Intrinsic motivation – The key to raising confident kids who love to learn
Intrinsic motivation – The key to raising confident kids who love to learn

As parents, we want our children to be happy and successful in life, so from an early age we do what we can to help nurture their eagerness to learn.

We want our children to be able to take on new challenges with confidence and to understand the true value of persistence, self-discipline and hard work. So it can be incredibly frustrating when we hear our kids complaining when they have to do anything that requires even a little bit of effort. Often, when we want our children to show interest and we try to motivate them, we are met with complaints of “I’m bored” or “I don’t want to do this anymore, can’t I just play video games instead?”.

Although this can be frustrating for parents, it’s helpful to remember that sometimes trying to push our children to enjoy learning can actually have the opposite effect. For example, some parents use reward systems to try to coerce their children into practicing a musical instrument or completing their homework. While this can prove effective in the short term, rather than fostering a love of learning, we are actually teaching our kids that it’s not worth doing something unless you are rewarded in some way for your efforts. What we really want to encourage in our children is natural curiosity and an intrinsic motivation to learn.

An article titled Teach Your Child to Love Learning: Keys to Kids’ Motivation, explores this subject in greater detail—here is a summary of some of the key points made:

Based on their extensive research, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester have identified three essential needs that parents need to address to help their children develop internal motivation and encourage a lifelong love of learning.

Connection

Building a strong connection with your child is one of the most effective ways of motivating them to step out of their comfort zone. If they feel secure and confident in their connection with you, they are far more likely to take on new challenges without being afraid or feeling incompetent. It starts with you acknowledging their feelings and allowing them to express themselves openly in the knowledge that they will actually be heard. A great motivator for them to try new things or challenge themselves can be a role model such as a teacher or coach or to take part in some kind of team-building activity. Finally, we must make sure that we have reasonable expectations of our kids. We know that it’s impossible to be fully motivated about everything all of the time, so we must be careful not to put unreasonable pressure on our children.

Autonomy

Trying to force kids to do something is often met with resistance and/or stubborn refusal, and this is largely because just like adults, children rarely like being told what to do. Obviously, we can’t give our children total freedom, but involving them in decisions and allowing them to be independent wherever possible helps to give them a sense of autonomy and control and encourages them to be more cooperative, both in the short and longer term. We can do this by offering them two alternative choices, both of which suit us. For example, instead of telling them “You have to practice piano for twenty minutes before dinner!” try asking, “Would you like to practice piano before or after dinner?” You’ll find that allowing them some independence and choice minimises resistance and increases their motivation to cooperate with your request.

Competence

Children are far more likely to stick at something if they feel that they’re ‘good’ at it. However, our job as parents is to help give them the confidence to continue doing things that they may not naturally excel at. You can nurture perseverance and encourage children to want to take on new challenges by praising them for their efforts, rather than just their achievements. Breaking down big tasks into smaller, more digestible steps is another great way of motivating your child to stick at something even when the going gets tough because even the smallest of achievements can have a big impact on your child’s sense of grit, perseverance and self—motivation.

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