Enhancing Motivation in Adolescents
For teachers and parents of young children, the goal should be to appropriately support the development of motivation so that there is a proper foundation for optimal educational growth. Parents should be very cautions about the use of many extrinsic rewards, as this can severely interfere with the child's motivational development. Praise for an accomplishment is appropriate, but be sure that your child is doing a task because she is interested, not because she thinks it will bring praise from you. Difficulties arise when adults or others within the child's environment enforce external standards and replace the internal reward system with one that depends upon outside forces to supply all of the rewards (candy, money, excessive praise). Children then begin to feel successful only if someone else rewards them for accomplishments. They lose their intrinsic motivation and may only feel success when someone else judges them as successful. In such situations, children may not develop feelings of self-worth, and will judge their own value by someone else's standards. Your child should never need to ask, "Did I do well?" She should know and be confident in her own successes.
There are several strategies parents can use to help children remain more fully intrinsically motivated.
- Provide an environment (through age appropriate toys, activities, etc.) that allows children to freely explore and to see the effect of their actions (i.e., toys that have visible or tangible changes when moved).
- Allow children ample time when working to allow for persistence. When children are deeply involved with an activity, make sure that they can finish without interruption. Resist the natural urge to "help," and let the child know if, for example, we have to go to the grocery store in a few minutes.
- Respond to children's needs in a consistent, predictable manner, but allow them to be as independent as possible. This does NOT mean ceding all control to your child. All children need clearly defined limits. Playtime, however, need not be structured and organized. Let your kid be a kid!
- Provide many opportunities for children and adults to explore together and interact directly. It is important for both children and adults to be working together on an activity. This lets you observe, model, and encourage your child.
- Provide situations that give children an acceptable challenge. Activities that are slightly difficult for the child will be more motivating and provide for stronger feelings of success when accomplished. This may take some trial and error at first.
- Give children opportunities to evaluate their own accomplishments. Rather than stating that you think they have done a good job, ask them what they think of their work. You'll never go wrong by asking the question, "What do YOU think?"
- Do not use excessive rewards. They tend to undermine children's ability to value themselves. Praise and rewards should be based upon children's effort and persistence, rather than on the actual accomplishment.
The world through a child's eyes is an awesome place. Allow children to explore and discover their world. Around every corner is an experience just waiting to surprise and excite young growing minds; all they need is a small amount of direction and a large amount of freedom. It is not necessary to praise and reward children for their own actions as they attempt to control their environment. The feelings of accomplishment they gain from results of those actions will be reward enough. Providing excessive praise and rewards is unnecessary and can actually be harmful to children's motivation and desire to learn. Remember, the habits and attitudes toward learning that are formed in these early years set the mood for all future learning.
Brophy, Jere (1997). Motivating students to learn. Guilford. CT: McGraw-Hill. (ISBN: 0070081980).
Einon, D. (1999). Learning early. Checkmark Books. ISBN: 0816040141
Lew, A. & Bettner, B. (1996) A parent's guide to understanding and motivating children. Sheffield, UK: Connexions Press. (ISBN: 0962484180).
Kohn, Alfie. (2001). Five reasons to stop saying "Good job." Young Children, 56, (5), 24-28.