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Are you struggling to motivate your homeschooler? If so, you may be making one of these key motivational mistakes. Correct them and get the motivated student you want.

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Mistake #1: Not using rewards to motivate

The first mistake many parents make when thinking about motivation is that they shouldn’t have to use rewards to motivate good behavior. I frequently have a parent raise this concern with me when I am speaking at conventions. The idea is our children should just behave well without any special incentive. Kids should just do their chores, their schoolwork, and follow the rules out of the goodness of their hearts.

First of all, let me say that I believe in this ideal as well. I just accept that it will not occur while we are still in the flesh and living on this earth. Before I go any further with my explanation for why we must use rewards to teach good behavior, allow me to offer this disclaimer. There are a certain number of expectations we can have of our kids that can be trained without offering any reward other than thanks and praise. For example, I have never offered my children any type of word for putting their dishes into the dishwasher. This is just behavior that is expected in our family. My kids also have responsibilities like helping me unload and putting away groceries that they don’t receive any rewards for. But the longer the list of expected behaviors that will not receive an outside reward, the more likely you’re going to have a child who resists.

“The longer the list of expected behaviors that will not receive an outside reward, the more likely you’re going to have a child who resists.”

Parents who come to hear me teach on motivating their kids typically have a child who is resisting a desired behavior. In that case, it is the equivalent of beating our heads against the wall to insist that the child should change without any incentive. Again, that would be lovely. But if you have not been successful in changing the child’s behavior without rewards, in my opinion, it is time to use them. Here’s why.

Every behavior, especially those that we do repeatedly, is being rewarded. You might not see the rewards, but they are there. Why do you do the things that you habitually do? There is a reward in there somewhere. It might be as simple as having peace of mind for tracking your child’s work. You don’t have to have any anxiety about your records being reviewed if you’re tracking. If you constantly find yourself spending more time on social media than you planned, you can be sure you are being rewarded for your time. You’re receiving compliments, likes, or laughs. Children are no different. As normal human beings, our kids will pursue activities that are rewarding. God designed us to seek rewards.

We have to use rewards to train behaviors that have not developed naturally. So as part of your family routine, if you still have a child who is not making his bed, getting his math done, or playing nicely with his sister, these are the kinds of behaviors we can use rewards to train. That does not mean that we have to use rewards forever. Eventually the natural rewards of the behavior will take root. In the best case, good habits will form and no rewards will be required.

Using rewards also does not mean that you cannot address a child’s heart. We always want to be memorizing Scripture having to do with service and selflessness. We want to read stories about people who have modeled those characteristics. We want to encourage one another to honor God and others with our behavior. But that heart training does not preclude the use of rewards. I hope I have made a good case for using rewards to shape behavior that thus far has not been developed.

Mistake #2: Not using money as a reward

The second mistake many parents make is not using money as a reward. Not every child is motivated by money, but many, many of them are. Some of the same parents who frown upon using rewards to train good behavior also look down on money as a reward, as though it’s an unethical approach. I want to clarify before I continue that money is not the root of all evil. The love of money is the root of all evil. We are not leading kids to evil by giving them money and using money as a motivator. In fact, money is very useful in the kingdom of God. God uses money to accomplish his purposes.

The issue of the the goodness of money put aside, using money as a reward becomes an amazing opportunity to teach kids to manage money well. Children who do not have money of their own are likely to struggle when they are out of our homes and having to make financial decisions.

I have felt fortunate that all of my children are very motivated by money. Here is how I have used money as a motivator in our home. I have included money as a list of potential rewards that I use in my random iPhone app. It is one of the potential rewards that my kids can choose when I catch them doing something above and beyond what is expected. Most often my kids will choose the money.

I have managed my kids’ money digitally because I have six of them. I would need as much cash as a bank to manage it with paper. Cash can also be lost or stolen. I have used apps that have automatically added a child’s allowance to their account on my phone and automatically removes their tithes. The app also allowed me to use a fine as a consequence for misbehavior and my kids could see me deduct the money from their accounts. Invariably they would become very very upset about this, which is exactly what you want them to experience. I have noticed in paying my kids for work or as a reward for good behavior that they have developed frugal spending habits. All of my kids seem to be interested in conserving the funds that they have. That includes my son, who has a career and his own place. Consider these apps for managing your kids’ money from your phone.

I have heard some money experts say that you never give your kids money for chores. I’m not really sure what the rationale is for that except they want kids to know that doing chores is just a part of being a member of the family. I do agree that chores are an expected part of being a member of your family, but I don’t see that paying your child for completing them will interfere with that idea. I gave my kids and allowance that was not connected to specific chores. But I don’t see anything wrong with paying for individual chores, especially if you are having trouble getting kids to do those particular chores without your constant supervision. Our family has chosen to give payments for mowing the lawn as separate from the weekly allowance. Just a side note that we stop giving an allowance as soon as kids are old enough to do the lawn mowing or have another job like babysitting.

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Mistake #3: Using motivators that work for you and not your child

So far we’ve covered that you should be willing to use rewards to train good behavior and if your child is interested in money as a reward, you should be willing to use it. There are some great benefits of that. And that leads me to mistake number three that parents make in trying to motivate their kids. That mistake is using motivators that work for you and not for your child.

Let me give you some personal examples. My husband is very motivated by the desire to appear to be a hard-working and fit person. He would be getting to the gym as soon as someone suggested that he had been slacking off on his workouts, for example. He has sometimes made the mistake of thinking that our kids are motivated in that same way. They’re not. Well, maybe some of them are. I am motivated by praise. If you tell me how amazing I am when I do something for you, I am likely to work even harder on your behalf. But I have kids who are not motivated by other people’s praise, including mine.

Instead of treating your children like they are you, you need to do some detective work to determine what motivates your kids. I will give you a couple of ideas to get you started. First, pay attention to what your child asks for. If your child is always asking for more game time, a certain snack, or to have a sleepover, then you have a built-in motivator. Next, what does your child spend a lot of time doing? Do you have a child who loves Legos? Then Lego kits might be a fantastic motivator. And finally, what is your child really good at? We are motivated to do things that we feel very competent at. When other people praise something in your child and it’s just enjoyable for other reasons, and this is a potential motivator.

Motivation Mistake #4: Not depriving the child of the motivator

Once you have a potential motivator, you are at risk of motivational mistake number four. That is, not depriving your child of that motivator. If your child has thousands of dollars in the bank and you never require your child to pay for any of his own things, like snacks when you’re out or movie tickets or things like that, why would your child be motivated to earn more money? Only when your child experiences a relative deprivation of the desired reward will your child be willing to work for it. This just makes sense. If you try to use candy to reward a child who is stuffed, you won’t be surprised when the child says no, thank you. Depriving your child of a motivator means she doesn’t get unlimited access to the motivator and gets extra access when the desired behavior has been completed.

The problem with deprivation is most kids who haven’t been deprived will whine and pitch fits to try to get you to relent. Here’s what I mean. Perhaps you decide you’re going to use screen time as a reward. If the reality is that your child gets to have screen time all the time because you are not setting limits and cutting off the screen time like you you said you were going to, there is no reason for your child to work for extra screen time. When you do set limits and say no screen time until your chores are done, and you’re not willing to put up with the whining that your child is likely to do, you will not be able to motivate your child. This is the number one reason training of new behavior fails. Many parents will say nothing works, nothing motivates this child, when the real problem is there has been no deprivation or there’s been an unwillingness of the parents to stand their ground in the face of fits.

Motivational Mistake #5: Not consistently rewarding the behavior at the beginning of training

The fifth mistake that parents who are seeking to motivate their kids make is not consistently rewarding the behavior at the beginning. So you are going to give your child game time and you have the Wi-Fi turned off, for example, and Junior has just finished his math homework. He comes to you and he wants you to turn the Wi-Fi back on. Well, you are in the middle of a phone call or you are cleaning out the refrigerator and you don’t want to be bothered with that. If you don’t very, very quickly reward the positive behavior as soon as possible after it is completed, and if you do that consistently where you’re not rewarding right away at the beginning of training, you won’t get the results you want. When your child is learning and developing a new behavior, they need to know they will be rewarded when it’s completed. And this just makes sense. You would not keep working for a company that delayed paying you when you were first working for them. It is very important at the beginning of training to stop what you’re doing and deliver the reward right away.

Motivational Mistake #6: Not making sure the desired behavior has been done

The sixth motivational mistake parents make is not making sure that the behavior has been done. So let’s go back to the example of you cleaning out the refrigerator when Junior says he has his math done. You correctly turn the Wi-Fi on right away for him, but if you didn’t make sure that the math was actually done and done with integrity, you will not be training the behavior that you want to train. Instead, Junior will realize that he can pull one over on you anytime he wants. So if we truly want to train good behavior in our kids, we have to take the time to make sure that our desired behavior has been done and done to our standards. Likewise, if your daughter says the bathroom is clean and you just take her word for it and you give her the reward, you are going to be very unhappy and you’re not going to have a well trained daughter when it comes to cleaning the bathroom.


To summarize how you can avoid these motivational mistakes:

  • Make the decision that you are going to use rewards to train good behavior in your children when they aren’t naturally occurring.
  • Be willing to use money as a motivator if your child responds well to it.
  • Next, look for motivators that work for your child and not necessarily for you. That would include things that he asked for, things that she consistently does, and things that your child is good at.
  • Be committed to depriving your child of the motivator to an extent that your child is eager to perform the behavior and get the reward. That means that you’re willing to put up with whining and fits for as long as it takes to train the behavior.
  • Be willing also to consistently reward the new behavior right away at the beginning of training. Drop what you’re doing and provide the reward…
  • But not before you have made sure that the behavior has been done to your standards.

You do not have to make these common mistakes in motivating your child. You’ll not only be improving your life by training your child in this way, but you’ll be improving your child’s life. Kids who have been trained well will go on to have much more rewarding lives as adults.