The Motivation Meltdown: When Parents Care But Kids Don’t

Take a minute and think about how you wish your child kept his room. In your mind, his bed is probably made, the clothes are neatly hung in the closet or folded in his drawers, and you can even see the floor! Now think about what your child’s room actually looks like. Unless you’re raising a neat freak, it’s probably very different from the first room you pictured.


Why is this? Why do kids hate to keep their room clean?


Well, simply put, they don’t view it as important. To a kid, there are a million things more important than making their bed. I mean, why would you make your bed, you’re just going to sleep in it again, right?


This response might really anger you. Of course, cleaning your room and making your bed matter. It’s showing respect for your things and creating a calm, clean living environment.


This is what we call a clash of values. To you, the parent, having a clean room is a high value. It’s important. You invest the time to keep your house clean and you expect the same from your child. To your child though, this is a low value. They could be spending the time cleaning hanging out with friends, surfing the web, playing video games, studying, etc. Like I said, there are a million things he may rather do than make his bed.


When you have a clash of values, when one person views something as a high value and the other as a low value, then you’re always going to have some form of a collision. In a lot of houses, this turns into a power struggle.


Your son asks why he needs to make his bed; you respond with, “Because I said so.” Then the two of you go back and forth until someone ends up angry or grounded.


The same thing happens in academics with school work all the time.


One mom said at a recent parent presentation, “I am so done with my son! He won’t check his work, he speeds through it just because he wants to play on his stupid x-box. It’s ridiculous!” Yikes, she was frustrated. So we asked her some questions, how were his grades in general? She said he had all A’s and one B. In this case, the mom had a high value and the son had a low value on checking work. But, he was still being successful in school. Our advice to this mom: if he’s successful in school, let him do what he’s doing.


There are a lot of situations where you and your child’s values aren’t going to match up. For example, the bedroom situation. The perfect room you imagined might never be a reality for your child. It’s important to find a compromise in the middle where the two values can meet. Maybe, it’s that all dirty clothes need to be put in the hamper and there can be no dirty dishes in his room. The key is finding a middle ground where you can both be happy.


Now, other times, your high value is going to be something you can’t compromise on. For example, one dad spoke to us about his daughter, who hated math so much she refused to practice her math facts and was failing because of it. This was a situation where compromise wasn’t an option. We recommended that the father explain that learning basic math facts is essential to academic success. He went on to get a tutor to come in and present the information in a different way than the girl’s teacher had been. Having this professional in the house helped ease the tension between dad and his daughter and also helped the girl see the value in math. The tutor tied the subject to her interests, or her values, making the content more interesting.


If you find that your child’s values and yours are always colliding, we recommend first having an open conversation. Express your expectations of your child and make sure they’re realistic. For example, if your child has chronically struggled in school, it may not be realistic to say, “I expect you to get straight As,” but it is okay to say, “I expect that you complete your homework nightly and get started after a 30 minute break when you get home from school.” This way, you’re tying your expectations to daily tasks that your child can accomplish. If you get a lot of pushback, we recommend working with an outside professional who can help guide both you and your child in setting values and expectations.


For more information on motivation, check out Educational Connections’ President, Ann Dolin, M.Ed.’s upcoming, free, parent webinar “The Motivation Meltdown: When Parents Care But Kids Don’t.