Interview with a psychologist

Child does’t want to do anything: how to motivate the unmotivated kid

Child motivation is a psychological term that has been resonating in the life of moms and dads for a long time, whilst still remaining a widespread topic today. After all, every parent wants their child to be active, purposeful, study well, speak different languages and play sports, and, of course, to grow up to become a successful person. However, all parenting efforts will be null if the child is lacking motivation.

What is motivation? What types of it exist? What to do if the child does not want to do anything, what are the ways of properly motivating them? We will try to analyze these and other issues in our article today.


The child and motivation


Let’s, first of all, define this term for ourselves.

The word itself comes from the French word “motif”, which in turn comes from the Italian “moveo” that means “movement”. Motivation is an impulse, an incentive to action, a push that results in our readiness to leave the comfort zone and overcome a series of difficulties for the sake of the possible goal achievement.

Parents state that the most difficult time in a relationship with a child is the very moment when they need not to force their children to do something, but rather to properly motivate them.

What kinds of motivation exist?


Psychologists distinguish several classifications of types of motivation. We will look into the classification by the source (internal or external motivation) and by attitude towards achieving goals (positive or negative).

Intrinsic (inner) motivation

It is the type of motivation in which the child is happy to engage in any activity and to achieve their goals, based solely on their own desire and personal interest that is not imposed by anyone. This type of motivation is the most effective as it follows from the inner, often long-term personal need of the child.

The child performs any activity for the sake of doing it, not paying attention to external factors. It also often occurs that intrinsic motivation helps a child to be creative, and therefore to look for an unusual, creative approach, and not just go towards the goal by taking the shortest path.

Extrinsic (outer) motivation


In comparison to internal motivation, this type is much less effective. This is understandable, as, for instance, when the parents are forcing their little one to swim, this is completely different from when the child enjoys the process and understands that this skill is beneficial for their future (such as toned muscles, the opportunity to work in sports, etc). Extrinsic motivation is fruitful only at the very beginning of the journey when the child’s enthusiasm is not gone yet.

Positive motivation

Positive motivation consists of all sorts of positive methods, such as a good mark, praise, or a gift. All this can form a positive association for the child. However, motivation can also be negative.

Negative motivation

Examples of negative motivation include threats, tantrums, long speeches, and even violence. It is difficult to call these necessary and right. It should be noted that criticism “works” well in this type of motivation. Nevertheless, it is very important to understand that criticism should only be carried out in a positive way.

Why does the child not want anything?


The roots of children laziness and ways to combat it

Parents are continuously facing the same problem of their child not wanting anything. Even when one of the parents takes on the full-time role of entertaining their children, with an extensive list of options and suggestions, such as “Let’s go to the movies? There’s a cool new movie out there!”, or “Let’s go to the zoo on the weekend?”, or “Let’s try dancing? There is a great dance club!”, or even “How about robotics, or maybe sports? Judo or gymnastics, volleyball or hockey?”.

The stream of ideas may be very extensive, but when faced with a child’s passivity, even a highly active person is likely to give up. At this point, parents start thinking “What is wrong with my child?” and “Will it pass?”

Let’s have a brief look at laziness at different ages.

Preschool laziness


At the age of kindergarten, all important decisions are made by adults on behalf of their children, by insisting, sometimes not being truthful and even using some elements of threat. This is mostly with regards to language lessons, sports, preparation for school, and this list goes on and on. As a result, the overwhelmed toddler loses interest in everything, even in those activities that they initially enjoyed.

Parents of children of this age should remember that the main activity of preschool-age kids is fun and games! The child explores the world around them through play.

Tip: do not overload the child with unnecessary information and activities. Pick the one that they enjoy. Don’t expect to achieve great results from them right away, give your kids the opportunity to mess around. At the moment when they are “not busy with anything”, kids can be going through an active process of processing the information that they received. Don’t interfere with this process!

Elementary school laziness


Parents of younger schoolchildren are perplexed when their children tell them that they don’t want to do extracurricular activities, they are not interested in toys, and feel like laying on the sofa with their gadgets.

At this point, we need to distinguish first graders into a different separate category.

Your child is now older. They are now going to school. Getting used to school is already a pretty complex task and a burden for a child.

Tip: do not overburden the child with additional activities of more than one per week, at least in the first half of the year. Add more progressively according to the state of health and the desire of the child. If they want to rest and lie down after school, do not deprive them of this opportunity.

Second category: elementary school

If a child of the age of 8-11 years old is lying on the couch and does not want to do anything, you need to pay attention to the following factors:

  • whether the child has enough time to rest;
  • whether they are overloaded with additional activities;
  • whether there are having any conflicts with peers and teachers;
  • whether they are experiencing bullying from peers or high school students.

If a child has one activity that they are passionate about, this is already great news.

Tip: Talk to your child by asking appropriate questions around the topic. A child may not answer a direct question due to fear or shame. Clear boundaries should be set when it comes to gadgets, you will need to come to an agreement with regards to them with your child. For instance, this could consist of using them for no more than 1.5 hours a day after completing all of the homework.

Teenage laziness


Parents of adolescents often complain of their children always being on the computer, not needing neither friends nor parents, and not willing to go on holidays together.

It may seem from the outside that a teenager that is falling out of the life of their family, former friends, past hobbies, is not doing anything. In fact, the child is going through some serious changes during this period. It is the time of an internal separation from their parents. This takes a lot of time and effort. During this period, the teenager gives themselves the answers to the following questions: “Who am I ?!”, “What am I for?”, “What do I like?”, “What do I dislike?” During this period, they reject everything that is parental, such as their views, judgments, and feelings, with which we, as parents, willingly or unwittingly burden our children with. Children form their own value system at this point.

Read more about this uneasy time in the article on this complex age: how to help children and parents to survive the teenage period?

It is important to note that the so-called “adolescent laziness” phenomenon is quite typical from the point of view of physiology. Almost all adolescents, even A-star students, suffer from it. However, excellent students have a more developed willingness to work, therefore, this occurrence is not so noticeable in them. Adults should remember that during this period, the level of dopamine in the body of a teenager is significantly lower than in adults. Nevertheless, whenever it is produced, it happens at very high levels all at once. This is caused, for example, by strong impressions, such as when playing computer games. For this reason, it may be so difficult to pull the child away from the computer and keep them busy with more trivial things.


Tip: do not put pressure on the teenager during this period, as this will only cause aggression. If the computer does not seriously affect the learning process, look for some positives in it. Perhaps your child will become an SMM manager or a website or software developer, etc. Give them some freedom, but at the same time try to involve them in household chores, such as going to the store or walking the dog. These little things will have them leave the computer for a little while.

It is important not to lose the connection with the child during this period. If there is a bond, it means that there is an opportunity to build a dialogue, and this is already pretty major and very important when your child is growing up.

However, if your child does not sleep well, refuses to eat, does not communicate with anyone, and if they are in a constant depressed mood, this is a clear signal for parents, as they are very likely to be the signs of teenage depression. In this case, your best bet is to seek the help of a psychologist.

Low levels of motivation

What are the reasons for the child’s lowered motivation? Let’s discuss some of them.

The absence of a clear goal

Ideally, the child should understand and be aware of why they perform a certain activity and know what the end result will be. If this understanding is not there, the child’s motivation disappears quickly. A boy who knows that they are attending swimming classes in order to get into an Olympic reserve school or to visit their grandmother in the summer and be able to swim in a river or lake, they will be much more inclined to put the effort in. Once there is a goal, there is motivation. If a girl attends music lessons, enjoys the process, but does not have an understanding of why she is doing it, their motivation will decrease or disappear very quickly.

Imposed goals and ideas of others


Unfortunately, this is a fairly common occurrence. Parents who dreamed about something in their childhood or adolescence, but failed to realize their dreams, often shift this burden onto the shoulders of their children. In this case, the wants and needs of the child are ignored, rejected, or subjected to strong criticism. The motivation in this case will be non-existent.

Simple tiredness

Both physical and psychological (moral) overstrain can reduce the motivation for any task. If a child does not have time for proper rest, sleep, and activities out of school, the child “burns out” over time. It is not surprising that their motivation during this period will be very low.

Is the child’s motivation to study lacking? Learn about what parents should do if the child does not want to study or do their homework.

Problem-solving: how to motivate the child and cope with their laziness?


How to motivate a child? Let’s try to have a look at the best options.

To hear and to be heard

Parents very often address the psychologist with the problem of their child always being in front of the computer and “doing nothing”. When a psychologist begins to ask questions of the following nature: “What games do they play?” and “What do they like about this or that game?”, parents do not know the answer. They are used to assessing the situation superficially: “They are doing nothing and not thinking about anything!”. They say so without any deep analysis and without being interested in what is going on in the child’s mind.

Try asking them to talk about this or that game, about this or that character, and you will be surprised at how happy they will be to do so. Show them that you are interested in their hobbies and that you are taking them seriously. Do not dismiss these games. It is quite possible that in the process of playing, the child solves their psychological problems, gets rid of their fears and tension, and that in the moments of the so-called “doing nothing”, they are dreaming and growing.

Therefore, the main advice is to listen to your child, learn about their wants and needs. Learn not only to listen but also to hear. And before you start motivating a person, make sure to assess their interests in a correct manner.

Lead by example


Do you often scold your child for the wasted time spent on the Internet, and you spend a long time on social networks? Do you scold them for the mess in their room, but you do not really like to keep the house clean?

If you do not like sports and do not do gymnastics, you should not demand this from your child! Lead by example! If you want your child to be motivated, you have got to be motivated in the first place!


In preschool age, parental approval is very valuable. If a child is able to admire their achievements, and has seen and felt the joy of the parents associated with their successes, then they will definitely want to see and experience it again.

Do not hesitate to express your kindness in words! Even if the child’s achievements are quite insignificant in your opinion, remember that perhaps the child made every effort to do this and did a great job anyway!

As the child grows up, it becomes more difficult to motivate them simply through positive thinking. Nevertheless, unconditional parental love and support remain essential at any age. Hence, do not forget to let your children know that you will love them unconditionally, regardless of whether they pass their exam or not, whether they enter into a university or not, and whether they reach great heights in their career or not.



The support of loved ones is important at any stage of life, however, it is particularly valuable for a child. If you see that the child experiences problems in a particular activity (be it in school or in sports), try to talk with them, discuss any possible solutions, and select the best ones.

For example, at a gymnastics competition, a child begins to demonstrate poor results and no longer wishes to practice this sport. Make sure to check whether older children are offending them or whether your son or daughter enjoys being around their coach. Perhaps it will be sufficient to simply switch the class, and the desire to practice this sport will return immediately.

Do things together

In the event where the child has to perform a difficult or rather boring activity, the right decision of an adult would be to join them in.


When we perform a task for the first time, the result of it is not always perfect. We as adults are also familiar with this. Therefore, we understand how important it is to be together with the child in such unpleasant moments.

Parental mistakes: what should not be done?


It often occurs that people who are moving towards their goal give up because no one told them that they will succeed and that others believe in them. Sometimes this basic expression of support is enough to motivate a person to move forward.

In some children, motivation vanishes away even before it appears, while others lose it over time. Why is this happening? Let’s discuss it from the standpoint of parenting mistakes.

  1. Parenting violence:
    • physical violence;
    • psychological violence (threats, suppressing the child’s personality, etc.).
  2. Lack of a clear timetable in the child’s life: no daily routine and having the child is left to themselves.
  3. There is no one clear direction in the demands on the part of the child’s parent. The most common example of it would be, for instance, when the mother forbids something and the dad allows it, or when the grandparents are eager to “spoil” their child.
  4. Excessive requirements for the child.
  5. Excessive care.
  6. Lack of attention towards the needs of the child.

Dear parents, to conclude, we would like to wish you not to miss the opportunity to live your own life, and not the life of your child: have your own interests, hobbies, set yourself some goals and achieve them, be motivated. This will be the clearest example of the right motivation for your children!

Try to act on your own, look for ways of motivation that are right for your situation. At the same time, do not forget to respect the interests, desires, aspirations of your children. And of course, make sure to show them your love at all times!

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