Effectively Motivate Your Child To Do Right

Parents, this is the first part of a series on using a positive motivation system for your child. I want to help you clarify for yourself and your child precisely what behaviors you want. Then we will look at how to determine the steps your child needs to take to successfully accomplish those behaviors, then help you come up with a system to regularly acknowledge your child's success. If your child knows the right behaviors, understands how to accomplish those behaviors and is acknowledged for doing them - you have a motivated kid!

As an elementary school Principal I have presented this information to dozens of families with great success. This is not meant to be your only discipline tool. It is one of the tools that can be effectively used with your child.
Today we explore if such a system is right for you and I want to help you understand the three types of behaviors in a child parents typically try to change.

How To Effectively Motivate Your Child To Do Right

Getting your child to behave properly is a great goal!  Hopefully your desire for her obedience stems from a clear desire to instill disciplines and responsibility in her life. Knowing that through proper behavior she will become a caring and loving individual.  If this is not your motivation, and you plan to use these positive reinforcement steps for selfish gain I want to warn you, that while they will work for a season, every child eventually recognizes when a parent, coach or other adult is truly on their side and when they are not. If you want to vicariously live through your child, want to brag about them, or want to prove to others that you are a superior parent, eventually things will fall apart for you and even the best motivational system will fail. (For more on the importance of your motivation, read the chapter entitled Always In Love in my book Loving Limits offered free at Colossians2.com.)

DSC_8312Once you have examined your motives and made sure you want what is best for your child you are ready to proceed.  My experience has been if your child has the parent she deserves who is looking out for her and who cares enough to hold her accountable you are likely to succeed.

Is A Positive Incentive Program Right For You and Your Child?

If you love your child and want, or even need them to accomplish daily routines then read on.  If your child needs to curb poor, inappropriate or annoying behaviors, read on!  If you are looking to end the cycle of frustration from having expected behaviors consistently broken read on.  If you realized that your child needs to establish constructive routines to help them bring consistency into their lives, read on.  If you find yourself complaining or even yelling at your child for the same things over and over read on.  If you want to add some fun and be more positive with your child then read on.

A positive motivation plan can help you and your child end the cycle of frustration with negative, complaining and nagging between you.  It can bring focus and lead to positive communication as well as provide structured, clear steps to success and reward.  A well structured positive reinforcement system ends confusion for many children and helps build confidence with real success!

Your child needs to be old enough to grasp delayed gratification.  A 3 year old will not be excited about check marks or points adding up to some future prize! Your child needs to be able to be taught. If your child has special mental, emotional or psychiatric needs, check with your doctor or pshycologist before enacting this type of sytem.

Who should not use a positive motivation system?  After having worked with families for nearly 30 years I have occasionally come across parents who are literally afraid of their child’s reaction to any restrictions.  I hear “I will talk to him, but I don’t know how he will take this, if he is upset I am not going to do this program.”  If that is you and you have any fear of your child whatsoever please seek out professional counseling.  I am not talking about fear that your child may not succeed, I am talking about genuine fear of your child – that he may get upset or angry or that he may not “love you” if you place restrictions on him.  These fears are generally due to serious behavioral issues with your child or with emotional scars that you are carrying.  Either situation can be helped by seeking out a professional counselor.

DSC_8336Also, if you as a parent are not ready to follow through with a program for at least 2 months, please do not do this program. You will actually be adding to your family problems. Starting an incentive program only to end up ignoring or discarding it will do more damage than good.

Please note, that my nearly 30 years of experience working with families has given me insights and firsthand experience using this system of positive motivation. I have witnessed how parents have sabotaged the best reinforcement systems. Over the years I have identified certain attitudes and actions you will want to avoid. I call them “Motivational Killers” since these behaviors kill the system and de-motivate your child.  I have listed several of these “Motivational Killers” to help you beware!  I have also watched as parents have worked patiently to give their child the best chance for success.  I call their attitudes and actions “Motivational Incentives” and have listed several of these for your benefit.

If you still think that a positive incentive program is right for you, then follow these steps for great results!

Basic Steps To Success




Before we proceed, let me draw a distinction between three different types of unwanted behavior. Immature, Unlearned, and Disobedient behavior. The difference is easy to state, but for some parents it is tricky to decipher.

Immature Behavior – Typical behaviors which a child displays because he has not yet reached a certain level of maturity. If you expect your one year old child to eat at his high chair without making a mess you are likely out of luck. If you want your 4 year old to bath and himself and tie his shoes, again, you are likely out of luck. If you want your 9 year old to go to the store and buy his own clothes it is not likely to happen. If you want your 15 year old to pay his own way, again you will be disappointed.  Also remember that maturity levels differ from child to child. Three of my children were able to sit all the way through dinner as soon as they left their high chairs (well, more or less.) No matter how hard she tried, one child simply could not!

Unlearned Behavior – A behavior that a child has yet to learn or master. It may be due to a lack of teaching, or a lack of clear and consistent expectations, but for whatever reason she has not learned to consistently demonstrate the behavior.

Disobedient Behavior – A behavior that a child has chosen not to demonstrate. Emphasis on “chosen.” He is mature enough and has been taught this behavior, but is either waiting to be motivated, held accountable or to be forced to comply before he will clearly demonstrate the behavior. Positive motivation can help with the first two types of disobedient behavior, those waiting to be motivated or held accountable.

If you have a child who is waiting to be forced, get my free book – Loving Limits at colossians2.com.  Concentrate on enforcing your limits through the 4 step system of “Teach,” “Expose both good and bad,” “Re-teach and Warn,” then “Punish and restore in Love.” Once you feel like you have things a bit better under control, then come back to setting up and using the positive motivation program outlined here.

separateNext I will show you how a list of your child’s most annoying behaviors helps you to identify appropriate behavior which you will be able to effectively change through the positive motivation system and then how to focus on what needs to change first including how to define goals so your child can understand and succeed.

Following that we will discuss how to measure your child’s progress in a motivational way and discuss how to keep the program going.


Published by

Mark Strohm

Mark is a devoted Christ follower. He is husband to Ellen, father to a son and three daughters, and grandfather to 9. He holds a Masters of Education in school leadership and has been a teacher and school principal. He has served on Church staffs working with parents and children. His ministry spans over 30 years.

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