How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation, with Dr. Ellen Braaten

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Dr. Ellen Braaten was one of my first guests on the Tilt Parenting podcast, when she joined me back in 2016 to talk about her book about processing speed, Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up. I’m so happy to be bringing her back to the show to talk about motivation, which is the topic for her wonderful new book, Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less: How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation. 

In this episode, we explore motivation (or what we might perceive as a lack of motivation) in our kids from many angles, including what is really going on when our child appears to be unmotivated, the relationship between executive function and motivation, how resilience comes into play, and the way in which we as parents and caregivers can support our kids in gaining confidence and skills so they can make meaningful progress towards the things that light them up. 

I’ve already listened twice, read the book once, and will be going back for another read soon. If you’ve ever had the thought that your child doesn’t care about things that you feel they should care about, Ellen’s work can offer a great reframe for considering all things motivation. 


About Dr. Ellen Braaten

Dr. Ellen Braaten is the Executive Director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Braaten is widely recognized as an expert in the field of pediatric neuropsychological and psychological assessment, particularly in the areas of assessing learning disabilities and attentional disorders. She is the co-author of many books and articles for parents and professionals including the bestselling book, Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up. Her newest book, Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less: How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation was published in March of 2023.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • Why people sometimes misconstrue struggles with motivation as laziness (and how they’re getting it wrong)
  • How executive function challenges and challenges with getting, or staying, motivated are connected
  • What the parenting APP framework is and how it helps parents in supporting their children in feeling more motivated
  • What “flow” is and how can we leverage that to support our kids’ fledgling motivation
  • How to support kids in setting and working toward goals with kids who are particularly demand-avoidant


Resources mentioned for How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation

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Episode Transcript

Debbie Reber  00:00

Tilt Parenting is proud to partner with Fusion Academy this season. Fusion Academy is the world’s most personalized school with one to one classrooms that match your student’s pace and preferences so they can learn better, dive deeper, and never get left behind. Learn more about the most personalized school in the world and how it’s changed the lives of 10s of 1000s of differently wired students, including mine at 

Ellen Braaten  00:25

Resiliency is something we learn, we learn how to be resilient, because it’s like we reached a challenge, and we were able to get over it. And a lot of the kids with executive function issues don’t have that. They haven’t experienced enough success, to develop resiliency. So we’ve that ability to continue to try. We’ve got to understand that persistence might be impaired and our kids because they’ve never experienced enough of the payoff that comes from persistence.

Debbie Reber  01:01

Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber. Dr. Ellen Braaten was one of my first guests on the Tilt Parenting podcast when she joined me back in 2016 to talk about her book about processing speed, Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up. I’m so happy to be bringing her back to the show to talk about motivation, which is the topic for her wonderful new book called Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less: How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation. As the executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, Ellen is widely recognized as an expert in the field of pediatric neuropsychological and psychological assessment, particularly in the areas of assessing learning disabilities and attentional disorders. In this episode, we explore motivation, or what we might perceive as a lack of motivation from many different angles, including what is really going on when our child appears to be unmotivated the relationship between executive function and motivation, how resilience comes into play, and the way in which we as parents and caregivers can support our kids in gaining confidence and skills so they can make meaningful progress towards the things that really light them up. I have already listened twice, read the book once and we’ll be going back for another read soon. If you’ve ever had the thought that your child doesn’t care about the things that you feel they should care about. Ellen’s work can offer a great reframe, for considering all things motivation. Before I get to that, I’m excited to let you know about a special three part live event coming up until parenting. I’m partnering with my friend Amy Lange, one of the most respected experts on talking to kids about sexuality to bring you a series of three classes, especially for parents and caregivers of differently wired kids ages nine to 12. This special series is specifically tailored for our community and it’s not available to anyone else you’ll be learning with like minded people, which is always the best. Over a three week series, Amy will cover what neurodivergent kids need to know, puberty prep for parents of neurodivergent kids, and how to keep neurodivergent kids safer online. The classes will run for three consecutive Tuesdays starting Tuesday, July 11. And all the classes will be recorded in case you can’t attend live. And they’ll also include tons of resources to register, go to tilde, that’s to ed. Lastly, the doors to my Differently Wired Club are open this week. Please join us for the rest of the summer. If you’re craving a supportive community of parents navigating the same things you are plus virtual office hours, coaching calls, expert guests, and much more. Visit tilt to join us. Thanks so much. And now here is my conversation with Dr. Ellen Braaten kids and motivation.

Debbie Reber  04:19

Hey, Ellen, welcome back to the podcast.

Ellen Braaten  04:22

Thank you so much for having me again. I love being here.

Debbie Reber  04:25

It’s been many years, I think you were a guest of mine in the first year of Tilt Parenting where we talked about your book, Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up — such a good book and a great episode. So listeners go back and check that out if you haven’t because it is in the archives. But we’re going to talk about your new book today. And before we get into that, I’ve read your bio, but if you could tell us a little bit more about the work you’re doing in the world today. Your wife are doing it maybe what’s exciting you about the work you’re doing today.

Ellen Braaten  04:53

Oh, that’s a great question. So I am a child psychologist who specializes in neuro psychology for my clinical work, which means I assess kids with learning and attention and emotional differences and issues, and I’m also a researcher, I am an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. So I have both of these wonderful parts to my work, where I’m working with kids and also getting to study them as well. And so my first book really came out of the fact that I was seeing a lot of kids struggling to sort of keep up. And a lot of them had learning disabilities or ADHD, but not all of them did. I think I first started thinking about that book about 12 years ago or so. So I wrote the book, I’ve studied what we call processing speed issues. And in the last five to six years, I was seeing a lot of kids who were having troubles getting motivated, staying motivated. And what I found was, what I thought was that many of those kids were the bright kids who couldn’t keep up who were growing up. And so I thought, oh, maybe it’s just kids with processing speed issues, because that was sort of my area of research and my area of clinical expertise. But a lot of kids didn’t have issues with processing speed, they didn’t have any kind of issues. Maybe they were a little anxious, or a little depressed. But they were really just feeling mad about life. And their parents were calling me worried. And so that’s really the area that I became interested in. And in 2019, I approached my publisher, because they were eager for me to write another book. I said, What about a book sort of about kids who couldn’t care less then? Actually, our working title was Bright Kids Who Don’t Give a ___  and you can just fill in the blank. And it was really about kids who had a lot of issues, really significant trouble, and then 2020 happened. And so many kids are having trouble staying motivated, and adults for that matter. And so the book kind of broadened its scope into talking about motivation, how do we understand ourselves? How do we use our understanding of our kids, and even ourselves to increase motivation, but really more than just motivation, but our love of life, and a way of living in the world that’s more in line with who we are, and who we see ourselves to be. So that’s kind of taken over now my area of research and clinical work, I talked more about the books than I did about what I do. But I love to write, I really still enjoy my work as a neuropsychologist, and also the work that I do in my research.

Debbie Reber  07:47

Yeah, it seems like such a great blend of things I can tell just in your voice that you’re kind of in flow, which we’ll talk about later, that this is kind of a very sweet spot for you. And it benefits all of us. So I’m so grateful for that. You mentioned your book, it’s called bright kids who couldn’t care less how to rekindle your child’s motivation coming out of COVID. It’s such an important topic. And within my community motivation comes up all the time, in so many different contexts. So this word laziness, a lot of conversations about laziness? Is it laziness? Or, you know, my kid could do better, but they’re not. And could we even start with definitions of motivation and laziness? How would you break those down?

Ellen Braaten  08:31

Sure, well, laziness is more like an adjective. It’s a way of describing somebody’s behavior. But it really doesn’t mean much. I mean, we can all feel lazy when we’re like, Oh, I’m tired. It’s really, it’s not a very good term to think about when we’re thinking about kids, because most kids are not lazy. It’s really more about an issue of motivation and motivation is the why. Or it’s the reason we do the things that we do. So motivation can have a lot of different reasons. And there are lots of psychologists who have hypothesized about that. We get motivated because we want to do something. So we because we like it, we want to do things because we want to sort of maintain our psychological status quo, meaning, you know, we want to not be too much on edge, and not too unmotivated. So for example, we watch an exciting TV show when we’re bored, or we take a bath when we’re motivated to take a bath when our arousal levels are high. So that’s another reason for motivation then, other psychologists have talked about motivation in the way of and we might some, your listeners might remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and at the top is sort of self actualization at the bottom are physiological needs. And so we’ve got to think about motivation in that way, if we don’t have our basic needs met If we’re not really motivated to do some of those higher things, for instance, friendships in that life or belonging needs are kind of in the middle. So if our friendships aren’t going very well, the higher needs for self esteem aren’t going to be very motivational for us. So it’s motivation, I guess it was what I’m saying. It’s complicated. There are a lot of pieces that make up reasons why we’re motivated. So we can look lazy when we’re not motivated. But it’s complicated.

Debbie Reber  10:34

Yeah, it is really complicated. There’s a part of motivation that seems to be almost like resilience or grit, this kind of thing that we’re striving for. But it seems like there’s no pathway to follow these steps. And you instantly have a motivated child. And certainly that is the case, as you share. A lot of this is about us really getting to know our kids on a deeper level and understanding ourselves as well. I’d love to talk about these three major components of motivation, you describe them as initiation. So initiation being the decision to begin an activity, persistence, the effort we put in, and intensity, the stamina required. So as I was reading that in your book, I was thinking, yeah, those are executive functions. You speak to that. And so what came up for me is, so many of our kids are struggling with executive function challenges. And we’re always led to think about how can we have our kids have more buy in, so that they’re motivated to work on these executive functions? Yet those executive functions are key components of motivation. So I was having like a chicken and an egg moment, as I was reading about this. And I’m wondering if it’s similar, like the relationship between executive functions and motivation, could you tease that out for us a little bit?

Ellen Braaten  11:51

Yeah, I think you did a great way of explaining this motivation really has three different parts. I see a lot of kids with executive function issues with slow processing speed or ADHD, they start the semester, I really want to do well this semester. And so it’s that initiation is that decision that I’m going to get started on this task. But it also includes the ability to get started on this task. And so that’s an important component. And a lot of kids with executive function, have trouble initiating or getting started on tasks. So they want to succeed, they don’t know how they don’t know how to get started. And so if that’s an issue for your child, that’s a key if we haven’t fixed that, you’re gonna have a child who’s in that constant circle of being unmotivated, because it’s like, I was motivated to do it, but I didn’t have the tools in order to get started on it. So therefore, motivation isn’t something that I can even tap into. And then we have persistence, which is that effort that we put toward continuing to stick with it. So it’s sort of like, Alright, I got started on the history paper. I really love history, you know, you’ve got kids who even struggle in certain aspects of academics but love the subject. All right, you help them get started, but they don’t know how to try and you mentioned resiliency, and all of that colors this, but resiliency is something we learn, we learn how to be resilient, because it’s like we reached a challenge. And we were able to get over it. And a lot of the kids with executive function issues don’t have that. They haven’t experienced enough success, to develop resiliency. So we’ve that ability to continue to try, we’ve got to understand that persistence might be impaired in our kids, because they’ve never experienced enough of the payoff that comes from persistence. And then that intensity, that concentration, that is important that stamina, is also hard for kids with executive functioning because of the attentional aspects that it takes to concentrate and be intense. Obviously, kids can struggle in all three of these areas. But it’s really good to take a look at, is one more of a chronic problem for my child than the other? Because that can be a useful place to start a conversation. You mentioned too, that I wish there was a how to list – there’s a five step for increasing motivation. It’s not like that motivation is something we all struggle with on a day to day basis. We have to be motivated to do the things that are on our list. We’ve got to be motivated to get McCargo to work. We’ve got to be motivated. These are skills that your child is learning so we’ve got to look at this as an opportunity to help them build that skill. I use an example of something like saying to your child you know, I saw you were excited to start that project that your teacher asked you to do. I know the topic is something you’re passionate about. What’s getting in the way of helping you get it done? What do you need? What can I do to help? And that’s really what I talk a lot about in the book is that it’s a lot about having conversations with our kids about what’s getting in the way, while using our expertise as parents or even teachers as figuring it out, too. So I’m not sure I answered your question exactly about the executive function skills. But we’ve got to look at these things as working hand in hand, that the motivation is requiring executive function skills. And we can use our knowledge about how we build executive function skills to build motivation.

Debbie Reber  15:49

That’s great, you absolutely answered it and more and make so much sense. And I want to point out for most scenarios, one of the things that I really loved about your book is at the end of every chapter, you have something called Think talk do so you provide prompts for what we should be and want to be thinking about as it relates to the content, you just shared, what we want to talk about with our kids, and you have really wonderful suggestions and some language as well to really get to know your child’s perspective or where they are with that topic, and then what to actually do so it’s very practical in that way. When you were on the show for the first time, again, we were talking about slow processing speed. And you wrote that you’ve noticed many kids with a slower processing speed, especially ones who didn’t get appropriate treatment or accommodations grow up into kids who don’t care. That was really interesting to me. Could you say a little bit more about that?

Ellen Braaten  16:44

Yes, so without the appropriate accommodations. So what happens when we are put into situations that we chronically can’t manage, that we can’t be successful in becoming unmotivated is the absolute and the end thing that happens, we can’t help it, you can’t live a life where you’re chronically feeling like, I can’t do the work that I’m asked to do within the timeframe that I’m asked to do it. So without those appropriate accommodations, and even an appropriate understanding. So for kids with still processing speed, it’s not even getting the right accommodations in school, like the extra time, all of those things that we talked about, I don’t want to spend too much time talking about that. But as even sort of looking at those kids over the course of a lifetime, that they’re going to be perhaps slower than we think they should be in our society, that they should meet those timely goals. For instance, I talk about going to college right after high school, or even being ready for kindergarten at the same time. Of course, parents don’t always have a neuro psych evaluation that shows their child’s processing speed at age four. But we tend to know our kids that they like, it just seems like he’s slower than everybody else in simple things like putting on his shoes, brushing his teeth in the morning, it just takes longer. And if like takes longer when we’re talking about a morning activity, it’s gonna take longer, we talk about a lifetime. And that’s okay. So I find that what happens with kids, a lot of kids actually, with low motivation, or couldn’t care less, but particularly your kids with processing speed, they start even in middle and high school to look like unmotivated kids because they look at the future. And they say, I’m not going to be ready for the life that you seem to think I need right now. And what you’re saying is at 18, I’m going to have to go to college, when I can barely manage the sorts of tasks you’re asking me to do now in eighth grade. And so they show us they don’t know, we don’t even know. But they show us that they’re not prepared by not doing things by saying I can’t do what you’re asking me to do. And that’s basically what an unmotivated person looks like. Like, again, bringing up that concept of laziness, but really, it’s like, I can’t do this. Nobody likes being lazy. Unless we’re really talking about sitting by a pool on vacation. It’s just that no one likes it. We don’t, it’s not something that makes us happy. So yeah, so the kids with slow processing speed. They look a little bit unmotivated just by their characteristics. And so they kind of grow into this thing that everyone expects them to be.

Debbie Reber  19:45

We’ll be right back after a quick break. Every student is so different, but traditional schools treat them all the same. That’s why my teen attends Fusion Academy, the world’s most personalized school. Fusion is especially great for differently wired students. Their one to one classrooms match your student’s unique pace and preferences so they can learn better, dive deeper and never get left behind. Fusion has 80 convenient campus locations across the country for grades six through 12, along with a fully online campus, Fusion Global Academy. Fusion has been a game changer for my family. Why not experience the world’s most personalized school for yourself? Fusion is now enrolling for both summer catch up courses and full Fall Enrollment. Sign up for a free one to one trial session at That’s 

Debbie Reber  20:38

A lot of the book is about parents’ expectations, which I appreciated so much. That’s a lot of what we talk about until parenting is this mismatch between what we expected life would be as a parent, what we expected our kids to be like and what is actually happening. And you wrote in a chapter called the parenting app for motivating kids you wrote, if you’re thinking your child doesn’t seem to like anything, is it possible that she just doesn’t like what you expected? I thought that was so beautifully stated. And you then go on to present this framework, the parenting app, these three essential things that parents really should be considering when they’re thinking that their child isn’t motivated, or they’re at risk of not being motivated. Would you mind breaking down the parenting app for us?

Ellen Braaten  21:25

Sure. So I developed this because I was having trouble getting a good framework for how do we conceptualize motivation? And then what do we do? So the parenting app stands for three different areas: aptitude, pleasure, and practice. And so I break each one of these down into chapter two. And aptitude really talks about what is my child good at doing? And that’s really, we’ve got to think back to your question or your reflection about Sometimes the issue with motivation is what we thought our child was going to be who we thought our child was going to be. And that’s okay, we’re always going to have that. It’s just part of parenting, we think our child is going to be all the things that we wanted ourselves to be. It’s normal. Throughout history, this is what happens. But what we want to do is look at who our child is. And that’s where the aptitude comes in. What is my child good at doing? And sometimes when you’ve got a really unmotivated child, you’ve lost track of that, in some ways, we know because we’ve got a neuro psych avow, or a school evaluation. Great. But in a lot of cases we don’t. And so you need to start thinking about your child. Where’s my child happiest? How much time does my child spend doing the things they like to do? What are their strengths? We’ve got to start thinking about strengths is more than just good grades. They’re smart. But what about things like kindness, and empathy, and all the kinds of characteristics that actually make us good humans, we lose track of that. And a lot of times unmotivated. Kids are good at all of the things that we don’t tend to value in childhood, like creativity, curiosity, bravery, honesty, zest for life, all of those things. So that’s aptitude. And then pleasure is what are the kinds of things we like doing? And sometimes those are the things we’re good at doing. But sometimes it’s not. So think about the child who’s really good at playing the violin or at soccer was like, Yeah, but I don’t want to do that mom, like, I don’t care that I’m good at soccer, and you love coaching it. It’s not what gives me pleasure. And so looking at, what are the sorts of things that my child’s likes doing? And then practices? What are the sorts of things that my child does when they have time to do it? So what are the sorts of activities they returned to without me prompting, everybody’s gonna say video games. And that’s true, but a lot of times, kids do video games to blow off steam, not because they actually love doing it, they might like doing it. But just like, for me, I scroll through Instagram, when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s like, oh, I don’t want to get started on something, I find myself. Do you know what I mean? So to those three areas, we want kids to be sort of in the center of what their aptitudes are, what gives them pleasure, and what they tend to like spending time doing. So that’s what that is. And it’s a framework for sort of rethinking or starting to think about, all right, if I want to motivate my child, before I even think about the goals, I’ve got to think about who my child is, what they like doing and what they spend time doing.

Debbie Reber  24:57

Yeah, I love that and also control. They relate to the Instagram scrolling as in my mind, I’m saying what are you doing? Debbie? This is such a waste of time yet I can’t. I just need to sink into it sometimes.

Ellen Braaten  25:09

Yep, yep. Yeah. And I think being conscious of it helps. There’s a term for it. And I didn’t write it down. Somebody said this to me. But it’s like, it’s not even Doom scrolling. It’s like boredom, scrolling. And that it’s like, oh, when I’m feeling maybe even a little anxious, or, I got so much to do. That’s okay. So give us a break. We even do that when our kids come home from school, it’s a lot for you to handle, what do you need to do to sort of chill out? So maybe going for a walk might be better for me. But maybe for a child, you know, it’s jumping on a trampoline, or could be playing video games for 30 minutes. All right, do it, let yourself engage in it and now embrace the next step?

Debbie Reber  25:50

Well, I also just want to say I love the focus on strengths. And so you talk a lot about that in the book, and that you presented all these different ways to look at strengths, including character strengths, which I think is so important. The pleasure chapter, I also thought was super interesting. And you talk about opposites. And you describe the opposite of pleasure as being apathy. You said that can be a sign of depression, or anxiety, but not always. And apathy is one of those really hard things for parents because it feels for so many of us like this is a choice, just care about something right? It feels really hard for I think, parents if they believe that their child is apathetic, and I’m wondering if you have any other insights to what is behind apathy, if we’re noticing that,

Ellen Braaten  26:35

I think apathy comes, especially for kids when they don’t know exactly what to do. So we become apathetic when we don’t have good goals. And when we don’t know what the next step is, for us, apathy can also be signs of depression, it can also be a sign that your child is lost friendships, you want to ask them, I see that you’re spending a lot of time doing X, Y, or Z, spending time in your bed, bedroom, whatever it is, you want to define what that is, and then talk to them about that. But most of the time, it has a root in anxiety, combined with a lack of a goal. A lot of times I find kids looking like they’re apathetic because they’ve been doing something and it didn’t work out. And parents and kids don’t know what the next step should be. For a lot of kids that set spinning their wheels phase. And so the best thing to do about that is to start to think about, okay, what’s the next step. And I also should say to some kids become apathetic, because they’ve got too much on their plate. So even as adults, again, I try to connect this to us, because this happens with us, too. We become apathetic, when it’s like, I have too many things to do. So I’m just going to do none of them or nothing looks good. When we’re over challenged, we can become apathetic too, so want to make sure this isn’t just an issue with kids who have learning differences or processing speed issues. But also for some of those high achieving kids who are like, I’m done. Five AP classes, and like, I just don’t care about life anymore, can hit a lot of different kids in a lot of different ways that what looks like a super motivated kid can become an apathetic kid, because they’re like, I’m overwhelmed.

Debbie Reber  28:28

I love that you relate that as well to an adult experience. Maybe this is just me talking. But I don’t think I’m alone here that we forget that our kids have their own internal experience, and all the things that at this point in our lives, I’ve learned so many hacks for myself, and I’ve worked through so many different emotional ups and downs, and how to navigate lack of motivation and all of these things. And we feel like our kids should get it because we tell them one thing, and we have this wisdom to share. And we forget that our kids are on their own journey of developing and growing and learning these things. It’s something they have to go through.

Ellen Braaten  29:05

Yeah, totally. And that’s why I, like you mentioned at the end of every chapter, is like what to think about, it’s really what the parents can think about. And a lot of times it relates to their child, but also to us. And that they’re watching our journey as we’re doing it. So if we have a life that’s not filled with a lot of pleasure, how do we expect them to find pleasure in their lives? Most parents will say to me, almost like when I asked what are your expectations for your child? I want my child to be happy. But yet, we as parents aren’t always continuing our quest for happiness. At the same time that our children are, we’re putting this pressure on them. We want our kids to be happy. Well, you know what, maybe we should be working on ourselves a little bit more about that, and figuring out what gives us pleasure, because that’s a role model to we think about, oh, it’s important for us to be reading so our kids develop a love of reading Do we also need to be tapped into? What’s making us happy? And not just our kids are making us happy? But what is it that we loved? And what is it that we could be doing? I’m not saying we should all just run off to Italy and learn cooking, but that we should infuse our life with pleasure so that we can provide good role models for our kids about what pleasure means to them or for them.

Debbie Reber  30:23

I’d like to run off to Italy and do some cooking. That sounds really nice.

Ellen Braaten  30:27

I’d love to run off to Italy to have someone cook for me, actually. But yes, yeah.

Debbie Reber  30:32

You just shared these three components in the framework. So there is aptitude, pleasure and practice, and you present them in the form of a Venn diagram that we’re kind of building. And you talk about flow as living in the center of that Venn diagram. Can you talk about what flow is and how we can recognize when our kid is in flow? Yes, so

Ellen Braaten  30:54

flow was a term that was developed by a very famous psychologist who I always have trouble pronouncing his name Csikszentmihalyi, I think is how you pronounce his name. And he really studied the pursuit of happiness. And it’s that state where we are, we’re so engrossed in a task that we forget to eat lunch. It’s that state that we’re in where we’re not overly challenged or unduly challenged, but just blissfully happy. It’s not even that state of writing a paper or something like that. But just that state of where we’re really in that sweet spot, where we can feel confident, and we’re being challenged, but just enough, we need to have the skills so that we can be at that level. And so we don’t want a task that’s too challenging. But if we’re very skilled in a certain area, we do have to have challenging tasks. I don’t know if I explained that correctly, but it depends on our skill level. So if we’re just learning something, we want the task to be such that it’s just hard enough for us to be able to do it well, but to also be just inching up our way to another level in that skill. So to move kids from apathy to flow, we’ve got to have two things to happen. They need to feel successful in their ability to complete the task. And they need the environment to challenge them to think it’s an environment situation, and also a skill situation. And I find that those two things aren’t always in tandem, when we’re finding kids who are struggling. So either kids are put into situations where they’re not challenged enough, so they seem apathetic or unmotivated. So we move them down a section in their math class, there’s either that or there’s a push for them to be less bored, or they need to be more challenged. And so we need to think about both of those to get that dynamic, correct is kind of troubling, and you’re not going to fix it overnight. But you need to sort of think about what does my child need to be in that flow to add more services? Do they need fewer services? Do they need to be challenged, but we’ve got to kind of think about that. And then I think there are also things that get in the way of flow, and that tend to make kids more apathetic, not enough sleep, for example, if we’re tired, we can’t be in flow. And we forget to mention how much sleep is part of all of these things that we’re talking about. When kids are overscheduled, it’s hard to be in a flow. If we’ve got too much in our calendar, we don’t have time to be in that sweet spot. And so I think those are other things that get in the way of being in that flow.

Debbie Reber  33:51

Yeah, so as you’re talking, I’m thinking about the connection between that flow state, and motivation. I think so many parents, again, going back to expectations, we want our kids to be motivated about the things that we think are important, and correct me if I’m wrong, but what I’m hearing is that we want to help identify those places where our kids are in flow, because that is actually a very motivating place for them to be. And it’s not that we can then take the motivation there and pivot it to the things that we care about, but rather, how can we build you’re talking about goodness of fit, where can we build their strengths and continue to grow motivation in places where they’re already feeling that am I getting that right?

Ellen Braaten  34:36

You’re getting it perfectly correctly? Yes. That’s exactly what we want to do. Kids need time to be able to do that. And that’s where it takes time for us to find the things that we love. Oftentimes, in the course of a life again, sort of bring it back to you we lose that you know, what was the last time you felt happiest as a parent? Now up Why that to your child? Like, for me, I love writing, I don’t always have the time that I want to do that. But when I keep that in mind it is like, Okay, I’ve got to build that time for doing nothing, not just to say I’m going to sit down. But I’ve got to build time into thinking about that. So if you’ve got a child who’s creative, if you’ve got a child who loves music, or something, you’ve got to build that time. And you’ve also got to build in time for kids to putz around, to find what it is that they would like to do in order to reach that flow.

Debbie Reber  35:33

Yes, one of the things that you address in the book that I actually haven’t seen come up in many of the books I’ve read and covered on the show, is this idea of temperaments. And that really resonated for me, we talked about brain wiring and neuro divergence and things like that. But temperament as a concept doesn’t often come up. And it really jumped out at me is something that’s a consideration. There’s the nature versus nurture, but who is our child? And what is their kind of natural inclination? And how important is it to understand how their temperament fits into all of this? Is there anything that you can walk us through with that concept?

Ellen Braaten  36:10

Yeah, first of all, I’m so glad you brought this up. Because when I was writing the book, my editor was like, what do we need temperament again, because in a lot of psychology books, it’s part of child development. But we don’t really use it as a way of describing kids as they grow. So temperament is really that general behavioral style, that it’s the way we react to and express and regulate our emotions. And we talk a lot about temperament when we have a baby or do they have an easy temperament or a less easy temperament? Is it the kind of child who’s crying all the time colicky, and it’s funny, because I just have my first great, nice, a great amp now makes me feel old, but she’s only a month old. And two weeks after she was born, there’s this picture of her where her arms were outstretched above her head. And she looked like she was sort of yelling. And somebody remarked in the picture on Facebook, oh, that looks just like her. Now she’s only 14 days old. But already people were making remarks about her temperament, that she’s kind of a strong willed baby. And those labels, either shy or easy baby versus strong, those things last. And those labels, I will have parents come in with a 14 year old and say, Oh, he was hard from the day he was born. And those we’ve got to explore, what are the kinds of labels we put on our child from the very beginning. And some of them are accurate, but a lot of them aren’t. And you know, things like, are they a very agreeable kind of kid? Did they move with the punches? And then we also have to understand our own temperament? Are we the sort of person who’s more extroverted or introverted, our child is the opposite? Are we having disagreements about that, but I also think it’s important for us to reframe our language about some of these temperamental characteristics, like the difficult baby, we can also look at that as strong willed, and I put some of these in there, the Bossy toddler, we could reframe that as determined, or the slow kind of kid, the easygoing baby, you don’t feel like oh, C’s been slow since the day you know, he was born, we could say easy going, you know, slow, can be easy going. The Annoying kind of kid is a persistent person, too. And we can help us that that doesn’t mean that sometimes these labels are absolutely correct. You know, kids can have sort of an annoying personality. But there’s a way that we can use that to reframe the way we think about our kids and how they think about themselves. Because they grew up to think I’m an annoying person. Nobody likes me. All right, you know what it is, but let’s look at it as persistence. Let’s look at that picky eater as the discerning kind of eater. It’s not like we want to just pretend these things aren’t happening. But we want to help reframe it because those sorts of labels are very demotivating to us, as we come into ourselves.

Debbie Reber  39:15

Yeah, it really did jump out at me. I think for those very reasons. I think the label that I use often is tricky to describe a lot of the kids in this community and my own human? Challenging, strong willed, spirited, I guess, spirit, it could be negative or positive. But anyway, I really just appreciated that you included that as part of this.

Ellen Braaten  39:36

Yeah, and tricky. I think that that’s good, too. We like tricky and in a lot of ways. It means it’s complicated means we have to think about it, it means that you know what, this child deserves my highest level of concentration when I have it, because we don’t we’re not limited, but to kind of think about that as it’s tough, but it also means that it’s good challenged me to be a better mom to or dad, or you know, parent,

Debbie Reber  40:04

good reefing. So part three of the book is keys to helping your child care more. And you have a chapter where you talk about goals. And I’m gonna pull out a quote from the book, kids who couldn’t care less are very often kids without goals. If they do have goals, the goals aren’t often shared by the people who love them. So identifying appropriate goals and using them to motivate behavior and find meaning in life is one of the most important ways to help your child. I want to say, first of all that I love that and as a goal oriented person, I wrote a book for teens on how to set and reach goals I’m all in. And I know that so many parents in my community have kids who are very demand avoidant, and might really bristle at the thought of creating a goal that might feel like a demand. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts for parents who want to lean into developing goals to help their child feel more motivated, but they’re worried their kids might push back.

Ellen Braaten  41:03

Nobody likes to have goals forced on them. That’s a demand. And we hate that everyone hates it, kids hate it the most. I do talk about setting goals, but there are better books like yours, on how to do that in depth. My book really talks about how to use that information about our kids as a way of starting those conversations about goals. And so I think the best way to approach goals is by starting a conversation about it. And the one thing I find that parents that I work with have trouble with is they don’t realize it. Maybe you could even give me better words to describe this. But a goal is sort of an aspiration that needs to change. And that we’re always disappointed when we don’t make our goals. But really, it’s just a first step. And goals need constant revising. And we don’t have that as part of the whole goal setting. But I think the best way to start with a really unmotivated child is to get them to talk about, what are the sorts of things you want to do. And you might have to start with what makes you happy? And they might even come back and say, well, nothing. And then you’ve got to have a discussion about that. But let’s say they can come up with some things, then it’s what do you look forward to doing? You know, what are the sorts of things that make you feel excited? What do you want to get out of this school year? What do you want to do after high school? And to even have questions? Even in middle school? It’s not going to be that long before you start high school and finish high school? Where do you see yourself, and some kids are going to talk about college and others aren’t even having things to talk to them about? What kinds of things are hard for you, but you’d like to do them anyway? And what are the sorts of things that are easy for you, but you hate doing them? So those are the sorts of things and they should be part of the family’s vocabulary. Lots of talking about those sorts of things. What do you hope to accomplish this school year, this season, this week, you know, in your history class, all of those sorts of things are really good ways of starting to think about goals and goal setting.

Debbie Reber  43:16

Thank you and listeners, I want to reiterate, the book is called Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less: How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation. And I really just enjoyed this book, because it made me think really critically about my role, where I’m stuck. You talk about having a flexible mindset. But it’s not just for our kids, it’s for us as well. And there’s so much goodness in here to really help us change our thinking about what motivation looks like, and then how to really support our kids in experiencing just more pleasure and competency in their own life. So is there anything before we say goodbye, that we didn’t touch upon that you would really want to make sure listeners take away from this conversation.

Ellen Braaten  43:59

I just want to mention, too, that there are times when this kind of demotivated kid needs more than just the sorts of things we’ve talked about. And just the behaviors that are of concern are the things that you want to look at. And you know, when you need to reach out for help are constant feelings of low self esteem, feeling inferiority, others, lots of problems, getting along with peers or no friends, feelings of anxiety, depression, changes in sleep, and all the things that are indicators for significant anxiety and depression. And if that’s happening, a lot of the things we’ve talked about aren’t going to work because we’ve got to treat the child for the depression or the anxiety. You can have some of these discussions, but it’s really hard to even talk about what makes you happy if you’re really depressed. So just be aware of that. Don’t be afraid to seek help, if that’s what you think might be happening, and make sure that you take care of that as well.

Debbie Reber  45:01

Thank you for that. I know that that is going to resonate with so many listeners who are raising kids who are having mental health challenges right now. So thank you for that. And where would you like listeners to check out you and your work?

Ellen Braaten  45:15

My book is available in your local bookstores where you can order it from your local bookstores, if they’re not there, and all of the normal places, Barnes and, and all of that. I also have a website, where you can get more information about this and also about processing speed and some of the other things that we’ve talked about.

Debbie Reber  45:37

Awesome. Thank you, listeners. I have links to that in the show notes. As always. And Ellen, this has been such a great conversation. I so appreciate everything that you shared with us today. Thank you so much.

Ellen Braaten  45:48

Oh, you’re so welcome. I loved it too.

Debbie Reber  45:53

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