By Wendy Harron - April 30, 2014

Motivation: How to Motivate 7-11 year-olds

Motivation: How to Motivate 7-11 year-olds


This age group is just so much fun to do IM with. They are generally easy to motivate if you can pull out your best best practices!

Young children are initially very externally motivated and will work for almost anything, including a jump in our ball pit, going to get a drink of water, goldfish crackers and yes, even prizes. Although it takes a little reward, they do tend to follow the rules that you both come up with.

I have many parents with children in this age group doing token or ticket reward systems. Most of these kids can understand waiting for a reward, and enjoy hoarding up their tokens to get more than anyone has ever gotten (lol smiley). Token systems are easy to come up with. First, talk to the parent. What are they willing to use as a middle and end goal? A middle goal helps the child to stay engaged with the activity. The end goal keeps them going for the rest of the sessions. I have had parents encourage their children to work for a trip to the ice cream shop, a baseball game, special toys, a video game, movie night, coupons for extra trips to the park, you name it! As you get to know your patient, you can keep them excited and keep their “eyes on the prize” until their discharge.

Make sure you get to know your client, as some children may not understand this type of reward system. I had one little boy with autism who needed motivation for each session. So, mom knowing this, went to the Dollar Store and got 15 little trinkets, one for each session if he did a good job. Another little boy was motivated by earning pennies for each burst he got, a nickel for each new exercise he tried and a dime for not complaining during the whole session. Although it didn’t really add up to much money, he was thrilled to have “all that” money in his wallet. I worked with a little girl with cerebral palsy who was motivated by popcorn, 1 kernel for each burst! One 11 year-old boy with autism loved earning a Pokemon card for each session. A 7 year-old With ataxia worked to watch a YouTube video of Disney world rides after a set number of exercises. As long as you are flexible, keep in touch with the parents and get the child excited, external motivation is easy.

Somewhere along the way, the child’s internal motivation may kick in, especially if you are the best cheerleader ever! They will want to get more bursts, do longer exercises and try more complex activities just to show you they can do it! I’ve had several boys with ADHD want to try to do a marathon activity for the full 60 minutes! Talk about learning to focus! And they love it when I try to distract them by tapping their shoulder with a water noodle, turning on and off the screen or making a racket in the room; plus, that makes it fun for me too!

To motivate this age in particular, it seems that including sensory-motor activities and games really keeps them going. Who says you can’t play checkers while tapping a switch with your toes, or stand on a bosu ball while you clap your hands?! That makes it more fun for the child and increases the challenge level as well. I also make use of our Velcro wall quite frequently by having them walk a balance beam while putting the alphabet in order, tap patterns of colored shapes in certain orders or doing the infinity 8 tapping at each end and middle of the symbol. There are so many things you can do with the Velcro wall, we will have to dedicate a whole blog just to that!

To sum it up, this age group is fun, pretty easy to motivate and will allow you to be creative. Allow them to help develop an activity. If it goes well, great! Ask them if you could teach it to another child! If it doesn’t go well, talk about it and move on; no need to dwell on the negative. I always feel like part of my job is to make that child feel that they are the best kid ever! Many kids in this age group may also be uncoordinated and lose their self-esteem, especially when it comes to physical activity. My patients with cerebral palsy just beam as they improve at a physical task like IM!

So, to wrap it all up, remember to cheer these kids on! Of course they are the “best 8 year-old boy wearing green sneakers who loves Mario” at that task! Also, have a reward system in place from the first visit! And finally, just appreciate and enjoy the cool kids that they are!


For more info on motivating children, check out some of Wendy’s other blogs.


Motivation and Success


Motivation: How to Motivate a Teenager!


Motivation: How to motivate the very young

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