Let’s be real. Most parents have fallen back on candy or screen time as motivation to get our kids to clear their plates or finish homework. (No judgment here!)
But most of us also know there’s a law of diminishing returns when it comes to these motivational tactics. At some point, more treats (or more screen time) does not equal more angelic behavior. So what are some better (and longer lasting) ways to motivate a child?
When it comes to motivation, every child is different. Some respond to internal motivators. Others sometimes need an outside nudge – and incentive or reward.
It’s important to notice what motivates your child. But don’t rely too heavily on external motivators – too much can actually diminish a child’s internal motivation over time. (We’ll share sometimes for appealing to your child’s intrinsic motivation below.
Relying mainly on internal motivators does not mean you should hold back on positive reinforcement. Unlike incentives such as screen time, praise and encouragement fuel your child’s internal motivation. As Laura Phillips, a neuropsychologist with the Child Mind Institute says, “Kids respond really well to social reinforcers like praises, hugs, high fives, and those kinds of things. Then they start to achieve because it feels good for them.”
Be as specific as possible when giving praise. Some examples:
Kids are born eager to explore the world. Encouraging that curiosity is a powerful way to nurture their internal motivation.
Make sure your kids get plenty of opportunities to play and explore. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, play is inherently motivating for children of all ages, because it’s how they learn and form bonds with others.
It’s also important to pay attention to your child. Watch for what gets their motor revving. (A sure sign is when they start talking a mile a minute.) Show an interest in the things that interest them.
Getting your child to stay on task can be hard, especially when it feels like they only respond to external motivation. Here are nine strategies to grow your child’s internal motivation instead.
Kids – especially younger ones – generally do best with smaller, achievable tasks. So what do you do when they have something bigger on their plate? Here are a few quick tips:
Motivating a child is not always easy. But by paying attention to what excites them, by keeping your bond strong, and setting the right targets for them, you can help your kids stay on task and become more independent as they grow.
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