Incentivizing behavior produces short term results with long term side effects. Children may develop low self-esteem, laziness and indecisiveness. Rewards are about external control and cause a child to expect a prize after each task is finished. Research has shown that just after three weeks of encouraging a reward system, children get bored which leads to a bargaining attitude. Dr. Helen Street, a social psychologist, explains, “Although you might get compliance by offering a reward, you tend to end up with kids that are less engaged and less motivated to do the things you actually wanted them to do.”
Teaching self-motivation encourages a child to look beyond the reward and nurture their natural curiosity. Motivation builds a child’s ability to complete the task when it’s boring or when we’re not around to encourage them. Children perform well in school, behave appropriately and develop leadership skills. Personal relationships are built without expecting something in return and teach valuable lessons.
For example, I’m a recovering “helicopter parent.” I believe the origin of my controlling instincts stems from the traumatic experience of my oldest son’s death. My controlling parenting patterns encouraged multiple reward systems that left us arguing and unhappy. As I let go and changed my parenting patterns to more of an encouraging parent, my children’s self-confidence flourished. Today, my oldest daughter is self-motivated with a 4.O grade point average. My youngest daughter is excelling athletically and academically. My son is a locally recognized artist and is also academically talented. Their self-motivation skills are much better because I let go and moved out of their way.
Below are three strategies that teach self-motivation:
Fun: Motivation is easy when a task is fun. A child who loves drawing will practice over and over without complaining. Motivation comes from the delight of the task in itself. What happens when a child doesn’t want to pick up their toys? Make a game out of it. The more humorous the better, let your child explore and delight in problem-solving through a little creativity.
Provide Examples: Find role models that your child admires who encourage problem-solving skills and use their examples to provide them personal determination. Children are natural problem solvers and childhood alone provides multiple opportunities. Taking the time to teach this now will help a child understand the value of persistence.
Patience: Relationships are an important source of motivation for a child. Humans crave connection because our relationships increase confidence and self-motivation. Children do things that bring them closer to those they care about. Being a patient parent during this process of your child learning a new skill not only provides support it also promotes inner peace.
Parents want to encourage good behavior and some turn to an incentive to keep their child on track. Whether it’s candy for potty training or money to promote good grades parents don’t realize the arguments they are setting themselves up for in the future. At times, adults have to undo what they learned during childhood to develop better self-motivation skills. When a child loves what they do, they go beyond the reward and push past limitations.
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Dr. Helen Street, Social Psychologist