Once upon a time, when my sister and I were little we decided to play “Cinderella.” We cleaned our room until our mother came in to check on us and then pretended to be asleep. We would then jump out of bed, pick up as many toys as we could, and crawl back in bed before our mother opened the door again. This happened over and over until our room was clean. There was no reward for cleaning our room just a good feeling that we were helping our mother.
This is intrinsic motivation. We had a desire to do something good even though there is no reward. The following are three ways that a parent can help foster intrinsic motivation in their children.
1. Only expect a child to act their age
Jane Nelson, the author of “Positive Discipline,” encourages parents to expect their child to be able to accomplish tasks that are appropriate for her developmental level. Children need to be challenged, but when expectations are too high or two low children become discouraged and bored. When children are able to be successful at tasks that are just right for their age they feel accomplished, and it helps them to want to do the task.
2. Give choices
Young children want to be independent and love having choices! Make sure the choices you give your child are choices that you can live with. If you want your child to wear a blue outfit for family pictures, but you offer them a blue and a pink outfit to pick from, they will probably choose the pink outfit and then a power struggle will ensue.
Foster Cline and Jim Fay who wrote, “Parenting With Love & Logic” say that letting your children make small decisions can help build up your child’s confidence. By being able to make choices, children feel like their opinions matter, and they will want to continue to make choices because it makes them feel good inside.
3. Give appropriate praise
In the book, “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn, appropriate praise is explained as praising the effort made rather than the character of the child. For example, if a child brings home some artwork, comment on how long the picture took to make and all the colors that are used instead of the artwork itself or how good it, and the child, are. Ask the child how he feels about what he has created. Sometimes adults praise something, (in this example, the artwork), and the child does not really like what she has created. When this happens, the child feels like she only needs to do so good and it is enough. By helping a child to express how he feels, it increases intrinsic motivation within the child and helps him to be able to form opinions about the world around him.
Giving praise, choices, and developmental expectations take some getting used to. If practiced over time, children will have an increased desire to do what is right without extrinsic motivators. Children will be more likely to help around the home, be nicer to their siblings, and get their homework done if intrinsic motivation is cultivated. They may not want to play Cinderella, but they will more likely act with a positive attitude, and this will make it easier for everyone.