As a parent one of your most important tasks is to foster in your child a love for what is good, true and beautiful. Otherwise you may well find they develop a love for junk food and impulse shopping!
In my local shopping centre I am greeted by a large sign telling me ‘I love to shop’. It’s unashamedly manipulative but it taps into basic psychology- we human beings prefer to do what we love. Love is the big motivator in our lives. Some loves are constant – family relationships. Other loves can grow - think of your love for a new baby or a new friend. Still other loves develop because we see friends or parents doing something that makes them happy. But sadly, some loves are generated by self serving propaganda, and half-truths that tap into our impulses, our fears and our subconscious.
This video minute reminds us that genuine example and joy go together and they are highly infectious. Your enjoyment of a sport, hobby or service to others is a wonderful way of motivating a child to do likewise. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ runs short of credibility very quickly.
Let’s give children our real selves! Let’s not manipulate a child’s emotions to get what we want. The emotional blackmail of ‘How you have let me down’, or a bribe, or a threat of lost privileges, may get a child to knuckle down, but at what cost? Let’s be genuine, never conniving. Children develop deep motivating loves of what is true, good, and beautiful when they witness their parents’ commitment, enthusiasm and joy. Children with ideals are raised by parents who show and talk about their ideals. And did you notice that Steve Waugh’s son is now playing for an Australian Under 17 cricket team? Surely this is not simply because his father was a marvellous player- many other sons of test players don’t make it - but rather that his father demonstrated an extraordinary passion for the game.
Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, ‘Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm’. Smile and your child smiles. Even a stranger in the lift is more likely to smile. Teachers know this intuitively. Negative teachers are repaid with interest but students of enthusiastic teachers learn more and are easier to manage. They become self-starters.
- Do we introduce our children to noble and beautiful experiences, showing our joy and wonder?
- When we plan things they are more likely to happen. Do we plan these experiences?
- Do we try to avoid associating negative emotions with noble activities: with work, with visits to the elderly, with caring for the sick?
- What do I learn about myself and my example, by studying my children’s emotional reactions, their impulses, and their anxieties?
The science of motivation
Eminent psychologist Richard Davidson’s research into emotional plasticity demonstrates that we are capable of modifying our emotional responses to situations. Under a parent's guidance, a child develops healthy emotional responses. Repeated enjoyable experiences in worthwhile tasks establish the motivations that will be central to your child’s personality. Nobody is born delighting in maths problems, mowing Grandma’s lawn, or scoring runs.
Our core motivations are established in this way; they are positive emotional expectations associated with deeds we have been raised to give importance to, and to take delight in. These positive experiences are more powerful motivators than negative experiences. Affection works better than impatience. Encouragement trumps anger.
We must practice making our own weather. When parents package clear expectations with positive affection they promote both cognitive and emotional learning.
One parent reflects on what he has learned in the ten years that his oldest son has been on this Earth: ‘The more I am grumpy, the more he forgets. The more I praise him, the more he remembers.’