Encourage kids with “new year, fresh start” message

The new year may or may not coincide with a new semester, but it’s definitely an opportunity to motivate kids to look ahead rather than back. Help them want to transform that less-than-stellar math grade or boost that spelling score.

Debate rages on about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations. Purists argue that kids should want do well simply for the pride and satisfaction of a job well done or the thrill of sharpening a competitive edge. They worry that rewards will become a crutch and when absent, the motivation will also be non-existent. At the other extreme are folks who want to praise each and every success or task completion no matter how small and even monetize bigger achievements, for example promising $10 for every A in a marking period. They may believe that internal motivation will “come later” but young minds respond “right now” to tangible rewards. After all, it takes a while to fully understand consequences and cause-and-effect of all kinds.

It’s undeniable that even for adults with a strong work ethic opportunities for reward or recognition above and beyond a paycheck tend to provide incentive for kicking performance up a notch. Plus, everyone likes to hear sincere praise. For most kids, a combination of modeling and encouraging self-motivation, along with incenting positive behaviors—especially to get out of a slump—with something both tangible and treasured can be the ticket.

Many of the motivational tools and techniques that teachers use can work for parents, too. For example, younger kids, starting with toddlers, love stickers. Trying to reinforce “staying dry” during potty training or reward taking a few bites of green, leafy vegetables, at a few consecutive meals? Give a round of applause by handing your toddler one of several books from the My First Coloring Book Sticker Skill Book series. Preschoolers and kindergartners can learn important readiness skills and get in some sticker play with workbooks such as workbooks such as Alphabet Stickers, Math Readiness Skills, and Get Ready for School! Stickers Workbook.

For kids of most any age, let them earn more time doing something they love (or less time doing something they dislike). Maybe it’s staying up 15 minutes beyond bedtime reading. Download a charming eBook from the Start to Read! series, available in multiple formats. With titles like Raccoon on the Moon, Hug Bug, and Poor Polly Pig, young readers will want to read them over and over. Or try giving kids a “pass” on an assigned chore without the usual penalty of scolding or decrease in allowance. Another alternative is letting them choose what’s for dinner or which movie the entire family watches. Consider an incentive gift that introduces a hobby—something like the Simply Guitar Book and DVD set or Dog Tricks and Training Book and DVD set—or fine-tunes a social skill like The Giant Book of Jokes.

With a new year underway, help kids appreciate the chance to start a new chapter. It’s a great time to renew their commitment to better grades or better behaviors, and a small, tangible reward (i.e., incentive) just might help them turn the next page.