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).