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Helping Your Child Build Intrinsic Motivation

It’s very common in schools and parenting to give rewards for positive behavior. I do not necessarily think that is wrong, but I do believe it needs to be done within reason. If you’re always giving a reward to your child for everything, they do then they learn to expect a reward. When they expect a reward every time, that one time they don’t receive it, they’ll be upset, perhaps even think negatively of themselves. It’s important to work on intrinsic motivation with your child.

Extrinsic motivation is an everyday occurrence and what we are used to for discipline techniques in children. It can be in the form of consequences for unwanted behavior or positive reinforcements and rewards for desired behavior. I don’t believe extrinsic motivation should never be done but there are certain situations it’s been proven to cause more harm then good.

Behavior Charts

For instance, behavior charts are a common way to discipline within a classroom setting. Behavior charts will give positive reinforce to well behaved students, but they can be shaming and traumatizing to students. They ultimately reinforce strict obedience rather then bringing about actual change in behaviors.

Food Rewards or Punishments

Another example is using food as rewards or punishments. We have seen it a lot. I know when I was a child it was used on and off at least. “If you’re good in the store you can get a treat”, or “if you don’t behave you will go to bed without dinner.”

Giving food rewards or punishments can undermine healthy eating habits you’re hoping your children learn. Always getting ice cream after a child’s recital or concert reinforces them “treating themselves” as adults with unhealthy foods. Forcing a child to finish all their food can also encourage bad habits of always overeating.

How do you build intrinsic motivation in your child?

Praise effort rather than success

Praising your child efforts regardless of outcome will help build their confidence. They will subsequently learn about working hard and changing outcomes as they go.

Point out progress

As your child learns and puts in effort on something point out the progress they’ve been making. When I was a child my mother did this for me. I loved to draw. I pointed out that I did not seem to think I could draw a person’s eyes well. She reminded me to keep practicing. Awhile later as I drew new pictures and got better and better, she had me look at the comparison and where I had come and how good I had gotten.

Encourage Independence and Offer Choices

Give your child choices so they feel somewhat in control of their life and what they do. The key for you as a parent is to give them choices that no matter which they choose it’s okay with you. For instance, “Would you like to brush your teeth first or comb your hair first?” They can choose which happens first, but the expectation is both need to be done.

Have Realistic Expectation

Nobody is motivated all day every day, don’t expect your child to be.

Focus on their Strengths

Focus on the good things your child does and their strengths rather than any shortcomings.


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