How to DE-Motivate

Young boy in bedroom yawning using laptop and listening to MP3 pScenario 1:

Let’s say my eleventh-grade son wants to be on a debate team. If he has an interest in debate, then by all means, I will look into the possibility of getting him involved.

So he and I do some research and find a local team, and I step back and allow my son to set his goals from there. I won’t harass him with how I think he should do things. I may give some guidance if asked, but for the most part, I’m letting experience be the best teacher.

A self-teaching student who has a yes-I-can attitude will head into the activity wanting to be the best. Why do something if you aren’t going to do your best? That is the attitude I find that my children naturally have.

I have not taught them to be competitive—I don’t have to push them; they just feel that anything worth doing is worth doing full-out. There is no halfway. They are intrinsically motivated to do their best, and when they are pitted against other debaters who feel the same way, the results are going to be quite interesting.

Scenario 2:

However, if I as the parent decide that I want my son to participate in a debate team apart from his own choosing, he is not going to be enthused, and I don’t blame him.

As parents, we need to give our young adults support when they choose an area of interest. I may tell my son 24/7 that he could be a wonderful debater if he would just try, but if he lacks the interest, I am wasting my time.

Sure, I can insist that he do it, but what will that yield? Frustration and discouragement—on both our parts. I am just creating a battle scene.

Here is a third scenario:

My son comes to me and expresses an interest in being a part of a debate team. I ask him, “Is that something you really think you can do? I mean, you’ve never been good in front of people, and logic isn’t your strong suit. Don’t you think you should try something else?”

Wow, I have just totally motivated my son to never ask me to help him in the future!

Parenting self-propelled children means encouraging them to spread their wings and fly, to branch out and try new things.

In this last scenario, I caused my son to go from yes-I-can to maybe-I-can’t.

I shot a hole in his self-esteem.

Maybe logic isn’t his strength at the moment, but if he has the desire to hone that skill, then I surely can help him find opportunities in which to develop it. It is a joy to help children find opportunities to engage and develop their skills.

However, it is never acceptable for me to decide what I want my young adults to excel at and then push them, micromanaging their lives so that my dream for them comes true.

May it never be!

Our job as parents is to equip our children to become the people they are created to be.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


One Response to How to DE-Motivate

  1. Lisa O'Kelley says:

    Very well said.

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