Many years ago, when our now much older children where around 4 or 5 years old, I took several courses on how to motivate our children to have will power and to be proactive, but I was not aware then of how important this would be in their lives. Now that our daughter is living by herself and studying away in college, she has to wake up early in the morning without anyone telling her to do so, she has to go to school with a ride or in a bus, because she has no car, she has to do the work in school, she has to cook and clean up after herself - she is on her own, and she is thriving.
This is a result of years of training, training her on the correct use of her freedom, training her will power, training her to overcome difficulties, it was not something that was achieved from one day to the next.
We are all subject to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the one that moves us to do things because we will have an external reward like a trophy, public recognition, money, etc. This kind of motivation usually requires us to be supervised, to have someone around to tell us to do something. When things get done this way, it gives us satisfaction but not joy, moves us to do things at the beginning, but after we receive the reward it may not necessarily make us happy. It doesn't help us mature.
With intrinsic motivation the reward is in the achievement itself, because we did the right thing, we overcame a particular difficulty, etc. and this kind of reward is different, it gives us joy, makes us a better person, helps us grow and mature and gets us closer to God.
Every decision passes through intelligence and willpower, first you think about what you need to do, what your options are, the consequences of each option and then is the willpower that will make you do things. Just like our intelligence, willpower needs to be trained too.
Our job as parents is to help our children by making an effort to train their willpower by helping them overcome laziness and short cuts in life: waking up everyday at the same time - living that heroic minute of waking up right away without giving it much thought- always being on time, learning how to wait for their turn, to be patient for the rewards of the efforts, to be strong, to have courage... it is an ongoing natural process that takes most of their childhood.
Focus on mentoring your children so they can find the intrinsic motivation when doing every task. It could be fixing their room, doing homework, getting home on time, not doing drugs.
Train them from a young age:
- 3 year old toddlers can be tremendously happy just putting their dad shoes inside the closet.
- 6 year old children will feel proud of themselves when picking up their plates from the table as well as those of the rest of the people at the table.
- 11 year old preteens can feel happy when helping a friend in school with their homework, especially if they notice themselves that their friend is struggling and needs help.
Always remind them that they should not need a policeman watching over them to do the right thing; to always act facing God, not out of fear, but out of love. Tell them to be truthful with themselves: they will know in their hearts if they put in their greatest effort in completing the task, finishing their whole homework, cleaning up their room, etc.
In the beginning, they will need our supervision and our help, but after a while (years that go by too fast!) they should be able to do well on their own and feel great about themselves. Good luck!