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How to Motivate Your Kids to Do Anything!

If you are frustrated because you can’t get your kids to do anything, this podcast is for you!  We will dive into what motivates behavior and how to use it effectively.  When you are done listening to this episode, you will have the tools you need to get your kids to do their homework and chores, and be kind and cooperate without the usual begging, pleading and nagging (you know you do it!)

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • What the pleasure-pain principle is and how to use it to motivate your kids.
  • The secret to motivating all behavior-NEED!
  • Why your kids need to need.
  • What teenage retirement is and how to stop it in your home.
  • Why you shouldn’t provide everything for your kids.
  • What hot buttons are and how to use them.
  • How to set up your home so your kids are motivated to work, be kind and help around the house.

Transcript: How to Motivate Kids to Do Anything 

Are you tired of nagging, begging, pleading with your children to do things?

Have you ever resorted to force bribing, nagging, even arm wrestling your kids? Just about every parent has, but if you understand the four keys I’m going to share with you, you will know exactly what you need to do to motivate them to do just about anything.

There’s a figure of speech that’s been around for a long time, pushing on a string. And it’s a great analogy when you apply it to motivating children. If you think of your child as the string, the analogy becomes clearer. It’s basically saying it’s pretty easy to pull something towards you that is attached to a string, but it’s hard to push something away from you using a string.

Just imagine one of those kids’ toys with a string attached, sitting on the floor in front of you. You can try pushing on it with the string, but not a lot is going to happen. It’s much easier to get the toy to move if you’re pulling on the string. Same with our kids, we can try to push on the child, but we aren’t going to be able to motivate behavior by pushing or driving with fear or the threat of punishment.

On the other hand, you can pull the string or your child by motivating the child to action by pulling towards something he needs or wants.

All right. Now the four keys to motivating kids. The first key is the pleasure pain principle. The pleasure pain principle basically says that all behavior has one of two goals; either to avoid pain or to gain pleasure.

The greater the pain is, the greater the need is to move away from it. And the greater, the pleasure, the greater, the desire to move toward it. As human beings, all of our behavior can be understood within that framework.

When we’re cold, we want to avoid the discomfort, don’t we? So we get a coat. When we’re lonely, we seek out a companion or a friend to do something with. If we’re bored, we look for something to do or to entertain ourselves. If you think about it, even on trash day, we take the trash to the curb on time to avoid stinky, smelly garbage in our house.

We show up to work because we like the money we get paid. If we don’t show up to work, we have the pain of not being able to pay our bills. So let’s think of an example that kind of applies to us in everyday life as adults. Maybe you’re driving home from work and you are famished. Maybe you skipped lunch because you had an important meeting and you just grabbed, you know, a bite or two of a cookie that was sitting there.

So you are super hungry. You’re very motivated to eat now. Since you’ll be home in 15 minutes though, you tell yourself that you can wait and cook a healthy meal. But then what happens? You realize you’re approaching your favorite hamburger place and you find yourself thinking of that juicy hamburger while you’re waiting at the light. Then the light turns green and suddenly you find yourself in the drive-through line, despite your good intentions.

How does that even happen? First? You are hungry. So you’re motivated to find food at a basic level to avoid the discomfort of the hunger. Then you thought of the juicy hamburger and those salty fries and were motivated to seek the pleasure and satisfaction of that delicious food. You didn’t even have a chance! You avoided pain and gained pleasure at the same time.

It’s a win-win. How does this kind of principle, the pleasure pain principle, apply to our kids? It applies because basically, it’s the same thing. They will do what’s rewarding to them and avoid what is painful. If your child is supposed to be cleaning the bedroom, but instead sneaks down to the basement and plays video games, he is avoiding the pain of cleaning and also enjoying the pleasure of a very entertaining video game. Next time you tell your daughter to get out of bed and get ready for school five times, and she doesn’t, well, now that you understand the pleasure pain principle, it’s obvious what’s happening. She is so sleepy and doesn’t want to get out of that warm, comfy, bed. She wants to prolong the pleasure of sleep and the warm comfy bed and avoid the discomfort of pain and of having to get up on a cold morning and go to school.

When you finally get mad and yell at her to get up, suddenly the pleasure of being in bed isn’t as strong as the need to get you to stop yelling,so she gets up. Here are some other examples, like, have you ever seen your kid stop doing his homework and turn on the TV or grab his cell phone? Or how about when your child pretends his stomach hurts after dinner? When it’s his turn to do the dishes.

And then there’s, the daughter has been told to get off the phone and clean her room, but she keeps texting her friends and ignoring what you’re saying. So why is it important for us as parents to know all of this? It’s super, super important. Let me tell you. It’s so important. When we understand the pleasure pain principle, we have the knowledge that we need to stop behavior we don’t want and increase behavior that we do want.

That brings us to our second key. What is this great secret that motivates all behavior? Why do we need anything? It’s to satisfy some need? It’s always to satisfy some need. And so key number two is that motivation is driven by need. When you have a need, it equals motivation, which equals action. You have the need, so you’re motivated to act or do something to satisfy that need.

Either to avoid something uncomfortable or to go towards something that’s pleasurable. So if you want to motivate your kids to do something, this law of nature says there has to be a need either to avoid pain or gain pleasure that they are motivated to satisfy.

So why won’t our kids work and earn and save money? Why don’t they appreciate anything we do? It’s so crazy. Parents give and give and give and kids don’t always appreciate it. And they don’t want to work. They don’t want to listen to the counsel their parents give, they don’t do what they say. They don’t clean their bedrooms or bathrooms. Why won’t they do those things when they’re usually things that are really good for them?

It’s because they don’t need to, they have no unmet needs. Needs motivate to action, remember? When there are no needs, there is no action. But, I can tell you this, if your kids were hungry or without clothes or shelter, they would work. And the hungrier and the colder, they were, the more willing they would be to work and they’d be happy for the opportunity.

The bigger the need is the bigger, the motivation is. If you have a little bit of need, there will be a little motivation. If you have no need, there will be no motivation.

Something else to note is that once someone’s need has been satisfied, it doesn’t motivate any longer. After you went through the drive-through and you ate two hamburgers, a large shake and a big old, huge order of French fries, if somebody comes up to you and says, “Hey, I fixed this fantastic meal. Here’s a plate of it. Eat.” You’re so not going to want to eat because you are stuffed. Your need has been satisfied. You are satiated. You have no need to eat anymore, so you’re not going to want to. When you have no need, there’s no motivation to act, and that equals no action or behavior.

How does this apply to our families and our kids? Well, our children need to be needy, so they have opportunities for learning and for growing. Being “great parents” and fulfilling every need our kids have is one of the worst, and one of the most debilitating things we can do for them, because then they have no needs and no opportunity to learn and grow. So we’ve got to use wisdom here, though. This doesn’t mean that parents should withhold medical attention or that a young child should be expected to earn everything. But, with common sense, wisdom and love, we as parents decide which personal needs our children can age appropriately fulfill. You will be amazed to see how capable and motivated your children can be.

My dad tells a story about a 16 year old boy who got lost in the hills around his home. So let’s take a minute and listen to that story. It’s a great story that illustrates all of these principles we’ve been talking about.

Add story here:

So now that we know how important needs are, the next key is to make sure that our children actually have some needs. One of the main reasons we can’t motivate our kids to do anything is because they have everything. They are not motivated to work or cooperate because of that. We actually have something we at Kudos for Families like to call “teenage retirement”.

So what is teenage retirement? It’s just what it sounds like. And it doesn’t have to be just teenagers. It’s children of any age, young adults, five-year olds, 16 year olds. Teenage retirement is a term we use to describe the attitude and lifestyle of children of any age, who are given everything and don’t earn anything.

They develop a sense of entitlement and they’re self-centered and ungrateful, and usually lazy. Why should they work or do anything? They have absolutely no need to work or to be cooperative and pleasant at home because everything’s just given to them. Interestingly enough, the kids that have everything given to them are usually the ones that are selfish and spoiled and bored with life.

We’ve all seen kids like that. If we just think about it for a minute, we can list literally 500 things that we just give our kids and that they expect to get without ever lifting a finger. They have smart phones, iPads, $100 headphones, name-brand school clothes, music lessons, sports, comfy beds, microwaves, pantries, and refrigerators full of banquets of food choices and treats and snacks. They have bikes, when they’re older, car insurance, gas, and even a car. The list goes on and on… clean bathrooms, the latest gizmos and toys, even the toilet paper gets magically changed by the toilet paper fairy.

There’s a story about a teenager who complained that he had nothing to do. His father was well to do and he’d given this boy just about everything. The mother saw her son with nothing to do and tried everything to interest him. She offered, you know, reading, inviting friends over, things like watching videos. And she assumed the personal responsibility for seeing that her spoiled son was always happy and was always entertained.

To each of her suggestions, the boy moaned, “Been there, done that, boring!” And his mom continued to try and make suggestions to interest him. And every time she suggested something else, he would say the same thing, only he got longer and louder each time. That is so sad. A child with everything, and at 14 years, totally bored with life.

He had assumed that it was his right to be entertained constantly. And his mom and others were responsible to keep him entertained. It’s crazy. According to Dr. James Jones , “Teenage retirement is a curse put upon children by well meaning, but ignorant parents who believe that good parents should provide everything they possibly can for children.”

These parents don’t realize the importance of work. Kids who are on teenage retirement have such abundance, they think they don’t ever have to do anything because they know that everything will automatically be provided. They resent their parents and teachers who ask them to work and to be accountable for their choices.

And they grew up to be self-centered and ungrateful. I think that quote says a lot. We are raising a generation of kids that are on teenage retirement. And these kids grow up and become young adults. And half the time they don’t even move out of the house. They have everything they need. Why should they? So it’s a sad thing that’s happening.

So one of the best things we can do for our kids is to provide them with needs instead of things. To provide them with the opportunity to work, to grow, to be responsible. They appreciate their stuff so much more that way. So even if you have like an endless supply of resources, it’s still wrong to give everything to your kids.

You’re basically robbing them of the satisfaction of achieving their own financial and emotional independence. And pretty, much you’re saying I’ll provide everything for you because obviously you can’t. You’re also saying it’s much easier for me to give you everything you need than to take the time to train you properly or to teach you.

So if it’s so bad, why do we put our kids on teenage retirement? What are the reasons we do it? Well, we want our kids to enjoy childhood. Maybe we came from an unhappy childhood and we don’t want them to go through that. Or maybe we just think all kids deserve a happy childhood. And you know what, happy is relative, because kids are usually happier when they’re working and learning and cooperating.

We might think that we want the kids, our kids to have more time to study and get good grades. So we don’t require anything of them, or we think maybe that “good” parents should provide all they can. We can also just be ignorant of correct principles, without a clue for the damage we’re doing. And, it might make us feel like we’re needed and like we’re super parents.

All of that’s inaccurate. We need to get away from that to really help our kids because teenage retirement, isn’t good for them and isn’t good for us. So let’s get them off of teenage retirement and give them some needs.

Coming up next, we’re going to talk about how to get your kids off of teenage retirement. Make sure you stick around because at the end of this podcast, I’ll be giving you the magic combination that really motivates kids, using hot buttons.

So how do you get them off of teenage retirement? You’ve got to create a need! But how do we create needs when we’ve already given them everything, including every opportunity and every privilege? Well, almost anything a child possesses or wants to do, can be withheld, creating a need and then earned back by doing certain specific behaviors.

A high percentage of anything you can think of that a child would want, including things like school clothes, activities, and possessions, all those things can be earned. So the plan is to withhold some of the privileges, possessions, and activities that your kid sees as needs, and then allow, or require him or her to work for them, to earn them, by complying with rules or by doing chores and things like that.

The withholding creates the need for the child, who will then take the action that you want to satisfy that need. Again, when the child works, he can earn points, privileges, and even money to buy shoes, a ticket to a theme park, a trip to a favorite fast food place, or to buy a bike tire. And yes, he can buy his own bike tire. In fact, he can buy his own bike. It’s good for them to learn, to learn how to work.

So number four, the fourth key is that we must reward the desired behavior we want to see and ignore any behavior we want to get rid of. So in part two of this podcast, we will go more extensively into reinforcers, rewards, negative and positive reinforcement, and how those things work so that you can have a super powerful repertoire of what to do and how to motivate your kids with rewards.

So no behavior is without purpose. And every behavior has a payoff. We can see that in all the world around us, whether the behavior is good or bad, if it doesn’t pay off, the behavior will cease. So for example, what would happen if you went to work one day and your employer said, you know, we no longer have any money to pay you so we’re not going to be able to, but we’d really like it if you would come in every day and do your job the same as you’ve been doing for the last three years. How long do you think you would work there without the behavior of working being paid off? You would stop working. You would go find another job because you need the money to pay your bills and to have fun.

So we have to remember to ignore behavior that we don’t want, and it will go away and reward behavior we want. So if there was no such thing as a speeding ticket and you were in a super big hurry, would you keep your speed at the limit? No. When Jill whines long enough, mom will give her a cookie, especially as if she’s on the phone and needs her to stop.

Once mom rewards the whiny behavior, the behavior is reinforced and it will happen more. In order to stop the whiny cookie behavior, mom needs to never reward it. And we can learn later how if you reward once in a while and not every time, the behavior is even stronger than if you reward every time. So this is such important stuff for parents to learn. It’s, it’s fascinating to see how it works.

So if it pays off in your home for your kids to quarrel, to whine, to argue, to lie and sneak food, they will do those things. But, if hard work, being cooperative and responsible are things that pay off, they will do those things. And if those things don’t pay off, they will stop doing them because remember, a behavior that’s not rewarded will stop.

Remember if there’s no need, there’s no motivation and there’s no action. So here’s an example of how to apply these principles in an actual situation. So let’s say you have a son named Johnny who avoids the pain of making his bed every morning. What do we do? Well, to change his sneaking off behavior into bed, making, we used the pleasure pain principle. First we give him pleasure, say a dollar for making the bed every day. This exceeds the small amount of pain of making his bed. Second, we can increase the chance that he will make his bed further by introducing a painful consequence for not making his bed. We could say, charge a dollar for mom to make his bed each time he forgets.

So what’s the outcome of all this? Well, Johnny decides that it’s worth it to endure the small pain of making his bed before he runs off to school in order to avoid the big pain of a fine. Plus, he gets the pleasure of a reward. So it’s huge. It’s doubly reinforced.

Okay. So you see, we can modify behavior in our children by rewarding them for doing what we want. We remove the pleasure of the undesirable behavior and introduce something that will bring the desirable behavior. Behavior, when you look at it in this way, in the context of this model, it’s really easy to understand and to modify, but most parents have no idea what’s going on and that’s what these podcasts are all about. So we can educate ourselves as parents and know what we’re doing.

Okay. So I promised I’d share the magic combination to really motivate and to use hot buttons. So first of all, what are hot buttons? Well, we need to find out what each kid’s hot buttons are. Hot buttons are rewards. They are highly prized activities or privileges or items that your children are strongly motivated to obtain.

In other words, they will do just about anything to get them. So they’re rear reinforcers or rewards that, you know, are a hot button and they will excite your child so he will be strongly motivated to comply with whatever demands are given to get the privilege .

So there’s something to take note of here. And that is that what’s a hot button for one child may not be a hot button for another child. In fact, it could actually be something that’s undesirable. So a child that loves Hot Pockets would be motivated by them. Whereas a child who really doesn’t like them is not going to be motivated at all for a Hot Pocket but maybe a candy bar or something else would be a hot button for that child.

So another thing is that if you give the same reward too often, even though it’s a hot button, it will stop being a hot button because it will no longer be desired. In other words, if you give Amber hot pockets as reward for certain things, but you give it to her every single day for two weeks, she’s not going to find hot pockets as motivating any more if she did at first.

It’s important to kind of shake things up and give your kids different things once in a while, find out what the new hot buttons are. So the magic combination to motivate kids is that we have powerful needs that we give them and we have super amazing hot buttons.

So everything isn’t provided by us. So therefore they have a need. Like if a kid comes home from school, super hungry, that’s a motivation to get something to eat. But perhaps your rule is, first of all, you need to hang your backpack up and you need to get your schoolwork out and get ready. That type of thing, whatever your family rules, your kids can be rewarded when they do those things that you ask them to do.

So the magic combination to powerfully motivate behavior is the really strong need and a super amazing reward or hot button. Those two things combined will result an incredible action.

So you want to motivate a child? Remember the four keys we talked about today.

To summarize, if we want to motivate our kids, there are four keys that will really help us. The first is the pleasure pain principle, which states that human beings and other living organisms will move away from things that are painful and move towards things that bring pleasure.

Key number two is that motivation is driven by need. And key number three, our kids have to have needs, or they’re not motivated to do anything. Number four, we need to reward the behaviors we want to see. We need to stop providing everything and introduce some needs. You’ll be really amazed what a human being is capable of what your kids are capable of.

They might be kinda unhappy at first because you’re changing the rules, but just hang in there and you will see a miracle. Your kids are capable. Once they learn life isn’t a free ride and start working, earning, saving, and developing self esteem and competence, you’ll see a complete change. It’s really, it really is an incredible thing.

So this week, if you’re having trouble getting your kids to do what you want them to do, just take a look at the environment in your home. Are you giving them everything? Do they even need anything? Do you need to make some changes in your home so your kids are motivated, give them some needs. Remember we want needy kids because it works a lot better to pull the string than to push it.

Now that you know, kids are motivated by need, make sure you listen to the second podcast to find out how to use the powerful needs and the super satisfiers and hot buttons to really motivate your kids and reinforce the behaviors you want.

This is where the magic happens. Also, you can go to our website and check out our Kudos for Kids game that thousands of families have successfully used, to set up their homes, applying the principles we’ve been talking about. Kids love it, parents love it. And it really does work.

So, thanks for joining me today. I want to wish you well, and to all you mamas and papas out there who are in the middle of the crazy ups and downs of family life, kudos to you for doing all you can to be awesome parents. And remember, you’ve got this.

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