By Wendy Harron - May 29, 2014

Motivation: How to motivate the very young

Motivating Young Children


Children aged 6 and younger are just so cute! However, their attention span is so short. I have struggled with these little ones more than once during IM sessions. I do IM with the younger children because it’s been proven to help very young children, even infants. The more typical challenge for me is 4-6 year old kids. They are old enough to know what they want to do and when they want to do it! Persuading them to be an active participant in IM can be very difficult to say the least.

Now, children this young are very externally motivated. They do most everything for someone else or for a reward or prize. The good thing is that stickers and goldfish go a very long way! There is nothing like a young child going back out to their parent with their shirt covered in reward stickers for getting “green lights” or bursts! They want to please and are just so proud when they do. The trick is to get them participating in the activities we present.

At this level, the activities need to be bright, captivating and fun! You also may find that especially for the youngest tykes, they can be very simple. One 5 year old I was working with loved My Little Pony. So, I asked her to bring them in to show me. She was so excited when she brought her ponies in to play with Miss Wendy. I “oooohhhed” and “aaaahhhed” over them and then I asked her if her ponies could jump! “Of course they can Miss Wendy, watch!” Then, she proceeded to make them jump on the table. At that time I had an aha moment. So, we got out a big Mack switch, and the next thing you know those ponies were jumping on the switch to the beat! It was the best score she had gotten and she was very focused on making the ponies jump at just the right time. It was a success!

If you want to motivate, just let your creative juices flow. What is your little ones passion at the moment…ponies, superheros, Mickey Mouse, Dora, Elmo, Jake and the Neverland Pirates or Doc McStuffins? You can use that to your advantage! Have them bring in those toys and let them be a part of the session. One of my favorite best practices is having them hold a toy in each hand and use 2 switches. Have the child cross midline to make the toy jump on the switches.

Pictures are another way to go. I print out small pictures (let’s say of all the Toy Story characters), laminate them and put a tiny piece of Velcro on the back. I then use them on the Velcro wall as the child arranges them into a long parade. Then, with switch in hand, they must tap each character to the beat. Having them name the character while they tap is an even higher level of difficulty!

Sticker charts are also very effective with this age group as they need their reward instantly. For even younger children or toddlers, you may even want to just clap or sing a song! Keep it simple! One little guy I had got to ring the IM cowbell after he finished an exercise. Another child got a lollipop that mom brought in for him. Just make sure the parent is aware of your reward system plans so they can reinforce your program. If a lollipop is a reward for a good IM session, then mom shouldn’t be letting them have lollipops during the week. Kids are very smart and will figure out that they get a lollipop without doing any work.

So, if you have an uncooperative child, pick and choose your battles. If they won’t wear headphones, use speakers. If they won’t wear the switch on their hand, but will on their leg, make it work! You can do it! Motivate them in crazy and silly ways and you will be amazed at how their results and participation level soars!


For more info on motivating children, check out these other blogs by Wendy.


Motivation and Success


Motivation: How to Motivate a Teenager!


Motivation: How to Motivate 7-11 year-olds

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