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Just in Time for the Holidays…

How to Teach Children about Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

 What is done is done for the love of it- or not really done at all.

-Robert Frost

Every child has developed a case of the “gimmies” at one time or another.  And heck, when Hollywood celebrates yet another brat getting a Range Rover for her 16th birthday, the rest of us typical parents don’t stand a chance.  So, during this season where we desperately want our children to grasp of concept of giving vs. receiving, it’s also important to take a look at what motivates our offspring to accomplish a goal, even if that goal is simply resisting the urge to hit his little sister.  As an early holiday gift, here are some ways you can help your child become more intrinsically motivated.

How do we get children to do things for the love of doing it?

Motivation comes from either oneself (intrinsic) or other people (extrinsic).   The million dollar question?  How do we teach our kids to become motivated from within themselves instead of from outside factors such as treats or money?

As parents, we need to…

  • Focus on the long term and good decision making skills.
  • Instill values that motivate our children to do things (social, emotional, academic) because they are responsible and want to succeed in life.
  • A very important aspect of teaching intrinsic motivation is assisting your child in his development of strong self-esteem.  This isn’t done through bribes, rewards and/or false praise.  Parents help children build strong self-esteem by teaching them that they are worthy of love, praise, success and that they should love themselves for who they are.  When people allow their identity to become tied to only material things, they value themselves based on what they “have,” and not “who they are.”  The same idea can be applied to one’s to physical appearance.

Teacher tools to use in place of tangible rewards

  • Lunch with teacher
  • Extra recess
  • Praise
  • Special class helper

Parent tools to use in place of tangible rewards

  • Read an extra book at bedtime
  • Choose an outing w/a parent one on one time)
  • Choose the movie for family movie night

A way to practice delayed gratification and the value of working for something.

  • Have your child choose an item he would like you to buy for him.  Tell him that by working hard, he can earn it for himself.  Set up a plan where your child “earns” credits or money (depending on his age and developmental level) toward the item.  Keep a tally of what your child does to “earn” this item (chores, community service, positive behavior- whatever you choose) and then allow him the pleasure of purchasing the item once he’s earned it.
  • Go one step further.  Really talk about the item and if it was worth the effort.  This is important because children (and adults) often have fleeting “fancies” and desires.  Engaging in this activity will allow you to help your child understand the concept of delayed gratification AND assist him in differentiating between fly by night desires and real goals.

Now, grab some eggnog and kick up your feet.  Merry, merry.  Happy, happy.  All with a perfectly wrapped ribbon on top!

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