How Do We Motivate Kids?

motivate kids


Discipline is about teaching. It’s about helping children learn to make better choices. It’s about helping kids develop self-control. Discipline is about guiding and influencing our children to cooperate better with us, and it’s about helping your children learn to take ownership of their behavior and to own their successes and failures.

Discipline is about many things, so what’s the best way to use discipline effectively?

How do we parent children so they listen, care and are motivated to engage with us and learn what we are teaching?

Research points to using intrinsic motivation.

We’re all born with intrinsic motivation. It’s how we learn to sit up, crawl, walk and talk. The action we are working towards learning is appealing because the reward comes from the mastery of the skill itself.

This is very different to extrinsic motivation, getting your kids to cooperate using external influences like rewards, punishment, threats and bribes. The problem with external motivation is rewards only work for the short term and you run the risk of your child only cooperating if there is a reward involved.

Do you want your kids asking what’s in it for them every time you need them to do a simple task like brush their teeth or put on their shoes?

Are you really going to offer them a dollar to encourage and motivate (actually bribe) them to score a goal in the soccer game?

On the flip side, when rewards stop working we’re left turning to threats and punishment to get the job done and that doesn’t feel good to anybody.

Because the impact of extrinsic motivators is fleeting (and we need to keep offering bigger rewards to keep it working) research shows that children who expect a reward for an activity are less likely to engage in that same activity later compared with children who are intrinsically motivated.

If you are looking to build skills and create long term behavior changes in your kids focus your parenting on building intrinsic motivation that comes naturally from within your child.

Motivation coming from within your child is so much more powerful as it brings a genuine engagement for learning, a true desire for change and a healthy motivation to work with us parents rather than against us.

Here are 5 suggestions for building intrinsic motivation in your kids

Connect: Spend time with your kids and learn about what they find naturally interesting and motivating. Each of your kids will be different and building a supportive relationship with each of them reinforces positive behaviors in a powerful way.

Praise effort rather than success. Praise your kids for their efforts despite the outcomes. Praising effort will build their confidence in their ability to work hard for something that is important to them.

Provide choices and encourage autonomy. Begin as early as the toddler years to offer options. Would you like to put your clothes in the laundry basket now or after your bath? Being able to choose helps kids feel empowered and generates autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

Provide feedback: Again, focus on the process rather than the end product. Pointing out milestones your kids are reaching along the way can be helpful in showing them how far they’ve come. Breaking large tasks into smaller parts helps kids stay focused, allowing us to provide positive feedback and leaves kids feeling successful. Celebrating positive actions and recognizing the good things your kids are doing and providing positive feedback on that, rather than focusing on their short comings, also brings feelings of success and inspires and motivates kids to reach for the next goal.

Have realistic expectations. As adults the thruth is we are not focused and motivated all the time, so it would be pretty unrealistic for us to expect our children to be. We all have off days and that’s ok! Be patient with your kids on those more challenging days.

If your goal is to raise kids who grow up to be happy, capable, and contributing members of your family (and society) we have to limit extrinsic motivators. I know that is hard!

Maybe you don’ start by removing all external motivators all together.

For now, making just a small shift to begin limiting external rewards is a really good place to start making changes in your parenting and starting to focus on naturally motivating your kids for the long run.

If you find yourself struggling to parent differently, or need support implementing new positive parenting strategies, you are not alone.

Changing patterns of behavior is hard and it can be confusing to try new things.

Parent coaching will provide you with the learning, support, and encouragement you need to help you get clear about your parenting and begin to make practical, long lasting changes.

If you can relate to any of this information and want to learn more about how I can help you parent in a way that promotes and develops these skills in your child, or if you want to schedule a free phone conversation to see if my work is right for your family, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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My work is dedicated to supporting parents and early childhood educators in understanding and reducing challenging behavior in young children at home and in the preschool classroom.

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