Wellness 101: Helping Your Child Build Intrinsic Motivation

We have all struggled with motivation at some point in our lives—from accessing it to maintaining its momentum over time. As a result, one of the most challenging aspects of being a parent is knowing how to constructively motivate your child, academically or otherwise. Many parents use external motivation to get the desired results, whether negative (“If your grades fall any lower, we will take your phone away until the end of the year”) or positive (“If you get an A on the next chemistry test, I’ll take you shopping”). These efforts are well intended, but the problem with depending on external forces to change a child’s behavior is that it may well work, but the effect usually lasts only for a short time. More important, if children rely on outside forces—instead of internal ones—for their behavioral cues, they risk not learning how to deal with failure constructively or how to accept responsibility for their actions.

Since much of our work at Green Ivy involves coaching students around intrinsic motivation, we’ve put together a list of strategies for helping your children to develop this important character trait.

Praise effort over results. As chronicled in Carol Dweck’s best-selling book Mindset, talent and ability play a part in the level of success we achieve, but what’s more valuable is viewing the potential growth of our abilities. If you praise your children for their efforts, as opposed to results, they are more likely to believe that their natural talents can be grown and expanded instead of viewing them as fixed or finite resources.

Let them tell their story. As Green Ivy founder Ana Homayoun says, “Make it all about them.” Ask your children open-ended questions about where they are now and where they want to go. Helping your children perceive their possible “future selves” builds not only optimism but also stronger social and emotional skills.

Help your children to set smaller, incremental benchmarks to reach their larger goals.

When we experience short-term successes that get us closer to meeting our bigger goals, those rewards help us to stay motivated and on track. Encourage students to write down concrete goals and the habits they need to implement daily or weekly to achieve those goals. Research has shown that doing so  can help people overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.

Allow room for failure. As we get older, we can often trace significant, unexpected growth in our adult lives to thwarted plans or disappointments. Don’t be so quick to come their rescue when they hit a small bump in the road – instead, ask open-ended questions that encourage them to reflect and problem-solve. If children aren’t given the opportunity to fail and then recover, the smallest of setbacks could begin to feel insurmountable. This could potentially hamper children’s problem-solving skills, along with their ability to remain buoyant in the face of challenges.

Encourage self-reflection. Weekly check-ins with students at Green Ivy involve taking a few minutes to reflect and talk through what worked that week and what didn’t, and the habits students want to change going forward. This provides the flexibility needed to regroup, regardless of what has happened, and to continue moving forward. Sit down with your children periodically to talk through their habits, plans, and goals. Doing so will reinforce a growth mindset and, ideally, guide them to discover their own sense of purpose.