Intrinsic motivation is not a single concept. It is a complex and multifaceted construct that has been studied for decades by psychologists and education experts.
Intrinsic motivation can be defined as an interest in something, such as science or animals, that happens naturally and the individual pursues it without being told to do so.
It means doing things because they are interesting or fun, not just because someone says they should. It also means being motivated to learn about new topics because that person wants to find out more about them.
Intrinsic motivation is an internal desire to do an activity for its own sake. It is activated by the activity itself, has no tangible reward other than the experience of participation, and can be sustained by interest in the task.
When children are intrinsically motivated they do things because they are emotionally rewarded and feel proud of it.
It’s when they build things with building blocks or help with chores without being asked, or do their homework without being asked.
On the other hand, when extrinsic motivation comes into play, we do things because we are craving for the reward.
It’s easy to identify when kids do things out of extrinsic motivation because, at the end of the activity, there is a reward.
A reward could be tangible things, praise from an authority, approval from peers, or even to avoid negative consequences from people.
For eg, doing chores to avoid being yelled at or doing homework to avoid being punished by the teacher.
Here the negative consequences are ‘being yelled at’ and ‘getting punished’.
But in life, there can’t be always an extrinsic motivation to do things well.
What if there is no immediate reward at the end of the road and our children still need to do it?
That’s why intrinsic motivation is important.
Intrinsic motivation helps kids to learn better because they are interested in what they are doing, which then makes it more likely that kids will engage in the activity.
The benefits of intrinsic motivation for students are less observable but they can still be felt internally. One of these benefits is increased satisfaction with schoolwork.
In the next section, let’s dive into more benefits of intrinsic motivation in detail.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF INTRINSIC MOTIVATION?
Intrinsic motivation has many benefits, including higher levels of engagement, an engagement that lasts longer, and increased creativity.
When students are intrinsically motivated, they are more likely to persist in the face of difficulty.
Let’s explain why it is important to nurture intrinsic motivation in kids and what the benefits of intrinsic motivation are.
1. THEY DO NOT SEEK REWARDS TO DO HARD THINGS
Hard or easy, intrinsically motivated kids do not need rewards to do them.
They study math because they enjoy solving problems.
They play sports because they enjoy playing them.
They try to do well in whatever they do because it feels good to do so.
They help people because they love helping and not because they want the favor to be returned.
They learn music because they enjoy music and not because they want to win a competition.
It’s not wrong to wish for external rewards but when children are intrinsically motivated they are okay even if they do not get the rewards. And they would still do those activities because they simply enjoy them.
2. INTRINSIC MOTIVATION HELPS TO PERSIST
Intrinsically motivated kids are more likely to succeed in life because they are capable of persisting through difficulties.
Even when they don’t see the results, intrinsically motivated kids are driven by intrinsic rewards.
Intrinsic rewards are the pleasures that come from our own minds. When we feel satisfied, happy, or just accomplished. They come from within and are usually not influenced by anything external.
The intrinsic reward can be narrowed down to two categories: psychological and social rewards.
Psychological rewards include all the positive emotions that someone enjoys such as pride, happiness, joy, etc.
Social rewards are all the benefits that come from relationships such as connections with other people or groups of people.
Intrinsic rewards include a sense of accomplishment, a sense of competence, a sense of pride, etc that come with the completion of activities.
When they seek internal rewards, they are more likely to persist through difficult times because they know what it feels like to have the rewarding feeling of accomplishment and pride and they want it more.
It’s due to the same reason they will try again after failures because they want to master the skills and experience a sense of competence and accomplishment.
3. THEY ARE MORE ENGAGED IN THE ACTIVITY
Intrinsically motivated kids are more likely to engage in an activity because they value participation over the end rewards and they genuinely enjoy the activity.
And since they also enjoy the sense of satisfaction that is associated with overcoming challenges, they are more enthusiastic and connected towards what they do.
And it helps in mastering different skills and improving the quality of their life. They are also more likely to succeed in academic or career choices.
4. INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED PEOPLE ARE MORE CREATIVE
Psychologist Teresa Amabile conducted a research study in which it was shown that there is a strong link between intrinsic motivation and creativity.
The higher the intrinsic motivation, the more creative and original they are. They tend to focus more on the quality of the work because motivation comes from within.
When there is external motivation included, there is pressure and there is less creativity.
So, how can we nurture intrinsic motivation in kids?
HOW TO BUILD INTRINSIC MOTIVATION IN KIDS
It is not easy to motivate an unmotivated child, but if we can help them develop intrinsic motivation, it will help them to do well in all aspects of life.
Here are some ways to increase intrinsic motivation in kids.
1. HELP THEM FIND WAYS TO DEVELOP INTEREST
It is neither possible nor beneficial to force interest in any activity. But, in life, there are certain non-negotiable things we all need to do.
If your kids can’t see any value in doing them, think from different angles to make them see the value in it. Even if they dislike the activity, there might be some aspects of it that they like.
If your child doesn’t love studying, it doesn’t mean they hate learning entirely.
Kids by nature are curious creatures. They may hate the traditional way of learning, but there are ways to evoke the natural curiosity in them that can reflect back in academics as well.
Child-led learning is a great way to start. If your child seems curious about something they learn at school, encourage them to read more about it. Or watch more videos on it.
There are different methods to learn about a topic than traditional learning.
If you can take time out to satisfy their way of acquiring knowledge, studying may not seem so boring for them. It’s important to understand what kind of learner they are – like auditory, visual, or kinesthetic and take a new approach to study.
They may not have the same interest in all subjects, and that’s okay too. Focus more on what they love to learn instead of criticizing them for having a lack of interest in a particular subject.
When they get encouragement for doing what they love, they might naturally want to do well overall and put the effort in other areas too. And that’s their intrinsic motivation’s work.
2. ENCOURAGE ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND PROGRESS
When a child works hard on something, appreciate their effort regardless of the end result.
Even if he fails at accomplishing his goals, help them see the progress they made and the lessons they learned which they can implement later on in life.
And also, make it a practice to appreciate when they do anything out of intrinsic motivation.
This also helps to improve the growth mindset in kids where they learn to develop resilience and try again if they fail.
Children with a growth mindset understand that they can improve if they keep trying and that one failure is not the end of all.
And hence it’s important to develop a growth mindset in kids because it will help them be intrinsically motivated as well.
3. HELP THEM TO THINK AHEAD
Young kids and even teenagers are often immersed in their world and they are not sometimes worried about the impact of not performing a task.
They don’t get why they should make beds or why they should study subjects that are difficult for them.
To help them develop intrinsic motivation, help them envision their future by asking them about the kind of person they want to become and the kind of work they want to do in the future.
Remember, it can or cannot be related to their creative or other talents too. It need not be limited to the academic path only.
And guide them gently on the habits they need to build and the effort they have to take on a daily basis to achieve their future goals.
And also teach them to compete with themselves to improve on a consistent basis. It can be damaging to compare them with other kids. It creates unnecessary competition and also low self-esteem.
And also, it creates only extrinsic motivation and if that source of motivation doesnt exist somehow, they will not have the motivation to go on with their goals as well.
But if they learn to compete with themselves, they will always have the intrinsic motivation to go on.
Instead of comparing with other people directly and shaming them, we can use the success stories of other people to make them realize what’s possible for them.
- 70 encouraging words all kids need to hear
- 20 worst things parents say to kids (and what to say instead)
- How to help kids develop a positive mindset using affirmations (+50 affirmations for kids)
4. HELP THEM SET MINI GOALS
When we set big goals, not only do they look unachievable, they might not create a sense of urgency because it’s far into the future.
And we all need a sense of accomplishment and achievement to continue on a path of struggle.
So help them break their goals into mini-goals which will give them the gratification and feedback they require to keep going.
If they want to learn to swim and are fearful of it, break it into various steps.
When they learn to float, let it be the first win. And when they learn to stay underwater for a minute, let it be the second win, and so on. Each win will help them increase their confidence and motivation.
What to note here is that this will help them to stretch themselves and make challenges look more solvable. This will boost their intrinsic motivation as well, as they get feedback on their achievements.
5. HELP THEM VISUALIZE THEIR GOALS
Even though kids might have an idea of their goals, they might be feeling negative about their ability to achieve them or maybe feeling stuck because they don’t know how to go about their goals.
In fact, this has affected the dreams of many people.
If you think your child is not intrinsically motivated, have a good conversation with them on their life goals or even silly desires.
You might be able to lead them from there to help them with their goals and develop intrinsic motivation in them.
Visualization is a great technique that people have been using since olden times to build the life they want.
Here is a helpful article on how to teach kids to visualize.
Oh, and remember that all people are not good at visualizing. Some people find it hard to imagine things visually. So try other methods with them.
Like writing the end results of their goals repeatedly, saying affirmations, etc. In short, anything that helps them imagine their success will help.
And when they feel unmotivated, use inspirational videos, guided meditation, etc, to empower them.
6. USE PAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS A MOTIVATOR
I have noticed in my own kids how they tend to sabotage themselves in front of challenging tasks.
It’s not because they are not motivated. They feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks so much that they break down and try to back down even before they start.
When it comes to achieving goals, self-belief is as important as intrinsic motivation.
In such situations, breaking the tasks into smaller tasks help and also does reminding of their past accomplishments in the similar situations.
You have done it before therefore you can do it again. You faced a similar challenge before, you are strong enough to do it again.
Such reminders and support can boost the intensity of their motivation.
7. MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE OF WHAT THEY DO
Kids do not usually feel motivated to do what they are asked to do because they don’t understand the purpose of it.
They don’t get why they should clean their room, study hard subjects, do homework, write exams, practice sports, etc.
And it’s hard to make them realize the value of it all at such a young age. But in a language they can understand, you may try to explain the big picture.
That, how they get to learn so many life skills from home or school by doing such and such things and how education will help their life moving forward.
It’s all a training for their future, where the life skills they learn, the challenges they face, new information they grasp, etc. all will come together to shape the person they are meant to be.
You can talk from your experience about what you learned from all the difficult things you didn’t want to do but helped you in some way in life.
You can also talk about your regrets in life. About what happened when you didn’t take the required action in life to achieve the things you desired. And hence why boosting self-motivation is important in life.
8. STOP USING FEAR TO MOTIVATE
If they don’t study, the probability to fail a test is more.
But if you use only that to make them study or do homework, all kids may not feel motivated enough.
And if they lose the fear, they wouldn’t care at all about a test.
If you can help them picture how learning and test papers fit the big picture of their life, they have more chances of being intrinsically motivated.
9. USE EXTRINSIC MOTIVATION AS A REWARD
Using extrinsic motivation to a small degree can increase intrinsic motivation as well, but it is not advisable to use it always.
But without extrinsic motivation, it’s hard to stay on the path of your goals long-term. There are always some extrinsic rewards.
For example, students study well for grades, people work to get paid, you practice daily to get medals, etc.
But what happens when we are used to getting extrinsic rewards is that, over time, we lose interest in the activities that we were once genuinely interested in.
Hence, give external rewards only to celebrate their effort and progress where you see fit. Giving rewards for their growth regardless of the end result will help them value their effort more than rewards.
Intrinsic motivation is so important to raise kids who will do well even when you are not around.
The key takeaway is to encourage them to do more things they like so that they get a taste of how being intrinsically motivated helps them to feel good. It happens when they enjoy their accomplishments because they are doing the things they genuinely want.
- Top 10 tips to teach your child to be kind and value others
- The 10 best tips to parent a highly sensitive child (& 13 signs of a highly sensitive child)
- 25 basic good manners to teach your kids
- What is positive or negative reinforcement and positive or negative punishment (explained with examples)
- List of age-appropriate chores for kids (from toddlers to teenagers)
- Why you should stop lecturing kids (and what to do instead)
- 101 questions to ask kids for fun and to promote resilience and critical thinking
- Why am I an angry mom? 7 common anger triggers and how to deal with them
- 3 valid reasons why we should let boys cry
- 30 simple family ritual ideas to bring your family closer