Motivating your teen to develop new skills

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It can be very difficult to motivate teens to complete self-care tasks. Use small rewards and make sure you acknowledge efforts they make towards self-care.

Key points

  • It can be very difficult to get your teen to complete tasks even when they are necessary for their own health care.
  • You can motivate your teen by rewarding them for specific behaviours, as long as they are meaningful and effective over time.
  • It is important to acknowledge your teen, and perhaps find a small reward, when they make the effort at good self-care.

Teaching a child skills takes conscious planning and a fair amount of time. The effort is worth it, however, because your child will learn these skills to take care of themselves when they are older.

Convincing a child that it is in their best interests to do things they don’t particularly want or like to do (like filling a dosette) can be very challenging. In most cases, teenagers’ brains are not developed enough to consistently complete mundane tasks just because they are the right thing to do or are for their own good.

Using rewards

One way to motivate a child or teen is to reward them for specific behaviour. It’s important, however, to consider the following points to make sure that any rewards are meaningful and effective over time.

  • Pair tangible rewards with verbal praise. For older children and teens, tangible rewards might include a trip to the movies or something else that your teen sees as a real treat.
  • Verbal praise should always be specific. For example, “You really paid close attention when you filled your dosette - I’m very proud of you!” is much better than “Good job!”
  • Over time, give tangible rewards less frequently, replacing them with specific verbal praise on its own.
  • Help your child take pride in what they have done. For example, “I’m proud of you” is a great thing for a child to hear. “I’m proud of you! Aren’t you proud of yourself?” teaches a child to take responsibility for their behaviour and internalize this feeling of pride so they feel competent and enjoy the reward of personal satisfaction.
  • Notice when your teenager does something well regarding their own health. Let them know that you have noticed with a statement like “I’m really pleased that you’ve done such a great job remembering to take your medicine this week!” Positive attention is a great reward and can motivate people to make good choices.

Separating rewards from bribes

Parents are sometimes reluctant to reward their child for good behaviour because they fear that they are bribing their child. The difference between a bribe and a reward is based on when and how the item is offered and the underlying goal. A message such as, “If you do this, then you can have that” is a bribe that encourages children to only do something if they are given something in return. On the other hand, a telling your child, “Once you’ve done this, then you can do that” is not a bribe because it teaches a child about natural consequences after they complete a task.

Acknowledging your teen’s efforts to care for themselves

Good self-care takes effort and this effort deserves to be rewarded. For teenagers, the satisfaction of knowing that they are taking good care of themselves is important, but it is likely not enough on its own to motivate them to always act responsibly. Small rewards can go a long way to encourage someone to “do the right thing”.

Talk with your teenager and let them know that you’re pleased with what they have been doing to take care of themselves. Tell them that you’d like to recognize their work by doing something special together. Rewards do not need to be expensive; most children enjoy the positive attention they receive from their parents, regardless of their age.

Last updated: March 3rd 2021