Deon Barnard » children

By: Deon Barnard  11-11-2011


I am astounded by how few adults there are that seem to have any idea of how to handle children and get the best out of them. I hear rednecks everywhere say things like, “since they introduced laws against corporal punishment, children have become unmanageable.” Let’s look at this argument. It assumes that the secret to well behaved kids is giving them a hiding, i.e. inflicting pain, and yes, in the days of corporate punishment kids were certainly less prone to open rebellion, knowing that they might get beaten for any number of reasons like: disrespecting adults; speaking out of turn; fighting with siblings; etc. What the argument doesn’t take into account is that there are other methods for inspiring positive behavior in children that do not require inflicting physical pain, but do require some effort and focus. The argument also assumes that if a child submits to corporal punishment that we’ve achieved a change of heart too. This is the same red-necked reasoning that birthed, “children should be seen and not heard”. An intelligent person realizes that to change a child’s behavior we should change their heart first – in that way the child begins to manage their own behavior and the adult does not have to micro manage forever. The same motivational methods apply to adults in the workplace where we certainly cannot use corporal punishment!

Like adults, children need motivation to thrive, but how do we apply Maslow’s or Hertberg’s principles to motivating children? Surely a child cannot have a clear view of their future or their “dream”? Wrong. A child’s dreams are often far clearer than an adult’s. Adults have often had their childhood dreams smashed by the harsh realities of life and then degenerate into unmotivated zombies. Children however have very real ideas about what they want out of life and what turns them on. I attended a pre-school prize-giving event where all the kids were asked to stand up and tell the audience what they wanted to be when they grew up. The kids knew exactly what they wanted to be, from astronauts and firefighters to racing cars (yes, not drivers – cars J). When I ask most adults what their dream is I get a blank stare. Children also have the same need as adults to be loved and recognized and to feel important. So here are some tips for motivating children:

1. Touch them

For those of you mature enough to continue reading without having to laugh derisively about the potential sexual nature of this statement (sigh), I am of course talking about being tactile. Hug your kids. Rub their heads. Wrestle with them. Play fight with your boys. Kiss your girl on the cheek or forehead regularly. Hold their hands. Physical connection is huge for helping kids understand that you love and accept them.

2. Look them in the eyes when you talk to them

We tend to be distracted by everything else when our kids are talking to us, cooking food; watching TV; working on the PC; etc. If a child initiates ten conversations with you during the course of a day and nine times out of ten you don’t stop to look at them and pay attention, they are going to develop a sense of rejection.

3. Be fun!

This may be the biggest problem most adults face with their kids – they’re boring, dull and strict. Adults pour their time and energy into paying the bills and holding the enemy away from the gate. Seldom do they have anything left for their kids who are desperate for a little fun and laughter from their care takers. This is especially critical in these times of protectionism where kids are not allowed to roam the streets by themselves and go find their own adventures. Parents need to understand that Playstation and Lego can only go so far in filling a child’s fun tank – they need human interaction of the joyful kind. What does this mean? It means you’re going to have to get down and dirty with your kids. Turn off the phone for an hour or two; play games; ride bikes; run in the park; have pillow fights; dress up; sing; dance; smile; laugh. Get the carrot out of your but! If you need ideas, drop me a mail and I’ll post some suggestions.

4. Draw them out

Your kids may be the type that volunteer feelings and experiences, but they may not. You need to draw your children out. Ask them how their day was at school, and when you get, “fine”, ask some more questions like, “tell me what you did” or, “how do you feel about that?” or, “did anything interesting or exciting happen today?” Let them feel they can tell you anything. Don’t judge anything they say to you or show an expression of shock or disapproval when you hear something you weren’t expecting – just converse and help them work through their ideas.

5. Give them responsibility

Just like adults, kids need responsibility. They need to feel like you trust them with tasks and projects. Don’t set them up for failure by giving them something to do way beyond their capacity, and always make them feel extra special when they help you with something or show initiative. Let your kids help you in the kitchen or the garden – they love to do things like make biscuits and meatballs (it’s about getting their hands dirty).

6. Be consistent!

The biggest cause of dissatisfaction in kids is inconsistency in their parents. If you say you’re going to do something – do it! If you say, “If you do that again I’m sending you to your room…”, then send them to their room when they do it. Moms, don’t move to the next point until you GET this!! You are creating monsters by constantly threatening your kids and never following through. They don’t know where they stand and are learning how to disobey and get away with it. It takes energy to stop what you’re doing and focus on correcting your child, but it’s absolutely critical for calming them down and giving them a framework to live in. Don’t allow something one day and rebuke them about it the following day – they need to understand what is and isn’t allowed.

7. Practice what you preach

Don’t tell your kids that racism is wrong, and then hurl racial abuse at the taxi driver cutting you off. Don’t tell your kids to keep their rooms clean and then leave your underwear lying in the passage. Don’t preach to your kids to be kind and considerate and live your life being inconsiderate and obnoxious to everyone you meet. Even better, instead of giving your kids a list of all the things they can’t do, start teaching them about their potential and all the things they can do! A universe of must-not’s will never cultivate a happy and creative environment. Demonstrate courage, honesty, fearlessness, fairness and tolerance, and your kids will follow suit.

8. Take an interest

Take an interest in your kid’s lives. Go see their shows and sports. Get involved in their homework and their projects. Ooh and ah about their inventions; Lego creations; and fantasies.

9. Read to your kids!

Don’t just read in your boring accountant’s voice – get enthusiastic about it! Use facial expressions, accents and tone when you read. This will instill an interest for reading and learning in your kids. Do NOT underestimate the enormous benefit of reading to kids in their developmental years (ages 6 – 12), or the enormous disservice you are doing by ignoring this.

Did I just give you 9 tips!? Wow. This topic is really close to my heart, and I might write some more tips on this in time to come. I would love to hear your comments and experiences in this area. Good luck.


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