An experiment in motivation works beyond my wildest dreams
My son loves video games. My wife and I worry that he spends too much time on his computer. Like many parents with this dilemma, we limit his screen time. This often leaves us faced with a mopey kid trying to find something stimulating to do not involving his computer.
I thought one such afternoon would be a great time to lay down a lesson on work and the value of money. I offered to pay him by the hour to cut down a large patch of rogue bushes we had inherited. He loved the idea of earning some real money. $10 per hour for a whole afternoon sounded like a lot to a kid that gets $5 per week in allowance. I warned him it would be very tough work, but he was undeterred and eager to begin. For safety reasons I would have to supervise this operation.
What a calamity! Within 5 minutes he was ready to quit, asking me to help with just about everything. The reality of the hot, sweaty, itchy and uncomfortable work overtook his money lust and it quickly became a battle to keep him going. I persevered and we got through it, but I had to guide every action he took or he would simply stop working and watch me.
Fast forward 4 months. My son has discovered airsoft, a real life version of the combat video games he loves so much. He has researched and found a local group that allows kids 12 and up to play. He just needs the equipment and someone to drive him. The gun and safety gear are not cheap. I was proud that he had found a solution that meets his need for “combat” and his parent’s needs for him to get fresh air and exercise.
My problem was the feeling the bushes incident left me with: the feeling that my son did not understand the value of money and now he wants serious cash to buy a fancy BB gun!
I proposed a deal. One part of the deal was that he takes on those bushes again (luckily for me bushes grow back). But this time the deal was simply to get those bushes all done in one day, no complaining, no whining and I will buy you the airsoft equipment. I also talked with him about how tough work like this might not be fun, but that he will have to face many situations in life where in order to get what he wants, he needs to do something in return, something that he may not totally enjoy. We talked about trying to make work like this fun anyway and how thinking about the end goal, rather than the discomfort of the moment, can help you to get through it.
Those bushes never stood a chance on round two. He knew the deal, knew his end goal and he treated me like his assistant rather than begrudging me as his task master. We finished the job in record time and in good spirits. When I hugged him at the end and told him what a great job he had done, I could see the pride in him. What a great kid!
Motivation in this case had nothing to do with money and everything to do with helping my son understand the bigger picture. Using my intimate knowledge of what he is passionate about, preparing him for the tough day ahead and being there to support him through it made the second attempt at those bushes a much more rewarding experience for both of us.
Learning to be an engaging manager and leader at work can pay off at home too!
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