4 tricks you need to know to successfully motivate children

Picture of Hi! I'm Annika Tell

Hi! I'm Annika Tell

Who would have thought raising kids is actually a course in leadership and sales?

Read my story

Lots of parents are wondering from time-to-time (in my case all the time :D) how to motivate children. It’s a well-known fact that great habits lay the foundation for a successful life.

That is why I try to create some of those in my children’s lives. One of the habits I keep trying to cultivate is practicing for music school every single day.

I’ve tried different methods. In the beginning, I explained why it’s crucial and hoped that would be enough to motivate my children. And it did… all of two times before they threw in the towel.

I see… they need something more significant to motivate children. Luckily for me, I am like a bottomless well of ideas, so I came up with another approach. 

Let’s do it so that if you practice every day for three weeks in a row, you get to choose whatever toy you want out of the toy catalog (some may call it bribery, I call it… okay so it’s bribery :D). Yaaaaay!!! They’d never been more excited going through the catalog. 

This approach worked as well… for a whole three days before the excuses started, letting me know why it’s just not a good time right now to practice, and seven other things NEED doing before they can sit down and practice.

What busy lives do these little rascals lead. Soon I have to start making an appointment to spend time with them.

I understood that I had made several fatal mistakes.

First of all, the deadline was too extended. Three weeks is as much time for a five-year-old as it would take an average person to stroll once around the world, basically an eternity.

Second, we didn’t have a set time when they’d practice or tie it together with other established habits (for example, practicing right after breakfast or something like that).

Third, I didn’t keep track of them. Even adults need someone to guide them or hold their hand while getting used to new habits, let alone a child.

Despite my years of experience in leadership, I failed miserably with my kiddos.

I was about to wave the white flag of surrender when I happened to listen to a seminar by Marisa Murgatroyd where they talked about dopamine (funny how good things have a habit of dropping in your lap unexpectedly).

So dopamine; what is it, what causes it, and how can it help people achieve extraordinary results when used correctly? 

Dopamine has been called the molecule of motivation that causes the feeling of happiness. We tend to repeat activities that raise our dopamine levels. Duuh… seems obvious, right? 

The most important thing is to build a system that helps us win regularly. Most adults tend to give up if they struggle for a long time to reach that sense of victory or achieve that dopamine high. How can we expect our children to push through if we can’t do it ourselves? 

We need to listen, tune in, WANT to know and create systems to REMEMBER because the love languages that are not natural to us, we tend to forget about if not reminded consistently.

So here’s the winning formula to motivate children: activity – reward – activity – reward, and so on. It’s that easy!

It is the same formula used by computer games and other things that get people addicted to them. Why not use it for an educational and noble purpose instead?

The language learning app DuoLingo uses the same system, and they say that going through the 32-hour session on DuoLingo equals a whole language learning semester in college. That’s insane; consider my mind blown.

The same thing happens with the flying unicorn on the Asana app when you’ve finished something on your to-do list. They all use the same principle – creating dopamine so people would be addicted to keeping going. 

It works best if you cater to these four senses:

  1. Kinesthetic – physically putting a tick behind something to mark that it’s completed
  2. Visual – you have a place where you can mark it down
  3. Auditory – some sound
  4. Emotional – the sense of success


Okay, so I’m not interested in buying a new toy every single day. Shocker, I know :D. I also don’t want to give them candy and get them addicted to sugar.

I have a hard time keeping up with them already, so the last thing I need is them bouncing off the walls while on a sugar rush :D. 

So what would motivate children? Especially my five-year-old? I know! Money 😀 That cold hard cash. He’s been going on about how he wants to make some money and even asked what he could do or sell. 

We made a deal that he will get 50 cents for every time he practices in November, and ONLY IN NOVEMBER, and we called it the November Challenge.

I’m not interested in giving him money every time he practices for the next 10 years, or who knows how long he’ll keep it going, so I had to set a limit :D. But it worked… his eyes lit up like two flying saucers. 

I let him draw up a schedule himself so we’d use all the senses. He can put a tick behind every day that he’s practiced. This way, we’re covering both the kinesthetic and the visual sides. 

lapsi motiveerida

The emotional side is taken care of by feeling the sense of accomplishment because even though he only practices once a day, he’ll start getting better as time goes on, and he can feel it himself. 

Now, how to tackle the auditory sense? Since a single 50 cent coin doesn’t make a lot of sounds, I just had to save up 10s and 20s, and hearing them rattle got his enthusiasm up tenfold.

And if I was out of change, I just replaced the rattle with my enthusiastic ching-ching :D. I sounded so much like a slot machine you would think we’re running a casino at our house. 

Results? I didn’t have to beg him to practice for two weeks straight. All I had to do was ask him if he remembered to earn some money today, and off he went. Some days he does it as the first thing after he wakes up without me saying anything. Let me take a moment to clap myself on the shoulder… good job, momma, for finding the winning formula :D. 

Oh, the joy when we walked to the gas station and the young mister could choose whatever ice cream he wanted because he was paying for it himself with his hard-earned cash.

So, a win-win; the tunes get practiced, and the kids will pay for their treats and toys. Everybody’s happy and satisfied.

Let’s see what happens after November ends, but one thing is for sure – new habits are hard to stick to but using dopamine, and small victories as a tool for success goes a long way. 

It seems that our job as parents and leaders is to build systems that keep giving people these small victories, which motivates them to achieve bigger goals. Could you use this system on your kids or team? If so, how?

Generally speaking, something that causes addiction isn’t exactly viewed as a positive thing, but if we can get people addicted to positive activities which take us further in life, then hopefully, they won’t have time for the negative ones.

Have fun experimenting!

With Love,


P.S. If you got at least one idea out of this post, share this article with at least one other person who could also benefit from reading this. Everybody loves a boost of positivity! Thanks and talk to you soon:)


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