Building Lifelong Motivation in Your Kids


“I’m pretty sure if we power wash my car the bottom of it will fall off,” predicted Kerry when Gene mentioned using his new power washer on her car yesterday. She was probably right. We bought very used, but safe cars for our teen girls. Kerry names hers Howie. She has been driving Howie for five years. The air conditioning doesn’t work. The trunk leaks when it rains. I could go on.

You know what? I’m okay with the fact the bottom is rusted out and the air doesn’t work. And oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the dented up fender from the fender-bender she was in her first year of driving—I’m okay with that too.

Katie and Kelsey’s cars were in similar shape.

[For the parents who can’t read past “We bought our girls cars”, here is our philosophy on providing very used cars for our kids:

  • Providing a car to drive (that we owned) freed up my van and my time. If the girls did not have a car to drive, I would have been their chauffer. We felt it was our responsibility to provide transportation for the girls to their activities rather than have them “find a ride” with someone else. We felt that would be infringing on the responsible parents who have, in one way or another, provided transportation for their kids. I’m not talking about carpooling where the driving is shared.
  • It also taught them to be responsible, safe drivers that put gas in the car and arrived home before or by curfew or they would lose their driving privileges.

Basically we used the privilege of a car as a teaching tool, not a right.]

I’m okay with the fact that the girls’ cars were lacked many of the extras of growing up in a middle-class school district,  because it is one way Gene and I have motivated our girls to work hard to get what they want. Not long after Kelsey graduated college and secured her first teaching job she bought a cute red little crossover. She loved the first car bought with her own money.

Not giving our kids nice, new everything and making them work to earn what they want motivates our kids. Most of us need motivation to go to work (it’s called a paycheck), to exercise (it’s called keeping our bodies functioning), to live within our means, and even to pursue our relationship with God (it’s called peace and comfort). Why do we think that giving our kids everything they want, and with no limitations, is a good thing?

My pediatrician from my childhood had a trustworthy saying, “Keep kids a little cold and a little hungry.” I’m not advocating keeping our homes a frigid 50 degrees or not giving our kids a healthy snack, nor was our doctor. What he was saying is that it’s good for kids to not get everything they want. He was so right. God doesn’t give us everything we want. Does that make God a bad parent? The Bible says, “No good thing does He [God] withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11). God gives us what is good for us and that means we often don’t get what we want or we may need to wait even years for our “good thing.”

So maybe we are not being the good parents we think we are when we give our kids all the shiny stuff they beg for and even have come to expect.

What your kids need more than the latest “i-something” is you. Our kids need our attention. They need for us to listen to them, talk with them, color a picture, play a game, read a book, shoot baskets, play catch, listen to them play the piano, watch their latest dance routine or take them for ice cream—just the two of you.

Then when they want something that would be a “good thing” for them, give them a way to earn it. And when they finally get it, don’t let it be the center of their world. Teach them to use it with discretion and responsibly.

A couple of sentences later in our conversation with Kerry, she asked us how she would proceed to buy a different car after her upcoming college graduation. Yes! She learned the lesson!

If you are the parent who gives their kid a rusty car to drive and you’re feeling the pressure to do more, hang in there! Your kid won’t be damaged for life. He may actually become stronger and more motivated to succeed! If you’re the parent who provides a nice car for your kids (and nothing wrong with that), look for ways for them to earn other privileges.  In each situation you will be building motivation in your kids that will last a lifetime.

Do you struggle in saying no to your kids?

How have you taught them to earn their wants?


Brenda Garrison is an author and speaker who empowers women with the confidence to live their calling. Brenda is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ministry Leadership with a Concentration in Women’s Ministry at Moody Bible Institute. She and her husband, Gene, are the parents of three young adult daughters and live near Metamora, IL.

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