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How to Motivate Children Without Rewards or Punishment

Updated on September 10, 2014

11 years later and my son is still watering every morning

Motivation Myth

Nothing can motivate this child. EVERY behavior on any given day is motivated. The problem is not lack but misdirection of motivation.

Motivation fluctuates. It's productivity and performance that are temporary. Motivation is constant.

Reward motivates. Tangible incentives can decrease motivation in the long run. Intrinsic rewards foster daily motivation. The personal satisfaction for a job well done.

Competition motivates. The only person motivated by competition is the one who believes that he has a chance of winning. A highly competitive environment doesn't lead to teamwork.

Punishment motivates. Misbehavior will resume after the punishment. Punishment will also damage the relationship, which is a fundamental element of motivation.

From “Let me do that for you” to “Let me teach you how to do this yourself.”

Theorists from Piaget to Gardner state motivation is the first step of learning. Why strain the brain without a possible win? It's not easy to successfully motivate others though.

According to Richard Lavoie research has demonstrated that animals can be “taught” to be helpless. Once they accept their helplessness, they become passive and non-assertive. They simply stop trying.

Children develop passive behaviors in response to anticipated failure. Adults need to accept that children control their own progress and performance. “Let me do that for you” parents teach learned helplessness. “Let me teach you how to do this yourself” parents raise motivated children.

Tip: Undo learned helplessness in three steps:

1. Include her in the process. Do it with her.

2. Watch her do it. Positive reinforcement will take her to mastery.

3. From now on, let her do it.

Herd a Cat

8 Basic Motivational Forces

Don’t try to motivate others by applying the forces that motivate you.

Everybody has a unique motivation profile, shaped by the composition of these basic forces:

Peer-Pressure Gregarious children are motivated by people.

Independence Autonomous children are motivated by projects, prestige and power.

Self-aggrandizement Statusdriven children are motivated by praise, prizes and prestige.

Curiosity Inquisitive children are motivated by projects.

Ambition Aggressive children are motivated by prestige and power.

Control Power-driven children are motivated by prizes, prestige and power.

Acception Recognition-driven children are motivated by praise and prizes.

Bond Affiliation–driven children are motivated by people, praise and prizes.

5 Motivational Approaches

Praise. Avoid excessive praise since it increases a child’s anxiety regarding his performance. Praise effort and improvement not intelligence. Don’t give praise for tasks already mastered, or children will become less motivated to try more difficult projects and will stick with the ones that earn them automatic praise. Encouragement works better. It teaches a child to please himself. Praise is judgmental.

Power. The Power Child wants his opinion solicited and followed. The best thing to do is to listen. He wants to be useful and helpful; he wants choices and options. Give him responsibility; use the minor-choice technique; don't model stubborn, obstinate behavior. Use a give-and-take approach instead. The Power Child responds far better to promises than to threats.

Prestige. It's hard to motivate children who need prestige to learn. The extreme need for recognition keeps them in their comfort zones. Find his strength, which will be his anchor. “If I am able to learn this, maybe I could learn that as well.” Success breeds success.

Prizes. Research shows that rewards divert attention from the actual task; the reward becomes the goal. Rewards discourage risk-taking. When the reward is discontinued, motivation wanes. Rewards can turn play into work. “Paint me a nice picture, and you will get a sticker.”

People. Be respectful. Never express disappointment in a child since disappointment is too heavy a burden. Praise in public; criticize in private.

Tips to Motivate Your Child

Share more than just children’s books. Engage in your hobby with your child and in front of your child.

Before reading a book, discuss the title with your child and ask her what this story might be about. Stop midway and let her finish the story. Ask questions like, “What was the boy’s motive?” Discuss new words and concepts. Let your child’s interest decide over the book selection.

Don’t give rewards for what kids are moved to do anyway. Passing out candy for the book next to the bed kills a child's primary motivation; the pure pleasure of reading.

Children expect something unpleasant if you offer them a bribe. They think, “if she is offering me candy for this, it must be really bad.”

Rewards work best when they are not contracted for in advance. They should ideally feel like a bonus – unexpected and unconditional.

According to Mark Lepper- Extrinsic reward and intrinsic motivation (Professor of Psychology StanfordUniversity - leading expert on motivation in young children)


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    • hack writer profile image

      Nicole Sing 3 years ago from La Habra Heights

      Oh, I so do believe in stretching a child just enough and not too little!

      I still have problems with knowing just how much though! Hence I had started this forum called Motherhood. Would you be interested to give us your opinion dear jpcmc?

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      This is a very informative hub on motivation. Through the years, the theories of motivation particularly in children have become more exhaustive. Their educational, social and psychological applications are likewise explored. As a parent, I believe that providing the right scaffolding to the child is important. I know it sounds much like Vygotsky's Zone of proximal development, but ZPD has worked for me.

    • hack writer profile image

      Nicole Sing 3 years ago from La Habra Heights

      Yes, mine. Thanks for checking on me.

    • shahidsaju profile image

      Shahid Saju 3 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

      Nice post but is it your own