Let’s face it: begging doesn’t cut it, nor do threats and bribes. Not when it comes to homework and studying. That’s because external motivators, like the promise of an MP3 player or the threat of grounding, have only short-term effects. Instead, make it personal. It’s internal motivators, such as striving to accomplish goals, that lead to more sustained effort and growth. As Time for Kids suggests, “Children whose goal is to learn are more focused on their own progress and are more willing to take on challenging tasks.”

Start by explaining that effort is often more critical than ability, modeling hard work and valuing learning. Set up a schoolwork schedule together, and then limit distractions during work times. If necessary, help get assignments started—then, step back. This is your child’s job, not yours. At the same time, hold high but realistic expectations, believing in your child, building on his strengths, and never accepting good enough as good enough. Achievement requires time and effort, so acknowledge hard work, praise true accomplishment, and help him find opportunity in failure. Also beneficial is sharing news accounts and biographies of successful people and encouraging such as endeavors as painting and cooking. Then, with a schedule in place, develop goals with your child and monitor them.

Servants of motivation and success, goals are both guideposts and destinations, promoting self-confidence and accomplishment. Jim Morris, accepted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at thirty-five, says, “You need to have a series of goals to get you to your major goal. Break down big goals and take it a little at a time . . .”

Your child needs to know that achievement requires the desire to succeed and hard work, too. Goals mark the way–attainable but challenging enough to ensure a true sense of accomplishment. Remember: self-esteem comes from attempting a demanding goal, working hard, and finally either accomplishing it or knowing you gave it your best shot, be it jogging a mile, finishing a book, or improving a grade. It doesn’t stem from threats or promises of rewards, so tell your child to . . .

Make goals both specific and positive, moving from, “I won’t waste time,” to, “I’ll use my time better,” and follow that up with a plan.

2. Monitor progress and make adjustments when necessary.
3. Give goals a “due date,” and place sticky-note reminders on bathroom mirrors, the
fridge–all around the house.
4. Share goals with others; not wanting to disappoint is a powerful motivator.
5. Value positive self-talk, encouraging your child to say, like that little engine, “I
think I can.”
6. Replace, “I can’t,” and “It’s too hard,” with “I’ll do my best.” No one can ask for


FIRST, my most important responsibilities as a student:
1. ______________________________ 3. _____________________________
2. ______________________________ 4. _____________________________

1. ______________________________________________ ____________
2. ______________________________________________ ____________
3. ______________________________________________ ____________
4. ______________________________________________ ____________
5. ______________________________________________ ____________

WHAT I’D LIKE TO BE SOMEDAY: ___________________________________

STEPS I MUST TAKE: (“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” ~ Michelle Amodie)
1. ________________________________________________________________
2. ________________________________________________________________
3. ________________________________________________________________
4. ________________________________________________________________
5. ________________________________________________________________
6. ________________________________________________________________
7. ________________________________________________________________

If you’re still wondering if all this goal-setting stuff is worth it, the answer is, “You bet!” Putting one foot in front of the other—always moving forward with a clear destination in mind– is as good a definition of motivation and success as any I can think of. By setting reasonable but challenging short-term goals, progress is made. Make achievement the standard and share Aldous Huxley’s words: “There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” Don’t wait.