Motivating Kids



In short, no. Screaming at kids is ineffective and unenjoyable, however, I often hear parents say, “My kids only listen to me when I scream at them.” This yelling often includes:

  • Get ready for school!
  • We’re late!
  • Do your homework!
  • Clean your room!
  • Go to bed!

How do parents get to the point of blaming, shaming, nagging, threatening, and overdoing it with punishment? It often occurs through a common sequence. It starts with kids procrastinating, follows with parents not enforcing consequences, and ends with parents stuffing their frustration until they explode.

Some kids provoke their parents to lose their tempers. I’m not talking here about those kids who are power-tripping. If you are dealing with kids who actively provoke or defy you, you might need family therapy to turn things around.

When you scream at your children, they might do what you want because you are scaring them or hurting their feelings. They might be afraid of your temporary emotional instability. While there are healthy and appropriate ways of telling them that you are angry, screaming is not one of them.



There are a few basic steps for engaging your kids and getting them started on the activity they need to be doing.

  1. Pay attention to your timing. Avoid doing this activity if they are:
    1. Tired, sick or hungry.
    2. In the middle of a sleepover with friends.
    3. Just sitting down to relax after having finished another task.
  2. Have them pause what they are doing.
  3. “I need you to pause your game.”
  4. “I need you to pause your video.”
  5. “I’m going to need a little bit of your time.”
  6. State, “I have noticed that you have not done ____________ [the activity they are avoiding] and I have time now to help get you to get started.”
  7. Say, “Let’s figure out what the first step is.” At this point, do not give them a laundry list of instructions. Instead, help them write out all of the individual steps for the project, putting the easiest step at the top.
  8. Say, “I can help you with this first step if you like.” If they want to start it on their own, then that is great. Then state, “Please come find me when you are done with this step. I want to make sure this whole thing is done before you go back to __________ [the activity they were doing before you interrupted them]. Once you are done with this step, we’ll move on to the next until we are done.” If your child goes back to their activity rather than getting you, you’ll need to be firm with them and let them know you mean business.
  9. After they have finished all of the steps and the project is complete, you can say, “Thanks for working on this and getting the whole thing done.” Then leave them alone for a while.

Make sure to only give your child one step at a time. If you like, you can make this a game. You could say, “Let’s see how fast you can get this first step done!” Many kids get overwhelmed when faced with multiple steps. You can help them by breaking down projects into parts and having them come to you after each task is done.

If at this point you are thinking, “This is ridiculous! My child should be able to do it all on their own,” then please stop. The reason you are doing this exercise is that they are not doing what they should. Living in the Land of Should will not motivate your child or stop you from yelling at them.



“Joe’s” bedroom had been a cesspool for weeks. Every time his mother, Karen, asked him to clean his room, he had an excuse. He had homework to do first. He had to go work his shift at McDonald’s. He had lacrosse practice and promised to do it later. She finally pinned him down in the family room on a Saturday when he was binge-watching Netflix. “Joe,” she said, “Your room.” “I know, I know, Mom. I’ll get it done today.” Karen replied in a firm voice, “I need you to hit pause for a little bit. Let’s go deal with this together right now.”

They walked to his room. It was a 16-year-old’s disaster zone. “I need a hazmat suit,” Karen murmured. “What’s that?” Joe said. Karen just smiled and said, “I’ll tell you later. Okay. First step. Dirty clothes off all surfaces and into your hamper. I’ll help. Let’s see how fast we can do this. Let’s go!” Joe and Karen flew into action. Within a couple of minutes, all dirty clothes were in the hamper. Karen then said, “Wait a second! Don’t move from this room!” She darted down the hallway. Joe didn’t know his mother could move that fast. This whole experience was weird but interesting.

His mother made it back his room in 30 seconds and she was a little out of breath. “Okay,” she said, “Let’s put all trash in this trash bag. Everything.” They proceeded to dump food off plates, throw half-empty cans of Red Bull and empty boxes of donuts into the trash. “What should I do with all of the plates and glasses?” Joe asked. His mother replied, “Since the dishwasher is empty, I want you to fill it with all of these plates and glasses and run it. Ugh. This garbage smells rancid. You take care of the dishes, and I’ll take this bag to the dumpster. Come find me when you’re done with that. Do not go back to your movie until I give you the all-clear.”

Joe proceeded to fill the dishwasher and started it. He wanted to get back to his movie, but he stopped by his room again and noticed it looked a lot better already. He made his bed and arranged his desk and then found his mom. Karen went to inspect his room. On the way, Joe said, “Mom, I got the dishwasher going, made my bed and arranged my desk, too.” Karen looked the room over and said, “This room looks much better. You made your bed and cleaned up your desk on your own. That shows initiative! Do you think you can do this on your own next time?” “Yeah, Mom,” he said. “Great!” she replied, “Enjoy your show!”



Joining your kids is a positive way to motivate them and get them working on the things they have been avoiding. You’ll feel better using strategies that help you stay in control of your emotions and don’t leave you or your kids feeling ashamed and hurt. You can teach them how to break down activities into manageable parts so that they can start doing things themselves, preparing for when they eventually move out on their own. Think about how you can creatively join your kids to begin the things they need to do today!



Most of the time, your child’s looming deadlines are neither your fault nor your responsibility. Occasionally teachers give unfair deadlines. More often, kids are stressed about deadlines due to their procrastination. When your child asks you for help about a deadline, your best approach is to help them assess their situation, not lecture them on time management. Most people – kids and adults – procrastinate things that are new, complex or long.

The first question to help your child answer is: Is it possible to complete this project before the deadline? If the answer is yes, then break down the project to its component tasks. If the answer is no, help them deal with the disappointment that they are unlikely to get full credit for the work. Then help them get the project completed and turned in for partial credit as soon as it is reasonable for them to do so. They don’t need to hear, “I told you so” from you. Let them learn from their mistakes and disappointments without your blaming and shaming. Consider reading my article, “Knowing When to Silence Your Inner Helicopter Parent” for more information on this issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *