How Can I Get My Children to Take Initiative?

Introduction from Ed Miller...

We'll feature a new article from Dr. Scott Turansky in the middle of each week for the next couple of months. This article will feature fresh and exciting material from Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told. We'll use this material to generate dialog about some important issues. 

An Article by Dr. Scott Turansky… 

Prodding kids along to get things done drains family life. We all know it. If only kids could see what needs to be done and take some initiative! Is it possible to train children to act without the continual pushing and prodding from parents? We say Yes! It is possible but it doesn’t typically happen without some intentional work. 
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In the preschool classroom a four-year-old learns to get out a mat, then a toy to play with on that mat. When he’s done playing, he puts the toy away and then puts the mat away before he gets out another toy. Yet the same child leaves messes all over the house at home. Why? It has to do with training and in our new book entitled Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told we’ve provided the roadmap you can use to teach your kids to be internally motivated in most any area.

Here’s how it works. First, parents need to move away from the reward/punishment model that stifles initiative in kids. Offering a reward gets kids asking about the minimum they need to do to get the reward. “Clean up your mess and you can play on the computer.” That approach, used over time, breeds selfishness in kids because they continually want to know what you’re going to give them if they do what you say. Children wait to be told what to do, and then evaluate the reward for obeying.

Scott and Carrie Turansky
What’s the reason that a child should have for cleaning up a mess? Is it so the child can play on the computer, or because it’s the right thing to do? With the right plan, parents can train their kids to manage themselves more and rely less on parents to prompt them along.

Here’s Becky’s story. “I was very frustrated with my kids in the morning. It seemed that they would wait around for me to tell them what to do next. ‘Get dressed… comb your hair… put your breakfast bowl in the sink… get your coat… find your shoes… and on and on it went. Then we made a change. I used the plan in Motivate Your Child to have my kids each create a list of the things they need to do in the morning from the time they get up until the time they get out the door. Then we broke up the list into tasks to do before breakfast, and after breakfast. The next morning they each took their list and began to work independently. One of my children needed more training than the other, but now things run much better in the mornings and I do a lot less prompting. Even when I do have to give reminders I do it differently. I say, ‘Give me a report,’ or ‘What’s next on the list,’ further drawing my kids to their lists instead of relying on me. I’m eager to try this in some other areas of our family life too.”

Internal motivation relies on promptings from the inside to take action in four areas: Do what’s right, Deal with wrongs, Be honest, and Care about others. One of the signs of maturity at any age is demonstrated when a child takes initiative. Of course, it warms a parent’s heart when a child thinks maturely, or cares for someone else, or takes a stand for what’s right.

Tell us about something your child took initiative to do without being told? Was there something you did to train the child in that area?

Leave a comment and join the discussion. You can also share your thoughts on the NCBP Facebook Page as well. 

Next time we’ll suggest more ideas for building internal motivation in kids.

Milan Tomic

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  1. I just read this in the book. I was challenged last night to read the Col 3:23 verse to my kids this morning and use it as a start to our day. It will be a slow process, I think, as we start to make subtle, but necessary changes. I need more ideas! :)

    1. Melissa, as soon as you see some initiative, talk about it with your kids and explain to them about internal motivation. It's easiest to strengthen internal motivation when you see it moving in the right direction. It would be great if you would post something you saw, even small, or a comment your kids make that indicates that you're getting through. Others, I'm sure, would find that encouraging. --Scott Turansky

  2. Thanks for getting the ball rolling Melissa. It is a slow process, but it's such an important and valuable journey. The changes you will make this year will have a profound impact on your family for years to come. Keep on reading. There's a lot more ideas to come. You'll find Motivate Your Child to be very helpful and practical. It's not just a lot of feel good theory. Please feel free to share specific questions as they arise.

  3. I loved the podcast Scott Turansky did on this very subject of internal vs external motivation. I am excited that there is a book now that goes into more detail, providing more strategies, and more heart based parenting advice. I have been a fan of Scott's and Joanne's books and parenting resources for some time -- such great help!

    As for my kids (who are 7 and almost 9), I love seeing that internal motivation blossoming in their lives. Just the other day, when we saw a fire truck and ambulance at the scene of an accident, my 7 year old daughter said "lets have a quick prayer for those people" and she prayed for everyone involved. My almost 9 year old son will bring the trash cans in after trash pick up without being asked -- and it was nothing we told him to do. Just on his own he decided he was going to bring them in. Our praise alone has encouraged him to continue to bring the trash cans in after trash pick up.

    Thanks again for all the wonderful resources! This new book is excellent!

    1. That's wonderful Jenn. Thanks for sharing that great story. It is "success" stories that motivate us all to keep moving forward even through the tough times. Heart transformation is taking place and it's so exciting.