Finding What Motivates Your Child

Jan 26, 2015

It has been so interesting to witness the power of finding the right motivation for my son. I have even seen it in my friend’s children. You can try and finagle and offer lots of different things that you think are important to them to no avail. Then, in an instant, you hit upon the right one and the magic happens!

In Play Therapy language, this is called a child’s “currency.” It has also been referenced as their “economy.” What this means is it is something that they understand as a payout. It is important to them to earn it. They will work for it. They know its value and its worth is high. It is an exchange of power; give and take.

Our Experience

For my son, getting up for school and eating breakfast right away is a struggle. He prefers to sit around in his pajamas and talk about his dreams and look at the daily weather forecast. In an effort to motivate him to eat quickly and easily in the morning, I tried many different choices. “If you choose to eat in twenty minutes, you choose to play with your friends after school.” Nope. “If you choose to eat without getting out of your seat, you choose to go to the playground.” Nope. “If you choose to come to the table right away when I ask, you choose to pick a game to play later.” Nope.

Notice that these were all choices, based in the Play Therapy principle of Choice Giving. Notice that all of the consequences were things that he loves and that matter to him (friends, playground, games). Notice that he was responsible for making the decision to earn the privilege or not through his actions.

However, none of these yielded the desired results – a quick and easy breakfast before school. So, what does any parent do when nothing seems to work? I did some observation. Research. Data collection. What did he seem to value more than anything? What did he gravitate toward? What did he ask to do more often than anything else? Possession of his phone.

His phone, although it does not have a carrier that allows him to make calls, has a compass, the weather report, texting, and a few games. It was his go-to object throughout the day. He would tell me it was going to rain. He would inform me that we were going South West. He would text Daddy and wait for a reply. It was his currency.

So, at the beginning of the week, I tell him: “We are about to institute a new rule in the mornings. If you choose to eat quickly and finish before 8:30, you choose to earn your phone when you get home from school. If you choose not to finish before 8:30, you choose not to earn your phone when you get home.” He nods his head and begins to eat his breakfast.

And lo and behold, at 8:27 he tells me he is finished. There was no getting up, walking around, sitting on the couch. It was just a quick and easy breakfast. Better yet, we didn’t have to rush to get clothes on and teeth brushed.

I found what motivates him, what matters. I found a way to give him the responsibility and choice to control his consequences by choosing obedience. I found a simple way to eliminate frustration for both of us. I found his economy.

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