Motivation problems | Teaching Self-Government

Motivation problems

A woman once asked me how to motivate her 18-year-old daughter to follow instructions and work more. Her daughter found following instruction insulting, and rewards or punishments like SODAS or TV time weren’t effective. The mom didn’t know any consequences or rewards that would motivate her daughter.

I’ve had 18-year-olds and can see how they might think learning to follow instructions is a bit elementary. However, if she really views it as insulting, she probably doesn't have a vision of what your family is trying to do. She has an attitude problem.

As parents, we all have a vision of our ideal relationship with our children. That’s why we work so hard to inspire and communicate with them. The children usually only think about what they want for themselves. Most youth assume that if they don't like something, it’s someone else's fault. This extrinsic mentality works against learning how to govern themselves.

To help with this problem, I would create a family vision and use it as a topic of conversation. A family vision is why children care about treating their parents with respect and improving the home. I would empower my daughter to understand her role in this vision.

I would have weekly mentor meetings with her to discuss her dreams and progress. If she doesn’t have dreams, then it’s time to take a close look at her friends; they could be distracting her from dreaming. Or, they could be hampering her ability to feel inspired and motivated to pursue her dreams.

She could also be depressed. She needs someone to talk to her more and help her set attainable goals. She need to see that accomplishing her goals is possible. Children often get depressed when they’re stressed about moving forward and don’t have the skills to actually progress. Sometimes our good intentions push children too far, too fast.

If she isn’t doing well in school, she probably has lazy friends, lacks some skills, or is afraid to ask for help. Someone could have made her feel dumb once for asking a question, so she no longer asks questions.

I had a foster daughter who would do hours of homework every day. She was incredibly smart and wrote great papers. In the middle of the term, I learned she was failing every class. It boggled my mind! I had a meeting with her about it, and she told me she did all the work but didn’t turn it in because she didn't want to look smart. Her friends praised ignorance and shunned intelligence. Shocking but true!

Make sure your home has vision and the Spirit, then bring up following instructions. She needs to know that if she chooses not to follow instructions, she is communicating to you that she doesn't respect your authority as her parent and that she doesn't want to be treated like an adult.

Tell her you want to have a relationship where you can treat her like an adult and see if she wants the same. Explain to her that if she shows she’s committed to the family vision by making good choices and following instructions, then you’ll know she has matured enough to be considered an adult living in your home instead of a child.

As basic as this sounds, most youth don't know that their behaviors and attitudes influence how they’re treated. To recognize this takes self-evaluation. Learning to control behaviors and follow instructions helps youth start to analyze themselves.

To be effective, you must teach cause and effect consistently. If she doesn't follow instructions or complete tasks, she needs to earn other tasks. If she doesn't follow that instruction, then she is out of instructional control, and you need to do the rule of three. SODAS are great activities, even if she only does a few. Be sure to discuss with her maturely. Appropriate consequences for her would be extra chores, loss of snack privilege, loss of friend time, loss of phone or car privileges, and loss of all privileges for 24 hours.

If she gets down on herself easily, you might need to set incentives or positive consequences for when she follows instructions for an entire day. She might not see positive consequences when she chooses to help. It’s easy to expect an 18-year-old to do things without praise, but everyone needs praise to stay motivated. Tell her how much you appreciate her. Or, when she follows instructions, take her for a treat or a girl’s afternoon out. Let her know that as soon as she shows you she can govern her own behaviors, she won’t have to be part of the instruction system anymore. Show her an end.

Just following instructions for a week isn’t enough. You need to see her constantly on task and helping at home to know her heart has changed. When she has vision and a change of heart, then she’s ready to be treated like an adult. At this point you change from a superior role to a companion role.

Schedule time daily for meaningful work time with your daughter. Think of big projects you need her help with. Everyone wants to be needed. Working alongside a fun, loving parent gives youth a vision of who they want to become and what they want their relationships to be like. She’ll learn from your example how to stay on task.

Eighteen-year-olds are almost out of your parenting reach. They can really only be parented at this point if they let you. The most important thing is to work on your relationship with her. She needs to see you as cool, approachable and knowledgeable. The best teachers for this age build genuine relationships.