How to build persistent intrinsic motivation for your child’s well-being?

“A self-motivated person never gives up in life”

While raising our children, we often provide encouragement to them with a hope to make them learn faster. Of course, the encouragement is often backed by rewards of all sorts. But, these rewards bring short lived motivation which dies off soon after the rewards are removed.

The best part about nature of kids is that they are born to learn. They are curious and they want to explore every single object, food or thing as toddlers. They joyfully want to address their natural inquisitiveness which somewhere dies off ( or gets badly affected) when external rewards are brought into the picture. As parents, we must take responsibility to let this sparkle of natural joy of learning kindle in childs wellbeingour children forever.

Ryan and Deci (2000 and 2017), scientifically showed how intrinsic motivation is coupled with the joy of learning. They proposed a self-determination theory which serves as the basic foundation of intrinsic motivation. As per this theory, intrinsic motivation helps the child to pursue activities of interest. The study involved self-answered questionnaires which reflected interest, fun and natural curiosity while engaged in activities of choice.

Here, is how you can help your child build intrinsic motivation that lasts forever:

  1. Instil the joy of learning: Rather than focussing on completion of the task, focus your child’s attention on the joy that comes out of learning anything new. 

Observe what attracts your child, what he or she loves doing or feels interested in. Let learning be a part of every fun activity that is happening around. Chuck off an hour or so to get involved with your kids in activities that you think are liked by them.

A very common mistake that most of us as parents do is that we segregate the learning time with rest of the fun time. This creates a notion in the child as if learning is only while studying but actually learning is always there in everything we do like playing music, dancing, singing, cooking, etc.

Let your children know that by doing their daily tasks, they are learning to become smarter and independent . When you start appreciate the efforts made by your child in all such activities then they start feeling accomplished and motivated.

There is an example of how intrinsic motivation works for grown up children. In 2009, Hulleman and Harackiewicz took 250 high schoolers for a study on intrinsic motivation. The high schoolers were divided into two groups A and B. Group A was asked to write summaries of the lessons taught in Science whereas Group B was asked to write the usefulness of these learnings in their real lives.

The later, was found to be more motivated to learn the subject well and they ended up scoring better than Group A. It is clear that Group B could perform better because they understood the value of the lessons. This is the real motivation that kicks you to learn and perform better because you want to.

As per Kennedy Moore (author of – teach your child to love learning), making a child play basketball who loves this sport, is effortless. He may practice for hours together with pleasure. Similarly, a child who loves fiction can go on reading novels and books for long without any second thoughts. So, the basic idea is to turn must-do activities into fun-filled activities by adding humour, using creativity or arousing curiosity.

  1. Embrace the imperfections 

Try to look at a situation from your child’s perspective. A child will always pick up a task that appears to be meaningful to him/her and will execute the task as per his/her understanding.

Be appreciative of your child’s efforts irrespective of whether the child has finished the task or not. As is suggested by Wendy Mogel (author of blessings of skinned knee), it is important to help your children sustain their curiosity and love for doing daily chores.

A child between 3 to 5 years of age shows a lot of interest in doing daily chores. But, as parents you want to rush through the chores or would prefer doing it yourselves for the sake of perfection. But, in your quest to finish the chores with perfection your child’s interest of learning is put at stake.

So, you could start with giving away easy chores to your child like match the socks to form pairs, clean the tables, help you in arranging grocery, etc.

When a child does the same task over and over again he or she learns to do it much better, faster and neater. And, you would see the joy of finishing the chore on your child’s face which is indeed the best reward as a parent.

This will help your child to embrace that learning is a part of life and they will enjoy learning at every step. 

  1. Don’t bring too many external motivators: 

Bribing a child to behave in a grocery store or to behave well at a party is a common affair for most of us. I would often bribe my daughter with strawberry jelly to behave well at the supermarket.

And, it worked well unless sometimes when I would stop by to pick up something in hurry she would refuse to co-operate unless she is given her favourite jelly.

But, with my mother, my daughter is much well-behaved I would say. My mother brings in the significance of doing everything to her in the form of learnings. Every time she finishes her meal fully, my mother points out to her how nice it is and how strong she will get if she eats well. So, to say, external motivators can give you great rewards but rewards are just too short-lived.

As per the study conducted by Edward Deci, Professor of Psychology (Ph.D), University of Rochestor, suggests that rewards bring temporary motivation in not just kids but in all of us. We go to work only because we get paid for it. We will surely stop working if there is no pay in return. So, extrinsic rewards only bring short lived efforts to achieve rewards.

Of course, rewarding a child once in a while is fair enough as children need to be pampered at times. Moreover, in the case of crisis when you are really tied up and want to just get going through your chores, you need to bribe kids to behave.

  1. Give options and let choose: Giving options in simple tasks like picking up a shirt of choice, choosing to wear shoes that your child wants to wear while going on an outing, etc. makes things favourable for you. 

 When the kids have the option to choose then they feel pleasure in making these small choices. This makes them more responsible towards their behaviour and also helps them to learn from the choices they have made for themselves.

For example, if your child chooses to wear a thin cotton shirt in a night outing and ends up feeling cold then he is more likely to go by your choice of a suitable shirt which will shield him from cold next time. By doing this, you have motivated the child to correct his choice by letting him choose.

This also reinforces that making mistakes is a part of learning. If you give a choice to your child then you are letting him experiment and learn with the choices made by him. This way you are allowing the natural process of learning by making mistakes.

  1. Replace rewards and punishments with an understanding 

Not always kids throw tantrums or misbehave because they want to. A lot of times, they are forced into such situations for the fear of being punished or scolded by a teacher or a parent.

Chris Hulleman, a research Associate Professor at University of Virginia, recommends to place the value of task for better motivational levels in kids. He insists that external motivators or fears can make a lesson less meaningful.

With rewards around, it is more of a conditional learning that is happening. Rather, let the child take his own little time in understanding the value of the task that is taught to him or her. Let the child know why is the task important rather than what are the material gains at the end of it.

Try to understand your child’s psychology and give him ample time to absorb to learn things on his own. Allow your child to make as many mistakes as he does, as there is a great joy in learning to do something on your own. So, let the child satiate his curiosity by making mistakes but eventually with repetitive attempts he will succeed in what he is into.

But letting it happen every time could be very challenging. So, you could choose certain tasks and certain hours in a day when you can allow your child to participate in fun activities of his choice. And, of course for certain mistakes that are not acceptable at all, you can maintain your stand.

  1. Set an example

Our kids grow up to become a lot like us. ‘Seeing is believing’ is a common occurrence with all kids. If we as parents indulge in doing all our regular work with a lot of joy then the same gets carried forward to our kids too.

For example, to help your child remember manners, you need to showcase them yourself by saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ to everyone around. If you want your child to learn to be an early riser than it is you who have to be up early first.

Kids are way too smarter than you think they are. Their sub-conscious mind is observing and grasping everything around them. Hence, it is very important to create a healthy environment as it helps them to absorb positive energies and to grow up to unfold accordingly.

Intrinsic motivation provides a child with a pull strategy in which the child gets pulled or attracted to doing something of interest. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand promotes conditional interest that dies off when the extrinsic motivators such as rewards are withdrawn.

The best gift that we can give to our children is to teach them the joy of learning. This true joy of learning helps the child to do every task joyously and teaches them to derive the much needed contentment in life. 

Life is materialistically driven at all times but internal satisfaction and joy comes when you do something to learn something out of it. There is no bigger joy in life than the joy of unconditional and natural learning. 

As parents, we should strive every moment to bring out the best values and ethics in our children. Spending a lot of quality time with kids and explaining them the things around truthfully will help your child develop the right understanding of things around.

By bringing the right perspective of learning, we are making our kids capable of carving the path of their choice with ease.

The best way to approach the kids is to let their natural instincts work and bring out the best version of the person they are meant to be.


  1. The Emerging Neuroscience of Intrinsic Motivation: A New Frontier in Self-Determination Research
  2. Blessings of skinned knee: Using Jewish teachings to raise self-reliant children by Wendy Mogel.
  3. Teach your child to love learning: key to kids motivation by Kennedy Moore
  4. Ryan,R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2011). A self-determination theory perspectivie on social, institutional, cultural, and economic supports for autonomy and their importance for well-being. In V.I. Chirkov, R.M. Ryan, & K.M. Sheldon (Eds.), Human autonomy in cross-cultural context: Perspectives on the psychology of agancy, freedom, and well-being (pp. 45-64). New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-90-9667-8_3


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