Motivating our Children by Encouragement vs. Leading

I am incredibly lucky to be able to bike with my son to school everyday, through a reserve which leads to his school 🚲

My eldest son races ahead, every morning, because for him, being first matters a great deal. My youngest son takes his time, often lost in thought and distracted by a dog, or a flower, or an idea that has come into his head that it is of utmost importance to discuss with me at that very minute. 

This “in the moment” personality is a delight to be around when we have nowhere to be, but when he needs to be at school, every minute that goes by can feel like a “tick tick tick” in my internal clock of stress and anxiety. 

By using a morning routine checklist we have nailed the getting ready for school part, but getting to school requires me to reach into a different toolbox. 

Typically, I ride slightly ahead, looking and calling behind me with encouraging words “common buddy, you are doing so well!” and motivations “hey the earlier we get to school the more play time you will have with your friends” though in my head I must confess that I am screaming “please can you HURRY UP!!!!”. 

What I have noticed is that by the time we get to school, he often seems to feel harassed and frustrated, regardless of the words I have carefully chosen to use. I feel less connected to him than when we left the house, because let's face it, going on ahead is not going together

So this morning, I tried something different. Instead of leading from ahead, I encouraged from behind. I kept my bike behind his, gently coaxing him on, stopping when he stopped, and starting when he started. The difference was, I was with him, and I realised today that he really needs that. 

Some kids can be led from the front, or are motivated by being in the front.

For these children, being first is intrinsic motivation to take, and sustain, action.

This is my 9 year old to a tee (certainly when it comes to getting to school). 


But some kids need to be encouraged from behind.

Their motivation requires external support and I now understand that this is what my 6 year old needs from me. 

I can totally relate to my 6 year old. When I was a child I LOVED the idea of being first, but it rarely happened. Before I understood what I do now about my neurobiology and ADHD, I was so often late. I always felt like I was catching up, like I had to race ahead or I would be left behind.

And that was massively anxiety inducing. 

I look back on childhood experiences when I had someone behind or beside me saying “it’s ok, I am here, we can do this together” and the relief I felt was palpable. 

Figuring out whether your child prefers to lead or be led from the front, or needs gentle encouragement from behind, will help them get where they need to go with less stress and anxiety - for you both.

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