7 Ways to Motivate Your Kids (Without Paying Them!)

by Jamie Simmerman · 2 comments

Teaching kids to develop intrinsic motivation can be difficult. Many people resort to paying for effort and performance, but it’s not pleasant to be treated like a universal vending machine where kids put in a completed task and you spit out money. And once they hit the teen years, this connection between money and household tasks can easily get out of control. That’s unless your teens have learned the value of pitching in without getting paid by then.

So what’s a parent to do? Here are a few ideas to help you teach your kids the value of helping out.

How to Motivate Your Kids Without Paying Them

1. Trade time for chores.
This is one of the best ways to teach younger kids about the value of helping out without getting paid. Saying “If we pick up all your toys right now, we can play catch in the yard for half an hour,” is an example of trading fun time for chores. This also teaches kids that time is valuable, which is an important life lesson that isn’t always grasped unless they are intentionally taught.

2. Use entertainment time as a reward.
Most kids have some form of gaming system today. Whether it’s an Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, iPad, or a computer, gaming is a normal part of life for our kids. One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was to view the actual game or app as a reward. I later realized that by not limiting my kids’ playtime, that’s all they wanted to do all day. Playing doesn’t quench their thirst for playing, but it actually makes them want to play even more! Think about it in their shoes. If they are comparing between doing something productive versus playing games, what do they choose? And can you blame them? What would you choose if you have to decide between working and doing something fun if there are no consequences?

It would’ve been smarter to view the playtime as the reward instead, and that’s what I do now. When my kids get a new game, they earn time playing that game by helping out. “Put away your laundry and straighten up your room to earn an hour of game time,” is a better lesson than allowing unlimited access to games.

3. Take time for reflection.
Reflection after chores is a task that can help your kids develop their sense of intrinsic motivation. When they clean up after a meal, call attention to the clean kitchen and tidy dining room and ask your kids how having a clean home makes them feel. Talk about the benefits of cleaning up after yourself, and what happens when we let messiness take over. Kids never care about anything because they never had to think of anything that’s outside of their basic needs. That’s why it’s beneficial to slow down and prompt a thinking session, as it will help them learn and grow.

4. Praise your kids for a job well done.
Don’t forget to say good things about what they are doing either. Praise can go a long way toward motivating your kids to help out. Everyone wants to feel good and know that they are making others, especially their parents, happy. When they do a good job, clean up without being asked to, or make an extra effort, be sure to call them out.

If there are others in the family, make an effort to praise your kid in front of others in the household. It’ll make a bigger impact, and it’ll also reinforce the idea that everyone around the house are helpful.

5. Be spontaneous.
If your kids always know what to expect for completing a task, they often get bored with the reward and slack off. Spontaneous rewards like 15 minutes of extra TV time, ice cream treats after supper, or a board game session with the family will help keep your kids motivated. Making rewards different can also free you to offer incentives that are sometimes really nice. For example, it would be crazy to tell the kids that they get to play all day if they clean their room once a week, but the full day of playtime can definitely be a reward if you offer it once in a blue moon and have other rewards most other days.

6. Include your kids in saving for something special.
If your family is saving for a new purchase or a special trip, include your kids in the process. If you’re running behind with supper, enlist your kids’ help in putting a meal on the table. And be sure to remind them that by eating in instead of ordering a pizza, you’re putting more money in your special savings fund.

It will be even better if you can help them visualize the goal. It sounds wasteful to keep cash in a jar when you can’t invest or earn interest from that savings, but seeing that jar and putting, say, a picture of the vacation spot you are saving for on the front of the jar can help not only your kids but you save for it.

7. Make chores fun.
While scooping the doggy piles out of the backyard is necessary, it’s rarely a fun chore. Go ahead and get silly with your kids while cleaning and make your time together enjoyable. Don’t make a mess with this particular chore (oooohhhh no…). Count each waste and create a leaderboard, and go get ice cream as a family every time your pet’s mess count is a prime number. This is just an example, and small games can be created with every other chore. Pretend there’s a creature in the laundry chute that eats dirty socks and turns them into cookies, or let your kids come up with a pretend game to make chore time a pleasure. You can combine work with play at home and teach your kids to enjoy everyday tasks.

How do you motivate your kids to help out at home?

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  • zimmy@moneyandpotatoes.com says:

    Giving your child the chance at spending exclusive time with you in exchange for chores is an excellent motivational tool. If you have multiple children they are probably fighting for some mommy or daddy time as it is.

  • Property Marbella says:

    We often go out and pick mushrooms with our children that we sell to buyers, and we get to take the dog on a long walk at the same time.

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