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Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

“How Do I Motivate My Son To Join Boy Scouts?” (Where Our Questions Lead)

I frequently say that we live in an “external control psychology” world and that we can’t escape from the incessant reward/punishment mindset. Sometimes I think I’m engaging in hyperbole. Then I have moments like the following:

I had just finished a hike in Scottsdale, Arizona and was at the top of Bell Pass in the McDowell Mountains. I was alone. It was peaceful. A few minutes later, two young women made it to the top (with considerably less huffing and puffing than me, I must admit) and were engaged in an animated conversation. “How can I motivate my son to join Boy Scouts?” one asked her friend.

As they chatted about the various rewards she could offer him to get him to join the Boy Scouts, I held my tongue, simultaneously trying to block out everything they said while wanting to soak in every word. It appeared as if these were good young mothers who only wanted the best for their kids. The “problem” from my perspective sprung from that very first question: “How do I motivate my son…???”

Like most parents, they began from the position that motivation is external, something you “do” to another. But motivation is internal, fueled by the five basic needs woven into our genes, including the need for freedom/autonomy. Precisely because of our drive to be self-governing, efforts to control us are often poorly received - even well intentioned attempts by loving parents to “motivate” us to do something they think will add quality to our lives.

Instead of trying to motivate a child to do something - a form of external control, even if it’s benign control – why not approach things from the perspective of internal motivation? Children are already motivated. Why would a child want to engage in the activity? How might it be need-satisfying? Why would a child be motivated to do this? How does it relate to her/his needs and quality world?

Children often lack the knowledge to understand why joining Scouts (or engaging in any other activity) would enhance their lives. But they don’t need you to “motivate” them. Instead, provide them with additional knowledge, add to their knowledge filter, and give them the opportunity to decide for themselves if Scouting (or any other activity) would be an enjoyable, need-satisfying experience.

Our behavior as parents emanates from the questions we ask ourselves. “How can I motivate my son to join Boy Scouts?” necessarily takes us down the external control pathway that invites conflict. “What information can I share with my son to help him appreciate that joining Boy Scouts would be a need-satisfying experience for him?” brings us down an entirely different road, one that respects the fact that motivation is internal and that everyone –even young children – are driven in part by a need to be autonomous. 
As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit

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