And I did! First, and most importantly, I began a relationship with Jesus Christ in the fall of 2006. Secondly, I participated in several intensive trainings by Dr. Becky Bailey, creator of Conscious Discipline that planted seeds of being aware of my OWN self-control, before I could possibly expect that from anyone else.


I had been researching and learning about how our brains were created and and how they worked for several years before marrying my husband, Tim, soon after Gabe turned three. We instantly became a family of five since he had four-year-old Ethan and five-year-old Mackenzie. With the combined understanding of who I am in Christ, the guidance of my Godly husband, and what I was discovering about how our brains worked, it certainly set our young family - and my future classrooms - up for success!

Can't you just FEEL the connection between these two in this picture?

Through my relationship with Jesus, I found the security, acceptance, and love that I had always searched for - in things like my performance, appearance, or material possessions. This made REAL to me the brain-based principles behind Conscious Discipline. I began to experience how connection really does create cooperation by building relational connections with the children in my home and in my classrooms. We focused on saying and actually keeping them SAFE (emotionally and physically) and helping them know that (as image-bearers of God), they are worthy of being loved.

Whether you are a Christ-Follower or not, you don't need to use the unpredictable, extrinsic motivation of a “Card System” in your classroom or home in order for kids to follow your directions!

What our kids need - WHAT WE ALL NEED - is to develop connected relationships with others!

Think about the last time things were really good with your spouse: You're snuggling on the couch, whispering sweet nothings to each other. Then, you get up to go to the kitchen and he asks playfully, "Hey honey bear sugar lips, would you please bring me back something to drink?" What would you do? Surely, you would be more than happy to do so! You even ask if he would like anything else.... extra ice? A slice of lemon?

Now think about the last time things were NOT going so well: You weren't even sitting on the same couch. You were stewing about the fact that the trash is overflowing but he said he'd take it out. You get up to get something from the kitchen and he says, "Hey, bring me a drink." Would you say: "Get it yourself!" or ask "Are your legs broken?" or would you maybe bring it but not feel real loving about it?


Well, it's the same way with ALL relationships! When you feel CONNECTED you want to COOPERATE with each other! You are eager to be helpful, kind, thoughtful and considerate! You aren't doing it for a prize or a sticker or even to hear "Good Job!" You are doing it because you feel love and want to show love in return. And that takes TIME and DEDICATION and in a lot of ways is a LOT harder than having a kid flip a card or perform something to your liking and get a sticker.


Ask yourself: Do I want my kids to just be obedient NOW? Or do I want to make LASTING change in their behavior for their - and our - lifetimes? Let's build those connections that create cooperation!


One way to build Connections to Create Cooperation is to make sure you are creating your B.E.S.T. time together (see video below or click here). Be present in the moment, look into each others' eyes, play and laugh together, hug, tickle, touch! Make it a daily priority to have intentional "Talk Time" (you can find out more about Talk Time in these two articles: Sibling Rivalry Part 1 or Favoritism & Sibling Rivalry ) to build connections and you are going have more cooperation that flows from this connected relationship!


Try it and comment below about how it's going for you and your children!


#ConnectPointMoms helps you create stronger relational connections with the children in your life. This starts with being aware of your own stuff so you can BE PRESENT with your children in the moment you're in, and then knowing and using the best ways to communicate with them! For quick, helpful parenting videos, find "Kate Connects" on YouTube or join the Connect Point Moms Facebook group to find encouraging supportive moms struggling through it all together!

#ConnectionIsThePoint #LearnToDoItDifferently #KateConnects #ConnectionCreatesCooperation

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