Last week I told you that I have a new resolution to send you a newsletter each week. My first letter is on research regarding motivation.
So what is motivation? What makes you want to do something, and what makes our children want to do things? In this letter I'm going to describe two kinds of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside. When we work to get a paycheck, that's an example of extrinsic motivation. Another example is your children working to earn good grades or maybe to get your approval. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. We do these things for no obvious material or external reward. When you pick up a piece of trash in the hall and nobody sees it, that's done for another reason. You probably have a desire for the building to look nice. Or another example -- we listen all the way through another person's words, even though we think we already know how it's going to end. That's just motivated by kindness, not an external reward (unless of course the other person is interviewing you for a job).
Children need extrinsic rewards at first in life. We give them snack-type rewards or praise. As they grow older, they need increasingly larger rewards to remain motivated. By this they show they have learned to negotiate. The same action that a three year old will take for an M&M would require an iPad to motivate a middle schooler. Obviously we need to transition to intrinsic motivation at some point. So how do we make that transition?
First, children learn by example. A parent who does the right thing simply because it's the right thing is setting such an example. Students who live in these households have a big advantage in life. Children who grow up with generous parents learn generosity. Children who grow up with parents who set good personal boundaries learn to set healthy boundaries themselves. In this regard, step one is simply setting a good example.
Second, teach children to do things right because they are right. It's not hard for children to understand that concept. You will find children are much more satisfied with life (and usually more pleasant to have around) as they learn this concept. They are very open to learning and living in this way. The people who have difficulty are the ones who have never been taught and think they should be rewarded for everything they do. Teens in this category are not fun to have around the home. You can avoid this by teaching children at a young age the joy of doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing.
Finally, remember this is something that is learned over a long period of time. It's okay to motivate young children extrinsically, but you don't want to treat your seventh graders the same as your first grader. As children mature they should gradually move to increased motivation through extrinsic means. Unfortunately we all know adults who have never made this transition.
This writing is intentionally brief, something that always has the potential for misunderstanding. If so, I apologize. If you would like to discuss anything I've written here, I'd love to meet with you.
In His Service,