Our kids tend to develop their path in life by what the example we as parents set from the moment they are babies to the moment they turn into teens and well into adulthood. Many of us parents struggle with learning how to encourage them and help them keep motivated with learning and allowing them to find their passion in life.
It’s always better to start early on especially during the first years of their life. However, there are some helpful things to know when it comes to helping them out, here are some of them:
Finding the fun
Sometimes motivation is easy. When a task is fun and interesting, trying hard feels effortless. A child who loves basketball may endlessly practice free throws. A child who is fascinated by Greek gods may devour books on this topic. All of these are examples of intrinsic motivation because the motivation comes from the enjoyableness of the task itself.
When we can, it’s a good idea to muster intrinsic motivation by turning have-to-do learning tasks into fun-to-do activities. Being playful, using humor, letting kids explore, arousing their curiosity…these are all ways to make learning tasks more enjoyable.
But intrinsic motivation will only take our kids so far. Sometimes learning is just plain work, and motivation needs to come from something beyond the task.
Making decisions that allow them to discover themselves
My son Jimmy had many problems with learning at a young age, he just couldn’t comprehend many of those stories they have your kids read at school. Grades started going down. Many times these low letter grades discouraged him and even lowered his self-esteem severely. School became a drag more than anything else, there was nothing motivating about it.
Then I faced with a very important decision of enrolling in extra-help classes that would help his grades or music, something he wanted to pursue and learn more about excitingly.
It was a single split-second decision whether to enroll him in music vs other subjects more socially acceptable and more “productive” in the workplace. But so far it was one of the most important decisions in my son’s life as it gave him the opportunity to discover his passion early on. His self-esteem turned around dramatically, his motivation for school came back and even his grades improved overall. He started teaching other younger kids who are curious about music. He even lost weight and became a more healthy-conscious young teen.
These are some of the things that come with looking deep inside our own intuition when it comes to making decisions for our kids. Decisions of ways that will allow them to discover new things that will eventually enrich their lives.
The following video is my young teen son Jimmy. He was able to find his passion at a young age when a saxophone first fell in his hands in elementary school. From there on he has taken upon himself with some guidance, to keep learning and keep motivated despite all the struggles he has encountered along the road. He reaches out and motivates other aspiring musicians younger than him.
The risks of rewards
Often, when children’s motivation is lagging, adults offer rewards to get kids moving. These tend to work temporarily. Using a sticker chart or offering to buy a small toy will often lead to a short-term increase in the behavior you want. Sometimes that’s all you need. If it’s a just-getting-over-the-hump situation, a small reward can help kids move past a bit of reluctance, especially if the task will become easier or more enjoyable with practice.
But using rewards to inspire motivation has drawbacks. After about three weeks, children tend to get bored with reward systems and parents get fed-up with them. Rewards imply that the task is optional. Kids may decide, “It’s not worth it!” and give both the task and the reward a pass. The may also try to work the system by arguing about the criteria or doing the bare minimum just to get the reward.
Frequent use of rewards can also lead to a very unattractive bargaining attitude in children. You don’t want to train your kids to respond to your every request with a demand of “What do I GET if I do that?”
Rewards can also undermine intrinsic motivation when they imply to children, “This is not something you would choose to do on your own! You’re only doing it for the reward.”
Rewards are about external control. But what we want for our kids is internal motivation that comes from who they are and what they value—motivation they can muster even when the task isn’t pleasant, and when we’re not around to prod them.
Building internal motivation
Based on their extensive research, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester point to three essential needs that underlie internal motivation: competence, autonomy and connection. By addressing these needs, we can help children develop internal motivation.
For more information visit Teach Your Child to Love Learning: Keys to Kids’ Motivation