Motivation - an internal desire or need that energizes one's life and gives it direction - is important to success. Many believe that it is more important than natural abilities or aptitudes. At some point in your child's development, you will probably feel that your child lacks sufficient motivation. Most parents face this worry. Different "signs" may trigger this concern - your child seems turned off by everything, complains excessively about school or home life, drops out of activities, or acts particularly bored with routine and non-routine events. Your concern comes from a sincere interest in your child's future and well-being. That is why it is so important not to react in ways that might actually make the problem worse.

Simply put, encouragement, not criticism, inspires children. When a parent criticizes a child, even constructively, that child is often discouraged and less motivated to do what is expected. On the other hand, by noticing and encouraging good behavior, a parent will see more of that good behavior. For example, complimenting your child for completing her homework before going out to play will encourage the same behavior to be repeated. "Thank you for picking up your room" will produce better results than "How many times do I have to tell you to pick up your room?"

Criticism can sink into a harmful cycle when the parent criticizes in a humiliating, hurtful way. "You are being really stupid!" "What is the matter with you?" "Don't you ever learn?" The child internalizes the criticism, loses confidence, becomes angry and alienated, and becomes less motivated to behave. The parent criticizes, and the child reacts. Both parent and child begin to believe that the child is all of those negative things.

On the other hand, parents who look for their children's good behaviors are far less likely to find faults. The children feel good about themselves, their behaviors improve, the improvements are recognized, and their motivation increases. All motivational problems are not simply solved and can require professional help. But parents can make a huge impact by focusing on and supporting the good in their children.

Motivating middle school students

Middle school is a time a great change and turmoil for your children. Your middle schoolers are trying to adapt to:

You may observe:

Some ways you can help motivate your adolescents include:

Make sure that your child knows, deep in his heart, that you love him for what he is and not for what he does.

Adapted from the U.S. Department of Education, MY CHILD'S ACADEMIC SUCCESS - Helping Your Child through Early Adolescence - Helping Your Child Series at