How to Develop Intrinsic Motivation In Kids: 8 Tips That Works

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Written By Olivia Miller

Author at Montessori Expert.

Ever feel like you’re constantly nagging your child to practice piano, finish their homework, or clean their room?

You set the expectations, offer rewards, and dole out consequences, but the motivation seems fleeting at best.

This, my friend, is the struggle with extrinsic motivation – that outside pressure to get something done.

But what if there was a way to light a fire from within your child, a passion that fuels their actions and keeps them going long after the reward is forgotten?

The answer lies in intrinsic motivation.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do something for the joy and satisfaction it brings.

It’s the difference between practicing piano because you want to master a new song and practicing because you want a sticker chart filled.

Intrinsically motivated kids are curious, engaged, and driven to learn and grow.

They see challenges as opportunities, not obstacles, and take pride in their accomplishments.

Here are some examples of intrinsically motivated behavior:

  • A child who spends hours building an elaborate Lego creation because they love the process of design and construction.
  • A teenager who volunteers at the animal shelter because they care deeply about animals.
  • A student who tackles a difficult math problem because they find satisfaction in figuring it out.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation In kids

a baby child playing with legos in a room

So why is intrinsic motivation so important? Because it sets your child up for success in so many ways:

  • Deeper Learning: Intrinsically motivated kids are more likely to dive deeper into subjects, experiment, and retain information better.
  • Increased Persistence: They’re more likely to stick with challenges, learn from mistakes, and keep trying even when things get tough.
  • Greater Creativity: Intrinsic motivation fuels innovation and exploration, allowing kids to develop their unique talents and interests.
  • Improved Confidence: The satisfaction of achieving goals based on their own drive builds self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Lifelong Learning: Kids who enjoy learning for the sake of learning are more likely to become lifelong learners and adapt to a changing world.
  • Overall Well-being: Intrinsic motivation fosters a positive outlook and a sense of purpose, contributing to better mental and emotional health.

How to Develop Intrinsic Motivation in Kids

a mom and her girl child hugging on a couch in a living room

Here are some practical strategies you can use to help your child discover the joy of learning and doing:

1. Follow Their Lead:

Instead of constantly pushing activities, observe your child’s natural interests and curiosities.

Do they love building things? Stock up on Legos or craft supplies.

Are they fascinated by animals? Visit the zoo or volunteer at a shelter.

When you provide opportunities that align with their passions, you tap into a wellspring of intrinsic motivation.

2. Focus on the Process, Not Just the Product:

Our culture often emphasizes achievement over the journey. But for intrinsically motivated kids, the fun lies in the exploration, experimentation, and problem-solving that goes into creating something.

Help your child savor the process by asking open-ended questions, offering encouragement, and celebrating their effort alongside their finished product. 

3. Empower Them With Choices:

an mother and daughter looking at clothes on a rack

Give your child some control over their activities and goals.

This could involve letting them choose between different books to read, picking a topic for their science project, or deciding how to spend their free time.

When they feel a sense of ownership, they’re more invested in the outcome and take pride in their accomplishments.

4. Let Them Experience Natural Consequences:

Sometimes, the best teacher is experience. If your child insists on wearing shorts in winter, let them feel the chill (within reason, of course!).

This allows them to connect their actions with the natural consequences and helps them develop a sense of responsibility and problem-solving skills.

5. Minimize Rewards and Punishment:

While extrinsic motivators like rewards and punishments can work in the short term, they can actually undermine intrinsic motivation in the long run.

Focus on praising the effort and enjoyment your child experiences rather than just the outcome.

Discipline can be used for teaching and redirection, not as a punishment to control behavior. 

6. Be a Role Model for Intrinsic Motivation:  

Kids learn by watching.

Show your own enthusiasm for learning new things, pursuing your passions, and tackling challenges.

Talk openly about your own goals and the satisfaction you find in achieving them. 

7. Create a Supportive Environment:

a family sitting on a couch together

Make your home a place where curiosity is encouraged, mistakes are seen as learning opportunities, and effort is celebrated.  

Provide access to age-appropriate resources, offer help when needed, and most importantly, be their biggest cheerleader.

8. Embrace the Power of Play:

mother and son playing with wooden blocks in the living room

Play is not just a frivolous activity, it’s essential for intrinsic motivation.  

Unstructured play allows kids to explore, experiment, and discover their interests at their own pace.

Set aside dedicated time for free play and minimize distractions like screens. 

Conclusion

As parents, we dream of raising confident, self-directed individuals. Intrinsic motivation in kids is the key to achieve that.

When a child is driven by their own internal compass, they’re empowered to take charge of their learning, embrace challenges, and celebrate their accomplishments.

This journey of fostering intrinsic motivation isn’t just about their development, it’s about equipping them with the tools to navigate life’s adventures with resilience and a sense of purpose.

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