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#102 Motivating Unmotivated Children

Season #2


Does your child drag their feet when it's time to hit the books or complete chores? Or do you ever find yourself scratching your head, wondering how to get them out of bed in the morning or to convince them to maintain basic hygiene habits? Whatever the case, motivation isn't always easy, even for adults. We all have moments when we struggle to find the drive to tackle certain tasks. So how can we make sense of this challenge when it arises in our children? That's precisely what we're going to uncover today! 

In this episode, we'll explore the various factors that can contribute to a child's lack of motivation. From neurodivergent conditions like ADHD and autism to social challenges, learning disabilities, and even mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

But more importantly, we'll discuss:

  • The pitfalls of lecturing, shaming, minimizing the child's struggles, and engaging in power struggles.
  • Understanding the concept of neuroplasticity and how positive thoughts and beliefs can wire the brain for positivity.
  • The importance of deep connections between parents and children and how we can use this connection to foster a sense of purpose, and empower children to find their own solutions.
  • Introducing the concept of a Motivation Menu as a tool to enhance motivation, energy, and focus by incorporating activities that stimulate the release of dopamine.

Let's dive in and discover how we can help our children unlock their potential and embrace a more motivated approach to life. Tune in to learn how you can make a positive difference in your child's journey toward greater motivation and fulfillment.


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Episode Resources:



Jessica McCabe Video:  “How to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Needs”.





In this episode of the 3D Parent podcast, we're going to delve into this common challenge, exploring the various reasons why children may struggle with motivation and, most importantly, what we can do to support them.

Before we jump into solutions, let's remember that struggling with motivation is a common issue, and it doesn't mean that your child is destined for a lifetime of apathy. By understanding the root causes and implementing some practical tips, we can help ignite that spark of motivation within them.

So, why might your child be lacking motivation? Well, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, it could be something inherent to their individual makeup. Conditions like ADHD, autism, anxiety, or depression can all play a significant role in how motivated a child feels. These conditions can affect their ability to focus, regulate emotions, or perceive tasks as overwhelming.

Now, let's roll up our sleeves and get down to business. When it comes to understanding why children struggle with motivation, it's essential to adopt a multidimensional perspective. Here at the 3D Parent podcast, we like to break it down into three key questions, starting with our own children.

1. Is it my child?
The first question we need to ask ourselves is, "Is it my child?" Sometimes, what we perceive as a lack of motivation in our children may actually be rooted in underlying issues such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, or learning disabilities. These challenges can significantly impact a child's ability to stay focused and engaged, making it essential for us to observe and assess any potential barriers hindering their motivation.

Additionally, factors like self-esteem, frustration tolerance, and boredom threshold can also influence a child's motivation levels. Children who struggle with low self-esteem may doubt their abilities and feel discouraged from even attempting tasks, while those with a low frustration tolerance may give up easily when faced with challenges. Similarly, children with a low boredom threshold may resist activities that don't immediately captivate their interest.

2. Is it me?
The next question we need to consider is, "Is it me?" Sometimes, our own expectations as parents can inadvertently contribute to our children's perceived lack of motivation. We may place undue pressure on them to excel academically or perform exceptionally in extracurricular activities, without considering their individual interests and priorities. It's essential to align our expectations with our children's goals and aspirations, fostering a supportive environment where they feel empowered to pursue their passions on their terms.

Furthermore, our own ability to manage frustration and stress can also impact our children's motivation levels. If we find ourselves focusing on our children's apparent lack of motivation as a way to avoid addressing our own sources of stress or frustration, it's essential to engage in some introspection and work on managing our own expectations. By modeling resilience and flexibility, we can create a positive atmosphere where our children feel encouraged to explore their interests and take ownership of their goals.

3. Is it us? 

Lastly, we need to ask ourselves, "Is it us?" Sometimes, our children's resistance to certain tasks may stem from a desire for autonomy and independence. They may feel stifled by our attempts to control or micromanage their actions, leading to a sense of rebellion rather than genuine motivation.

Now, let's talk solutions.

So, let's say you've done your homework and identified that, yes, your child is struggling with motivation. What's next? Well, first things first, let's talk about what NOT to do.

Avoid lecturing or shaming your child for their lack of motivation. This only serves to shut them down further and damage your relationship with them. Instead, validate their feelings and offer support and understanding.

Avoid fighting over tasks or minimizing their struggle. Recognize that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and it's okay for your child to find certain things challenging.

Avoid rescuing your child from their struggles or over-accommodating. Let them experience the natural consequences of their actions (or lack thereof), as this can be a powerful motivator for change.

And finally,

Avoid relying too heavily on external rewards or punishments to motivate your child. While these tactics may work in the short term, they can hinder the development of intrinsic motivation in the long run.

Now that we've covered what to avoid, let's talk about what you CAN do to support your child.

  • Seek Professional Help: If you suspect that your child's lack of motivation may be due to underlying issues such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or mental health struggles, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Early intervention and support can make all the difference in helping your child overcome these challenges. If your child's motivation struggles are impacting their performance at school, don't hesitate to reach out to teachers, school counselors, or resource support specialists. 
  • Address Self-Esteem: Focus on helping your child build self-esteem and a positive mindset. Encourage them to set achievable goals and work towards them. Celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and remind them of their strengths and abilities.
  • Introduce Neuroplasticity: This fascinating area of neuroscience teaches us that our brains are capable of change and growth throughout our lives. Teach your child to the concept of neuroplasticity to help them understand how their thoughts shape their reality.
  • Utilize Positive Reinforcements Sparingly: Extrinsic motivators like sticker charts and rewards can be effective in the short term but may not foster long-term intrinsic motivation. Use them strategically for specific tasks or goals but focus on building internal motivation over time.
  • Building Intrinsic Motivation Through Relationships: Deepening your connection with your child can be a powerful motivator in itself. By nurturing a strong bond, you can instill a sense of responsibility and altruism that drives your child to take action out of love and care.
  • Embracing Body Doubling: Body doubling, or doing tasks together with your child, can make daunting tasks feel more manageable. Whether it's tackling chores or homework, being present and supportive can help motivate your child to get things done.
  • Empowering Your Child: Finally, empower your child to find their solutions by creating a "motivation menu." Encourage them to identify activities or tasks they enjoy and use them as rewards or incentives for completing less desirable tasks. By giving them a sense of autonomy and control, you can tap into their natural motivation and drive.


So, what exactly is a motivation menu? Before we dig into the details, let's give credit where credit is due. This brilliant concept was inspired by none other than Jessica McCabe, the powerhouse behind "How to ADHD."

Think of it as a toolbox filled with activities carefully curated to boost dopamine levels—the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reward. By incorporating dopamine-boosting activities into your child's routine, you can enhance their mood, increase their motivation, and improve their overall well-being.

Categories of the Motivation Menu:

Think of the motivation menu as a four-course feast for your child's brain, with each category offering a unique flavor of motivation. Here's how it breaks down:

  • Appetizers: Quick, five-minute mood boosters designed to kickstart your child's motivation. Think jumping jacks, breathing exercises, or a fun word puzzle.
  • Entrees: Longer activities that your child loves but take more time. This could include playing an instrument, gardening, or building a Lego masterpiece.
  • Sides: Accompaniments to boring tasks that make them more bearable. Fidget toys, background music, or even a virtual study buddy via video chat.
  • Desserts: Occasional indulgences that provide a dopamine hit but require moderation. Screen time, social media scrolling, or watching YouTube videos.

Creating Your Child's Motivation Menu:

Now that you understand the categories, it's time to get creative and brainstorm activities with your child. Think about what brings them joy, what energizes them, and what helps them focus. Encourage them to come up with a diverse range of options to keep things interesting.

Once you've compiled your list, organize the activities into their respective categories and voila, you've got yourself a motivation menu! But how do you actually use it to motivate your child? Let's walk through a couple of examples to illustrate this process.

Using the Motivation Menu in Action:

Imagine your child is facing the daunting task of folding laundry, a chore that's been looming over them for days. Instead of nagging or bribing, you turn to the motivation menu for inspiration. Start by assessing your child's mood and energy levels, then help them choose an appetizer to boost their motivation.

Maybe it's a quick dance party to their favorite song or a five-minute drawing session. Once they've got that dopamine flowing, they can tackle the task with renewed energy. And don't forget to reward them with an enticing entree or dessert once they've completed the chore.

In another scenario, let's say your child needs to memorize lines for a school play but feels overwhelmed and anxious. By incorporating activities from their motivation menu, such as tidying their room or listening to music, you can help them shift their mindset and approach the task with confidence.

As you implement the motivation menu, remember to schedule regular breaks to recharge and refocus your child's energy. Encourage them to use desserts sparingly and prioritize activities that promote balance and well-being.

And here's a little gift for you: a downloadable motivation menu packet in the show notes! This handy resource includes a blank template for creating your child's menu, along with sample activities to get you started! So gather 'round the table, whip up some motivation, and let's feast on the delicious rewards of a job well done! Thanks for tuning in, and until next time!