How to Help Your Kids Find Intrinsic Motivation
Here we go again.
You make a request. Or give an assignment. Or, gasp, ask your child to do a chore.
Like, zero activity.
You know the task isn’t too difficult and won’t take too long. And you know your child is perfectly capable of completing this task because you demonstrated or instructed or actually watched them do it before.
You’re scratching your head, wondering if you need some sort of translator to help your child grasp just what it is that you’re asking of them. It’s like women are from Venus, men are from Mars, and kids are from an entirely different galaxy!
You’re tired of trying to figure out some sort of system or reward chart to get your kids motivated. Because you’ve tried them all and their brief existence in your family did nothing to help make the desired behaviors stick. But, at least you have some really pretty stickers to show for it 😉
If you’ve found yourself joining other exasperated parents, teachers, and caregivers in the chorus of “How do I get these kids motivated to do what they need to do?”, you’re in the right place.
Discover the power of intrinsic motivation and how you can help your kids and family benefit from this component of a growth mindset.
What is Intrinsic Motivation?
I bet you have a few things that make you do what you do. Perhaps you enjoy feeling healthy, so you consistently work out and eat a well-balanced diet. Or maybe you find satisfaction in knowing that you’re working towards mastery of a concept?
Both of those examples are intrinsic motivation.
Simply put, intrinsic motivation can be defined as your personal reason for doing something. Not for society or due to peer pressure. Not from rewards or threats. You take action and accomplish something because YOU gain from it.
Kendra Cherry at VeryWell Mind succinctly yet accurately describes it as “Why You Do What You Do”. Dr. Edward Deci, an expert in intrinsic motivation, shares his theory in Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation. This book is an excellent read for a more detailed explanation and research findings on intrinsic motivation.
Here is Dr. Deci explaining his findings:
I think of intrinsic motivation like your “mojo”. It’s what makes you get up and start doing something and do it until it’s done. And you’re not going to let anyone or anything get in your way because YOU want to do it for YOU.
You might call it “drive”. Or “underlying force”. Whatever you want to call it, intrinsic motivation is what kicks you in the rear and gets you achieving your goals!
But, the thing is that it’s not always a natural process. It might take a bit of extra digging to reveal one’s intrinsic motivation. And it can be gloriously powerful when that treasure is unearthed!
How Can Intrinsic Motivation Help Your Kids?
Modern education reeks of extrinsic motivation. Test scores, grades, and behavior charts flood classrooms. There’s a tremendous emphasis placed on getting a kid to perform to meet the expectations set by distant professionals who have absolutely no experience with that specific child.
And the world of academia is not alone in its push for extrinsic motivators!
Extracurricular activities, like sports, music, dance, and theater, are often driven by external rewards. Even at a recreational level. Families can be hard-pressed to try to find an activity for their kids that is non-competitive and without extrinsic motivation.
Now, extrinsic motivation isn’t bad. It most surely has its place in the world. At times, we all need a bit of a nudge to get going and complete a task. Think of a paycheck. You might not necessarily be thrilled to report to work each and every day but you do it. Why? Because you want to fulfill the requirements to ensure you receive your pay. You do it because you have to, not because you want to.
But, maybe there’s something special that you truly love about your job. Maybe you go to work and do your assignments because you feel a greater sense of self-worth. And perhaps your job gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
If this is the case, you’re a lucky duck! You’ve found a way to be intrinsically motivated in your career. Most likely, you give it your all because YOU want to and derive satisfaction from a day of work.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to help your kids discover a similar type of intrinsic motivation? A special something that encourages them to be self-starters who tackle projects and tasks with energy and joy.
An awareness of your intrinsic motivation can help:
- Increase consistency
- Decrease distraction
- Improve focus
- Boost confidence
What’s truly wonderful about intrinsic motivation for kids is that it’s a life skill that they can carry with them forever! Such a fabulous gift!
Your kids will no longer need to wait to hear what reward (like that scratch-n-sniff sticker) they’ll get to start on their latest assignment. Your children won’t stand idly by until a carrot is dangled in front of them (because that’s what external motivators really are, aren’t they?).
Ready to help your kids discover the secrets of intrinsic motivation? Here’s how you can help.
4 Things You Can Do to Help Your Kids Find Intrinsic Motivation
Look at what your kids do and how they do it. Make mental notes of their facial expressions, as well as physical behaviors.
You can often detect self-motivation when your child’s face lights up and they’re eager to get started with an activity. For example, Smiley (9) becomes visibly excited when I mention doing Chalk Pastels videos. His eyebrows lift, eyes get big, and mouth bursts into a grin that stretches from ear to ear. His inner artist comes to life and sets him in motion when he knows he’ll be starting one of his favorite homeschool art activities.
Your kids provide clues to show their lack of interest and motivation, too. Perhaps they do their work in patterns. History always comes first, then reading, writing, and then the dreaded math. When given a reminder about their math assignment, you’re greeted with a growl and scowl. That pattern can tell you a lot about their choices and motivation.
2. Ask questions
After making your observations, help your kids dig deep. Gently mention how you noticed they light up when it’s time for art, music, or other subjects that are meaningful to them. Ask them what it is about THAT subject that is so special. What is it that makes them happy and want to work hard to complete those tasks?
You might get simple responses of “Oh, I just like it” or “It’s fun”. I encourage you to probe a bit further. Their responses might surprise you.
You can ask questions like:
- What about ____ do you like?
- What is it about ___ that’s fun?
- How do you feel when it’s time for ___?
- When do you have similar times that you feel the same way?
3. Think about yourself
Sounds odd, huh? Thinking about yourself to help another? But, don’t diss self-knowledge! When you’re aware of your own intrinsic motivators and how they influence you, you’ll be more able to help others discover their own.
You may find that your kids have similar intrinsic motivators. Or maybe the complete opposite. Either way, you’ve learned more about what can help your child attain self-motivation awareness.
4. Personality cues
Take a step back and consider your child’s personality. If they’re old enough (about 13+), have them take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator-based test at 16personalities.com. You can complete this personality questionnaire at Personality Page for younger kids (ages 7-12). Gain helpful insight about each trait (extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving) and think about how it affects your child’s motivation.
For example, an extrovert may be motivated by how they appear to others. They gain energy through their interactions with other people and want to make sure they put their best face forward. An intrinsic motivator for an extrovert could be something like working hard to achieve high marks because it makes them look good.
Learning more about who your child is and how they connect with the world around them can help you discover their intrinsic motivation.
Bear (7) is a sweet introvert who quietly does his work. He derives satisfaction from the learning process itself. This boy loves to prove to himself that he can master new concepts.
Captain (15) enjoys kinesthetic type of learning activities. He loves to use hands-on projects to demonstrate his knowledge and understanding. When Captain is given the freedom to explore his interests using a more sensory approach, his intrinsic motivation kicks in and he dives head first into his work.
How to Maximize Use of Internal Motivation for Kids
Once you have helped your kids discover their internal motivators, incorporate some reminders into their daily lives. Although external, these reminders can be just the ticket to helping your children develop the positive habit of self-motivation.
Simple notes or cards with code words or phrases jolt awareness and trigger motivation.
Applicable and appropriate lyrics in a song are fabulous auditory prompts for internal motivation. For example, Happy by Pharrell Williams can be peppy music to remind one of their natural joy (or desire to be joyful).
Specific colors or symbols can serve as visual reminders for intrinsic motivators. Smiley (9) becomes energized by a doodle of a smiley face because his internal motivation is happiness. When paired with the color yellow, he finds the combination bright and cheerful and just what he needs to keep going.
Books with characters that represent your child’s internal motivation are truly powerful. The Little Engine Who Could’s motto of “I think I can, I think I can” is a favorite of our 7-year-old when he’s working on handwriting.
Helping your kids find intrinsic motivation is not an overnight process. You won’t wave a magic wand and know what gives your child that spark of energy. Self-motivation knowledge can take time to acquire but is so very worth it. Because too many scratch-and-sniff stickers can really stink up your house, am I right? 😉
I’d love to read your thoughts and questions on intrinsic motivation for kids.
I’ll be sharing more about self-motivation in your homeschool very soon 🙂
What have you discovered to be powerful self-motivators for your children?