Keep Your Special Needs Child Motivated in One Step

March 11, 2014 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Recently, I wrote about motivation and the special needs child. The hardest thing to do while parenting a child with mental illness is to encourage motivation when we want it. Instead, parents find themselves battling their children to get them to do what Mom & Dad want them to do. I liken this to swimming against the current. If we look at our children as the ocean, we can see how swimming against the tide will do nothing but waste our time and energy. Not to mention frustrating us parents to no end. In my work, I've found one step helps in keeping special needs children motivated: let them volunteer.

Motivation & Bob

Bob will be 13 in a few days and has already shown me that he'd rather do anything else but clean. He avoids it. But he also likes to volunteer. I first noticed this a few years ago when it snowed heavily. At the time, either our downstairs neighbors or I would shovel. Instead, Bob volunteered. And I let him, happily, joyfully. He prepared himself for the cold and got cracking on the snow.

Motivating a special needs child is important and one step in keeping a child with a mental illness motivated is to allow them to volunteer to help out.

It was the fastest I'd seen Bob move to do anything related to cleaning. He wasn't after anything - there wasn't anything for him to gain doing this chore. He simply wanted to shovel the snow. So I let him. And he couldn't have been happier. I noticed that allowing Bob to volunteer was a great booster to his ego and self-esteem. He was beaming. And I was very proud.

Motivation & Letting Go

In my work with families, I often find that parents are less willing to take their children up on their offers to volunteer. Even if it is to wash dishes, mop or whatever other chore interests their children. Parents often have a difficult time letting go of even the slightest bit of control so that their special needs children can do a chore. Some parents would rather do the job themselves and have it done correctly. While this isn't a terrible thing, parents do miss an opportunity to motivate their children in a healthy, positive way. After all, how are kids going to learn responsibility and self-care?

The Opportunity for Motivation of a Special Needs Child

I know that if I don't allow Bob the chance to volunteer at home, I'll miss out on him learning how to do things for himself. As a single parent, I also want Bob to be independent and self-sufficient. What better way to teach him those things than to let him volunteer to do something? For young children, this could mean sweeping something off the floor or another easy chore. For older kids like Bob, this could mean shovelling snow, washing dishes or even ironing. Just make sure you have the time to oversee the chore. When your special needs child volunteers to help, go for it! You'll be boosting your child's self-esteem and getting help without the fight.

Photo By Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA.

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2014, March 11). Keep Your Special Needs Child Motivated in One Step, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

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