Intrinsic Motivation and Children: How and Why

When you hear the sound of the road runner’s unmistakable “Meep! Meep!”, you’re sure that  Wile E Coyote is once again in hot pursuit of our fine feathered friend.  The road runner zooms by at lightning speed, while the coyote pulls everything out of his ACME arsenal, hoping to finally capture the elusive bird.  Now that’s a shining example of intrinsic motivation.  The coyote’s reward will be the unspoken sense of accomplishment derived from ensnaring the roadrunner.

It’s this type of motivation we want to instill in our children.  We want our kids to work towards something because they want to, not because they want praise from us.  Their reward won’t be anything material, but the satisfaction of being able to undertake a task on their own.

When the motivation comes from inside them, it’s more likely that they’ll keep at an activity, rather than if the motivation came from outside.  Learning will come more naturally if they enjoy what they do, and not because they want to please you.

How do you develop intrinsic motivation in your kids, then?

If you told your kid you’d give him another Furby toy if he passed his Math exam, sure he’d study hard and get an A, but you’ll have to keep giving him rewards to keep him motivated.  Instead, show him how challenging yet fun Math can be.  Give him bite-size problems to tackle, and he’ll involuntarily realize that being able to hurdle those problems will only push him to take on bigger challenges.

Give your child the chance to evaluate his own work.  Instead of saying, “Good job!”, you can ask him “What do YOU think? “  If he feels that he’s done well, this will drive him to keep it up, or even do better next time.

If you must praise your child for excellent work, you’re better off praising him for the effort he put into it, rather than for the actual achievement.  He deserves to be recognized for his determination even if he’s unable to actually deliver.

Enhancing intrinsic motivation in your kids will prove to be beneficial to him when it comes to learning and developing self-confidence- even as an adult.

“That’s all, folks!”  (Yes, I just said that in true Porky- Pig-Looney-Tunes- ending fashion).

About Pepper

I am a single working mom, trying to raise my kid the best way I know how. Join me as I navigate my way through the jungle that is Single Mom-hood, armed with rose-colored glasses and strength of spirit. As pepper adds spice to food, so does my daughter add spice to my life. She makes life no less than…PEPPERRIFIC!

Catch me on G+.


  1. hmm well, I understand this is really a great Article about Children :) This article really teach me some secrets about Children.

  2. I love this post, Pepper. Intrinsic motivation is far better for long-term results and it’s so much more rewarding to the kids than a new Furby, even if they don’t know it. :)

  3. Sadly, parents go for the “I’ll buy you _____ if you ______.” Great lesson!

  4. This is good. This is really good. I remember my child’s kindergarten teacher asking parents to limit the “Good job” remarks. I think a lot of parents looked at the teacher and thought she was too harsh or didn’t understand what she was asking of parents. But as you have shared in this post, it is so very important, not only for the sake of giving the child honest feedback and preparation for the real world. But also, this is helping the child with the ability to find positives in their own work and work ethic– for themselves.

  5. this post was so good you deserve a lolly-pop LOL…jking aside the best reason is to keep him motivated…and for the right reason -to become a better person not WHAT CAN I GET FOR IT.

  6. Great post, and so right on! I made the mistake of praising my kids’ natural abilities rather than their efforts, which has been found to reduce their confidence. I was able to turn it around, though, when we discussed it. One of my kids built a computer with absolutely no input from me! It was a challenging and satisfying project, and he was definitely internally motivated. It gave him a lot of confidence, too.
    Blessings! :)

  7. Great advice Pepper. Words of encouragement and praise can go along way without bribing your child with hefty rewards.

  8. Christina Maria says

    I appreciate this sweet article. It teach me some nice idea for how to take care

  9. This was a great article, Pepper. We struggle with this with our daughter frequently. She is very talented at a lot of things, but has no motivation to pursue them. It’s only when she thinks she’ll get attention that she tries hard. I liked your comment about praising the effort. I’ll have to remember that. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Excellent point – I praise my kids more often for their results than their effort. Thanks for this!!

  11. I’ve just started implementing this question when my kids accomplish something whether it’s something I think is good or whether I think they could have done better. “Well, How do feel about that?” Often we can be surprised by their answer. They might feel like getting C+ grade is great because it took a lot of hard work and studying just to get it to a C+….

    Your posts have valuable information – Thanks!

  12. Prashant Patil says

    Good Article, teach me some secrets of children……..

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