Motivation is the drive within a person, towards a specific goal. Some people are intrinsically motivated, or motivated from within. Their innate traits, personality, and the desire to reach their potential is enough motivation to get through some of the rougher parts of a journey. Others are extrinsically motivated, or motivated by external rewards. Most of us have activities that we are intrinsically motivated to do, and others that we are extrinsically motivated to do.
Most of us can think back to a time in our childhood or adolescence where a parent or caregiver was trying to get us to do something we didn’t want to do. From brushing our teeth to making our bed, we likely had a thought like “When I grow up, I will only eat cake for breakfast, and I’ll never hang my clothes up.” Yet somehow, with the responsibilities of adulthood, we find ourselves eating healthy breakfast and separating our lights and darks. Sure, habits helped with this, but our motivation shifted and evolved, and we learned that care for our bodies and belongings were not just silly things our parents wanted, but rather tasks that we had some form of motivation to want to do.
The parenting process of wanting to get your kids to complete these tasks and learn these skills can be a long and uphill battle. Before the intrinsic or self-motivation sets in, we must learn the tools to motivate our kids to rehearse these skills. The goal is to help children develop the independence, the ability, and the desire to do what they should.
Choices are powerful
From the time a toddler is first verbal, they start to seek independence and autonomy. Toddlers love to exercise the power of “no” and this is for good reason: this is the first time that a child recognizes the power of a choice. Choices have consequences, and these consequences should be spelled out for the child. For example, if a middle schooler is protesting homework completion and is begging to play video games instead, this can be presented as a choice. “Ok, here are the options. You can choose to get your homework done first, and then you can relax for the rest of the evening with no stress. Or, if you play video games, you will likely be tired after, and maybe not even complete your homework. That will impact your grade in your favorite class, and maybe even impact your ability to stay on the school basketball game. Your choice.” It is always important to present the choices, and the consequences, ahead of time. It is also very important that a parent be willing to live with either choice! If the child chooses video games, you cannot then take the games away – you must instead be willing to live with the poor grade, and the knowledge that your child has learned a valuable lesson about time management.
Follow the passion
Intrinsic motivation is developed from pursuit of passion. Those that speak of loving their jobs are of course paid, too. But the satisfaction that comes from enjoying the work that is done means more than the paycheck, to many intrinsically motivated workers. Allowing a child the free time and flexibility to explore different hobbies and activities, and supporting the cultivation of passions and interests, such as animal care, music, or video games, may offer motivation in other areas of a child’s life, as well. For the example mentioned above, if the child does not like basketball, this natural consequence is likely not meaningful. However, if shooting hoops is a genuine passion, he or she will consider how much that means to them in making their choice with their time.
Pair with positive peers
Children and adolescents often look to those within their same age group for social learning – despite all of the efforts of the adults in their lives. Children who experience a sense of belonging feel safer, more competent, and more willing to explore other interests and passions. Just as other kids can be “bad influences,” so too can they be “good influences.” If a child’s best friends are consistently making the honor roll, this will be much more motivating for his or her own grades, as opposed to threats and bribes to complete schoolwork.
Motivation is powerful, as it is what drives much of what we do and what we don’t do. Working with a child, making sure that his or her voice is heard, and helping them learn from consequences are important factors in developing motivation.