Some time ago, I replied to a query from a national magazine about “Ways Parents Can Foster Intrinsic Motivation in Children”. The query can be summarized as follows:
My article will give parents some concrete methods they can use to get their child to do anything from homework to the dishes. Bribing and external incentives can be useful in some situations, but most parents who utilize extrinsic motivation soon find that their children won’t do anything without the promise of some tangible reward.
What are some of the ways you know (either from your profession, from your schooling, or from your personal experience) that adults can help children build their intrinsic motivation?
How do children typically make the leap from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation?
I responded to the query in this way:
If I understand your query correctly, there is an implication that helping children become intrinsically motivated is something that occurs at some particular point in time. I believe that children develop intrinsic motivation when they are in an environment which cultivates responsibility for one’s own actions and outcomes as early as possible.
For seventeen years, since the day my son took his first breath, I have been committed to making sure that he understood his role as a man. Everything he has done and experienced has been purposely geared toward the day that he would be on his own – completely responsible for his own life.
Even as a small child, I talked, illustrated, and coached him about personal responsibility, being accountable for his own successes and failures. and being the master of his own fate. Instead of bribing him to do anything, I have always reminded him of his responsibility to be the best he can be as often as humanly possible.
Initially, I reinforced his responsibility by reminding him of his obligation to the immediate family and those who have sacrificed for him (currently and historically). As he has grown, I have reminded him of his responsibility to the greater universal family – Earth.
“No bribing is necessary when a child understands that success or failure is in their own hands and that the world counts on them to live up to their full potential.”
The problem with bribing children to do anything is that there is the probability that they will grow up believing that they always deserve some additional reward for simply doing what they are expected to do – what a flourishing society needs them to do. I believe this mindset is far too prevalent in school age children and for that matter, Americans in general.
Moreover, I would assert that this dependency on external rewards is a reason why our international academic scores and production of quality high school and college graduates is at historical lows.
Train your children the same way that “prodigies” are developed (10,000 Hour Rule). Have an end goal in mind, work backward to develop a plan, a course of action if you will, that you implement consistently, purposely, urgently and without apologies from day one so that a child will be prepared to be what you hope they would be. As if an unexpected benefit is needed, by raising a child they way prodigies are trained, you will be raising a child who will be prepared to be what society needs for them to be- a great citizen, a humanitarian.
Winston Churchill said during World War II, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail” Parenting and raising intrinsically motivated children is no different from planning to win a war. Plan and you will succeed, fail to plan and well you will have much of what we have already today!
What do you think about ways parents can do to foster intrinsic motivation in children? How would you have answered the query? What would you tell parents who extrinsically motivate children through bribes and external motivations?
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.