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Motivating Your Kids During COVID-19 Homeschooling


Parents and children alike have been thrust into a unique situation as a result of COVID-19 related school closings. Schools are implementing at-home instruction out of necessity, including daily instruction via technology, such as Zoom or Google Classroom. Further, teacher-led instruction is often brief and for many youth, the school days are significantly shorter than normal. Like many parents right now, both my partner and I work from home, our ability to get out of the house is significantly limited, and all organized sports and activities for our 4th and 6th-grade children are suspended indefinitely. So, the question I continually ask myself is, “how in the world are we going to keep the kids motivated to do anything but stare at electronic devices over the unforeseeable future?”

Through Self-Determination Theory, Ryan and Deci (2000) offer insight into motivation and how to create environments that facilitate positive behaviors. A positive motivational climate can be created by significant others, such as parents and teachers, through demonstrating autonomy support. Autonomy-supportive environments “support choice, initiation, and understanding while minimizing the need to perform and act in a prescribed manner” (Standage et al., 2006, p. 102). In other words, autonomy-supportive parents give their kids some freedom to make choices, and perhaps even take initiative to do things depending on their age, as opposed to trying to control every decision. A parent might present a few physical activity options to their children. For instance, “Do you want to come for a walk with me or ride your skateboard in the driveway?”

When parents act in an autonomy-supportive way towards their kids, they help them to have more autonomy or choice, build competence in various skills, and enhance relatedness, or connection and sense of belonging, ultimately resulting in positive forms of motivation (McDavid et al., 2012). 

If giving your kids choice or demonstrating understanding has become exceedingly difficult due to our current reality, then perhaps try modeling positive behaviors. Research has shown when parents model preferred behaviors (e.g., exercising regularly, maintaining a regular work schedule and work location) that it results in a relatively small, but significant increase in self-determination for leisure-time physical activity (i.e., physical activity right after school, on the weekend, or during overall free time), leading to a large increase in leisure-time physical activity (McDavid et al., 2012). I’m sure many parents can relate; I have been much more effective at “walking the walk” than “talking the talk” over the last few weeks. This could look like exercising daily and scheduling your work-at-home days to enable productivity and execution as much as possible. By making those behaviors visible, it could help your kids say “yes” when you invite them to exercise with you or be more likely to adhere to a daily family routine.

Giving kids choice and trusting them to do the right thing is no doubt a tall task. It’s often easier to give orders or consequences even though demonstrating autonomy support or modeling positive behaviors are superior approaches. I’ll admit, it has been a struggle to keep my kids engaged after they finish their schoolwork, particularly in encouraging them to be physically active. To maintain an autonomous mindset, I’ll often extend suggestions about the types of physical activities that they have at their disposal in and around the house rather than forcing them to do something specific. We now realize that we have been reliant on organized sports and teachers to keep our kids active and educated. Now that all parents are being asked to break this pattern, here are a few ways to engage and motivate your kids as we all stay safe at home:

  1. Give choice within a daily structure: Help your kids create a daily routine while offering them choices within that structure. Outside of non-negotiables, refrain from dictating what they will do if possible. For instance, allocate one hour for physical activity and 30 minutes for reading each day while allowing them to pick when and what they want to do.
  2. Be a partner: While it may be difficult for working parents, try to exercise with your kids. Consider going for a bike ride or a walk or kicking the soccer ball around in the yard. Relatedness, or connection, is a key element of self-determined motivation. Your kids are much more likely to stay active if you make it normal by being active with them.
  3. Praise their accomplishments: Give your kids specific, immediate, positive feedback when they are successful. This will enhance their confidence and help motivate them to repeat positive behaviors. Maybe say, “that’s a great idea, I never would have thought of that” if they create a novel activity for themselves.

Remote learning has presented parents, like me, with many new challenges on a daily basis. However, the COVID-19 situation has presented us with an opportunity to improve our motivational strategies as parents to create sustainable enjoyment for our children in the future.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

McDavid, L., Cox, A. E., & Amorose, A. J. (2012). The relative roles of physical education teachers and parents in adolescents’ leisure-time physical activity motivation and behavior. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 99-107.

Standage, M., Duda, J. L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2006). Students’ motivational process and their relationship to teacher ratings in school physical education: A self-determination theory approach. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 77(1), 100-110.

photo of Michael Huber

By Michael Huber
Follow The Ball Mental Performance Coaching

Michael Huber is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant® through AASP, as well as a father, athlete, and mentor. Before entering performance coaching, he spent over 20 years as a successful business consultant working for globally recognized professional firms, such as Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Cushman & Wakefield. In 2017, he began his pursuit of a career in mental performance coaching in order to align his work with his mission of helping others reach their potential. Michael received his Master of Arts in sport psychology from John F. Kennedy University. Michael is the father of two children, Patrick, 13, and Lucy, 11, for whom he also serves as a volunteer sports coach.


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