SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

March 2015

Parents, Inspire your Child to Self-Motivate

We yearn for the day when our children display self-motivation skills, when that primary school-going child does his homework without needing to be nagged, when the preschooler puts away her toys without needing to be reminded. When the children do these without your prodding, you praise them to the skies, hoping to encourage them to continue exhibiting this highly desirable behaviour.

But you should not, says Mr Brian Caswell, the Dean of Research and Program Development at Mindchamps. Instead, praise only when there is reason to, he advises.

“There are parents who try not to raise a negative word to their child. They praise every behaviour, turning the negative into a positive. The ideology behind this school of thought is to bring the child up in a positive environment, so as not to damage his fragile self-esteem,” describes Mr Caswell.

But uncritical praise can be damaging, he warns. “There is no learning of drive, of determination. No learning to overcome.”

Instead, says Mr Caswell, who is also the award-winning author of Pre-school Secrets: Talking With The Sky it is inspiration, not motivation, that is the key to bringing out the winner in your child.

The Science behind Motivation

Motivation is the key to pursuing what we want. Motivation changes behaviour. But there are two different types of motivation, Mr Caswell tells us. One is intrinsic motivation, which is goal-oriented, and internal. It comes from inside, from the person himself or herself. For example: the child wants something and will do what is required to attain it. Then there is inspiration. This is an external motivation that acts on internal motivation, Mr Caswell says.

The trick to motivation, Mr Caswell reminds, is that it has to be consistent and continual. “Short term motivation is like the carrot and the stick. It works for a while. You can get your child excited about picking up a skill and send him or her to a course to do so. But what about after? How many children do you know have continued to pursue the interest on a longer term?”

But keeping the momentum going can be frustrating because motivation is “like the wind on ocean currents, always moving, always changing”. But inspiration can fuel motivation and keep a child going. “Inspiration allows a child to see beyond, from present to the future, to see his success and work towards it because that is what he wants,” Mr Caswell explains.

So how can we inspire our children to retain that initial burst of enthusiasm and continue to be inspired — and motivated? Dr Caswell suggests these ways.

1. Teach Cause & Effect

From age two onwards, give your child lots of opportunities to learn about cause and effect, about actions and consequences, about what causes what. Instead of simply praising your child for having achieved something, ask “how did you do it?” Help him to recognise that there was a process that led to the achievement. The real value is in the process, not the achievement.


If you use a reward system, keep rewards simple, like a hug, a smile, or a loving touch. These are far more important than material rewards. Keep the system contractual, similar to what your child will experience when he goes out to the real world. This teaches your child about the obligation of responsibility — to carry out his responsibilities and be accorded what he expects because of that.

2. Communicate

Talk to your child as soon as he is born. Keep a running commentary going. Explain what’s happening around him, to him. Talk about everything, including emotions, using a normal tone of voice, not baby language. Keep up the dialogue as your child grows, maintaining communication channels open all the time. Ensure that you are available to listen when your child wants to talk to you. And when he is talking to you, listen.

3. Let Them Sleep

Sleep is important for everyone. At least 90 per cent of children in the world are sleep-deprived. In Singapore, over a third of primary-school children are sleep-deprived <>.

4. Allow Failure

Let your child learn from his mistakes. Let children face their own consequences. Let them experience failure and talk to them about the causes and effects of their actions that led to the failure. They can’t learn if they do not make mistakes.

Working hard to solve problems helps a child to develop the drive to overcome obstacles. So while it may sound odd to do so, celebrate setbacks and use them to improve. Ask your child, “What did you do to improve?” What could you do?” Focus on the change and remember that failure is a pre-requisite for success.

5. Do Not Micro-manage

Give your child wings and let her fly. Do not be a ‘helicopter parent’. Allow her to explore, to discover, to stumble, and to learn again, and again, and again. Without your input, your child is forced to think for herself, to find her own solutions, to trial and error what works and what doesn’t. Give your child the opportunity to do all this.

6. Encourage Questions

Teach your kids to ask. Challenge their perspectives. Help them to see the other side of things. There’s never just one point of view. Start with the five ‘W’s and one ‘H’: who, what, when, where, why, and how. I like this quote from the book The Art Of Asking: “Asking is, at its core, a collaboration. Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with — rather than in competition with — the world”. Encourage demonstration and provide concrete evidence.

7. Do Away with Entitlement

Help your child to move away from the entitlement mindset, towards the motivational mindset. Teach your child that he has to earn his rewards.

8. School is Not The End

Especially for parents in Singapore — remember that school is not the be-all and the end-all.

9. Know Your Child

Know the way your child works. Know his operational methods and modes so that you can tweak your guidance to suit his learning style best, or find the right teachers and methods to help him learn in the best possible way.

10. Model By Example

You are your child’s first example, your child’s first and closest role model. Practice what you preach, do what you say. Your child is watching you and listening to you all the time. Talk to your child about what inspires you, how it motivates you to action, and the process through which you achieve your goals. Talk about obstacles you have faced and how you overcame them. Model to your child the values of persistence, determination, and grit. Your child will learn from you.

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Parents, Inspire your Child to Self-Motivate