Raising two girls has not only been one of the most tremendous joys of my life, but it has also been a wonderful education. It was fascinating to learn what motivated them to explore and accomplish. As parents, it’s challenging to identify what motivates us let alone figuring out what motivates our children. Both pursuits are worthwhile. Why is it that we do anything? The answer varies as widely as we do. We are not made from the same mold and what motivates you to accomplish your goals is different from what motivates your kids.
For our older daughter, Allison, it was apparent from a very early age that she was motivated by her own agenda. She was born determined, faced all challenges head on and never looked at “no” as an obstacle. To her, the word “no” was simply an opportunity to arrive at a “yes.” She tried walking at nine months, kept falling, getting up and trying until she got it. Praise was not important to her. She had her own internal bar that she set from which she motivated herself. She had her own set of rules, way of working and pacing. We encouraged and cheered her on, but pretty much just stepped back as she explored. Music was important to her. While she had many opportunities to perform, she never really liked playing for others. One of her greatest pleasures was and still is just playing for herself for the sheer joy of it.
For Cassie, two years younger, she was motivated by external rewards, expectations, group experiences and recognition. One of my clearest memories of this was around potty training. When it came time to potty train Cassie at age two, Allison decided to help. She created a potty training system. In our bathroom, where we had the potty, Allison brought in a small stool and a basket of books. She then attached a chart to the wall next to the potty. Every time Cassie said, “I have to go,” Allison would say, “Come on, let’s go!” She would then grab her sister’s hand and the two of them would run into to the bathroom together. And so the motivation began. Allison would sit with Cass, keeping her company and reading to her for as long as she liked. If Cassie just sat on the potty, Allison let her pick out a small sticker to place on the chart. If Cassie sat and did “a little something,” Allison let her choose a medium sticker for the chart. And for the “grand prize”, Cassie got a large sticker. Then the two of them would come and give us a recap and we’d add to the hoopla and fanfare. Within less than a week, our four-year-old had successfully potty trained our two-year-old. Talk about being motivated!
Allison understood what motivated Cassie. Being with others or having group experiences motivated her, which is why the running in and reading together worked. Cassie was motivated by the “reward” concept, hence the sticker system. And praise and recognition was in play by the special attention, encouragement and recognition her sister gave her.
As Cassie developed, her love of being with others in a variety of group experiences became even more important for her. It was never about the stuff, but always about the people. Theatre and all things performing become her passion. It appeals to who she is on so many levels- the collaborative group experience, the recognition and the applause.
Knowing what motivates us is important. Knowing what motivates and excites our children is key in understanding who they are and helping them on their journey through life. So whether you’re in the potty training, college searching or somewhere in between stage, look for those motivation clues.
What motivates your kids?