Motivation Formula—Part 2: When Kids Don’t Care About a Clean Room

Motivation Formula—Part 2: When Kids Don’t Care About a Clean Room


Self-motivation is natural and automatic, unless you’ve been taught that it’s “making yourself do something you don’t want to do.” 

In my previous post, Motivation Formula & How to Use It—Part I, I explained what self-motivation actually is and how it works.

My simple formula for self-motivation is:

Want + Possible = Action 

A reader tested this out and had a couple of questions that might have occurred to you as well. With her permission, I moved our conversation from the Comments section of that post to this Part 2 post.  


This [Part I] is really helpful. I can totally relate to “because I want a clean sink & mirror!” as that’s the only thing that has helped me clean recently.


However, I’m having trouble translating this to work, for something like writing up my yearly objectives… I most certainly don’t want to and don’t see the point, and I don’t find motivation in “I want to keep my job…”


For kids though, how do you motivate them if they don’t care about a clean room?—Delphine (child age 8)


Experiencing success with the motivation formula is the place to start, just as you did in recognizing what helps you start cleaning is wanting a clean sink and mirror and envisioning it. We do this subconsciously all of the time; bringing awareness to that process is what Part I is about.

Likewise with young kids, start with something they are happy to say they want, like playing a game. When a child pictures playing a game they want to play and knows it’s possible to play it, it is extremely hard for them to hold back. They want to run and do it right now! That’s the time to help them see how the motivation formula works and that self-motivation is already within them.

Once they “get it” and see how it works for things they like and want, then you can suggest they try a small challenge to see how it can help them with something they know they need to do, but don’t really want to do, but don’t mind too much. See if they can find something they want in the doing of the small task or just beyond.

For example, if the task is putting a toy away, maybe they can find a fun way to do it like slow motion, fast motion, or another creative approach, or if there is another toy they want and they know this one has to be put away first, challenge them to focus on the one they want and see how that helps. You can say, “You want to play with that one AND this one has to be put away. See how fast you can put this one away to get to that one! Go!”

All motivation is internal, so once kids start succeeding in harnessing their own motivation and understanding how they work, they can try it on bigger and bigger challenges. Pride in knowing they have self-motivation will get them through many challenges in life. This is the kind of Success Training that I talk about in many of my blog posts because it works so well for kids.

When you (or kids) don’t take action, the two places to look are: 1) at what you want, and 2) if you think that goal is possible. The task you don’t like at work is one that I’m guessing you actually complete each year despite not wanting to, so you probably are leaning on the distant want that you mentioned of keeping your job. Either that or something else you want has to be present for you to take action. Identifying the specific want could be helpful.

If it’s not wanting to keep your job, then it might be something closer at hand that you want or like but don’t recognize, like getting things done and checking them off your list, doing things well, being thorough, acting responsibly, keeping your word, or like your kids, finishing it so you can do something you’d rather do. The closer at hand the thing you want is and the more you want it, the easier it is to harness that want to help you take the action you need to take.

Often the thing that helps the most in connecting with what you want is being able to say what you don’t want as in, “I don’t like this task. I think it’s pointless! I don’t want to do it!” Saying what you don’t want out loud or under your breath often frees you up to take action. That’s because the first premise of Language of Listening® applies to us as well as to our children:

“Everything we say and do is a communication, and we must continue to communicate until we are heard.”

Wants are the most important thing we communicate, so if you can’t say you don’t want something, you will have to act that out, which often shows up as resistance to the action you need to do. Once that’s out, it’s much easier to focus on what you do want… even if it’s just wanting to get the stupid task done.

As for older kids who don’t care about a clean room, like I mentioned in Part I, check to see if they are resistant because they feel like they are, or have been, forced to clean. “They don’t care” is often what WE conclude when kids don’t take action based on OUR motivation (what we want). Most kids actually like a number of things about a clean room, but can’t tell us without fearing we will use it against them. Try Success Training with them, as above, with things they want to do, so they know they already have motivation before challenging them to use it to make cleaning their rooms less onerous.

When they are ready for the room-cleaning challenge, let them tell you how much they don’t want to do it, validate that by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE (read SAY WHAT YOU SEE® free online), then state your boundary clearly with an “and,” and help them focus on something they do want when the room is clean, so they can see how the motivation formula works for things they know they need to do as well as for things they know they want to do. Then, as I suggested in Part I, help them succeed with a series of two-minute tasks they can envision as possible.

For example:

SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS): “You really DON’T WANT to clean any of this. You hate cleaning! It’s a waste of your time…”


CAN DO: “You WANT to play your video game AND the room has to be cleaned first. Picture your game, picture your hands on the controls, picture your favorite part of the game. That will help you get this done really fast. Here’s something you can get done right now… grab all the clothes on the floor and put them in the hamper. Now, pick up the wrappers and throw them in the trash.”


STRENGTH: “Look at that! 2 minutes, and you cleared the floor. You are motivated to play that game!”


SWYS: “Now, you’re grabbing the covers and making your bed.


STRENGTH: “I didn’t have to say a thing. You knew what to do…”

Help kids like this a few times, point out their STRENGTHs along the way until they know they can do it quickly, and ease out by stepping out of the room between tasks until they eventually can do it all without you. Then… and this is very important… watch for that smile over a job quickly done or well done, or even over liking a clean room and point that out, too.

Wanting something is the true source of motivation; knowing it’s possible puts you in action. I hope you keep working with it and will let me know how it goes.


Absolutely brilliant! THANK YOU!!!


Helping our kids (and ourselves) stay in touch with what they want and making sure they know anything is possible is built into the three-part Language of Listening® Coaching Model. You can learn more about how it works by reading the online version of my handbook free, SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, and taking my online video-based Basic Coaching Skills Course.


  1. sus |

    When i speak like this my child thinks I am being sarcastic or condesending ( he hates the tone, thinks I sound like I am talking to a baby!) Can this work with strong willed, sensitive, aspergers teeneger!?

  2. Sus, his response must be frustrating for you! You are looking for ways to support and encourage him, and being met with resistance, but it sounds like you see potential in this coaching approach.

    Certainly tone matters, and what happens most often when children respond that way is that they sense that we have an agenda. Most of the time they are right. It’s hard not to since most of our conversations with our older kids are about something we wish they would do differently or haven’t done at all. They get sensitized to that and naturally expect it. Often recognizing our own intentions and validating that the child is right is the first step in honest communication.

    The hardest part of using SAY WHAT YOU SEE® for many parents and teachers is using it to accomplish nothing more than to get on the same page with your child; to step into their perspective and understand how they are right to act or react the way they do. That’s not something most of us have been raised to do, but the point is to get on the child’s side and see the situation like they do. Once you get that their point of view is valid (really take them at their word), STRENGTHs and CAN DO solutions that work for you and the child become almost obvious.

    SAY WHAT YOU SEE gives you a way to speak frankly based on what is happening in the moment. Seeing greatness as the truth of the child keeps it honest. Kids hate sugar-coated messages. All kids–regardless of age, temperament, Asperger’s or other challenges–respond to authenticity.

    To help you more I would need to hear the kind of dialogs you’re having that aren’t working (what you see, what you say, what he says, etc.). In the meantime, one thing you can check is if your statements are responses to what you are hearing and seeing, not attempts to initiate or direct the conversation. The point of Language of Listening® really is listening. That’s where the magic occurs.

    Another thing to check is that the kind of things you are noticing or validating are things that matter to the child, that they’re not contradictions of what he thinks or feels. Following the child’s focus is especially important with older children.

    One last thing, is that if you are getting a lot of eye-rolling, etc., then try responding with statements like, “Hmm. Too obvious. I must be missing something,” and let the child fill in what they want you to know.

    SAY WHAT YOU SEE is best thought of as reading a child. Everything you say comes from them, what they are doing, saying, feeling, and thinking. Understanding that what they want is important and recognizing their true intentions (which are always good) behind anything they are doing or haven’t done, really matters in connecting with kids.

    Thank you for your question. If I can be of further help, please let me know. –Sandy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *