Motivation: It’s an inside job

June 16, 2015

What is motivation?


The Oxford English dictionary defines it as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way”. We are all motivated all day everyday. Even when we say we lack motivation we are actually still motivated – just motivated to sit around watching TV or stay in bed a bit longer! A key topic I get asked to help parents with is how to motivate their children. Motivation is a highly complex topic. What motivates one person may not necessarily motivate another as we are all wired differently and all have a slightly different view of the world around us and what we want to achieve.

An important concept to understand in relation to keeping our children motivated is INTRINSIC versus EXTRINSIC motivation. Traditional parenting focuses very highly on extrinsic motivation in terms of the rewards that we give children for getting things done like homework, good grades, keeping their room tidy etc. Whilst extrinsic motivation can be a powerful tool in the short term, what it can promote in the long term is an over reliance on external rewards from others as an impetus to get things done. It can create ‘people pleasers’ who are more interested in making others happy than in doing what they really desire.

The most powerful type of motivation is intrinsic. This means that the drive to do something comes from within rather than from outside influences. When we look at intrinsic motivation to study hard for example, what we are looking at is a strong internal desire to do well rather than a desire to get lots of praise or material rewards for getting good grades. A strong sense of intrinsic motivation is something that if encouraged and nurtured at an early age can be vital for the long term, way beyond the time when parents are around to keep doling out rewards and pocket money.

How then can we encourage intrinsic motivation in our children? Intrinsic behaviour is made, not born according to Daniel Pink in his book 'Drive - The surprising truth about what motivates us'. It's the way we communicate to our children, the way we use rewards and the way we praise them. Pink suggests there are 3 factors we need to be emphasising to boost intrinsic motivation - autonomy, mastery and purpose. Here are some ways to relate it to motivating your child to do their homework:

Autonomy- what choices can you give children about how and when their work is done? How can they make their own decisions about the resources needed and to be in charge of the process? For them to truly own the process, sometimes it can be worth letting them see their project from a completely different angle, maybe seeing the bigger picture, maybe calling upon different resources or study methods, maybe challenging the status quo and the traditional way of tackling their work.

Mastery - How can they assess how well they are mastering a subject or topic? It's really important here to get them to be able to evaluate their own performance regularly: for them to be able to be conscious of how they are progressing in a subject and mastering a concept. They need to be put in charge of monitoring their mastery and not just relying on what everyone else around them has to say. They need to know what they need to do in order to be more skilled in a subject area. Encourage them to think about how they can progress in a subject and identify the steps that need to be taken in order to be better at it.

Purpose - It's important for children to be able to see the big picture of why they are studying. It's not just about the next few years at school - it's about the steps they take now which will have a massive impact on their life as a whole. They may not know what occupation they want to go into after education, but taking the big picture view can be useful to get all their studies in perspective. If the future isn't inspiring enough for them yet, get them to think about these questions when they are studying: "Why am I learning this? How is it relevant to the world I live in now?" Think beyond the classroom and homework assignment and help them to practically apply what they have learned. If they are learning a language, take them somewhere they speak that language, if it's history find a way to relate it to events in the news, if it's algebra get them to work out an everyday problem with it.

Think of how you can turn homework into homelearning.


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This post was written by Beth Parmar