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Incentive Systems To Motivate Your Children

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

The patience to handle a child’s misbehavior can only stretch so thin and there are only so many tactics you can think of on your own to try. Incentive systems can be great ways to change your child’s behavior or get them to accomplish a task (I mean what kid doesn’t appreciate a reward?). A simple reward system can be a great tool when it comes to toddlers biting, tantrum spikes, or chore refusals. There are a few things to get to know before you can start a basic reward system that won’t burn out or backfire though, let’s get into it: Do you know what type of motivation your child has?
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to activities your child chooses to do for joy, and extrinsic refers to activities you child will do for another outcome. While the outcomes of both motivation types can be similar, there are some studies that show how intrinsically motivated activities can have better results in terms of performance and engagement. In one study at the University of Rochester, researchers asked a group of undergraduate students to read an article and then record their emotions while reading it. One week later, they tested the students’ ability to recall the information. Students who found the article interesting or enjoyable scored better than other students who didn’t in recalling and comprehending the information, even after accounting for their differences in verbal aptitude. So, what motivates children?
Many parents offer direct rewards and consequences for desired behaviors, only to find that these tactics stop working quite quickly over time. These extrinsic motivators lead to learning and shortcuts and can burn out or backfire over time. They may even lower a child’s intrinsic motivation regarding certain activities or behaviors if there was any to begin with. Many studies have shown that when a reward (e.g. ice cream or video games) or a controlling factor (e.g. punishment or privilege removal) is introduced, a person’s intrinsic drive decreases. Meaning that if a child has some interest in changing behavior or completing a task, like a chore, offering them a reward can reduce their willingness even if it worked the first time. Fear not, this does not mean there’s no hope in motivating a child.
How do you begin to use extrinsic motivation effectively?

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. To help a child become more motivated, step one will include helping them learn to start enjoying instead of controlling their motivator/reward. Being controlling, applying pressure, or losing motivation with rewards can only go so far and won’t help them enjoy an activity more. Offer your child opportunities to take initiative, building independence and autonomy are crucial to developing intrinsic motivation. Inspiration
Aiming to inspire can be a challenging task and may work best on young ones, not older kids. The best approaches can be to show them new perspectives on how they can enjoy different behaviors and tasks. For example, Show children that learning a new skill and mastering it is fun. According to Verywell Family, some examples may include:
  • “Create a learning environment instead of a working situation. We learn to acquire new knowledge, not just to complete homework or get a good grade.

  • Pique their curiosity in new subjects by showing them the different uses of them.

  • Let them choose activities according to the child’s interests without pressure.

  • Celebrate success milestones together (but do not over-praise or praise conditionally).

  • Support kids by providing constructive feedback, not criticism, that can enhance a sense of competence.

  • When children are stuck at a problem, help them view it as a “challenge they can conquer”, not a “difficulty they need to overcome”.

  • Do not refer to the activity as “children’s job”.

  • Do not use a break from the activity, such as “No school work”, as a reward.”

There are some activities and behaviors that will never really be “fun” or enjoyable. If that’s the case, it is important to help children internalize the importance of these behaviors or activities. They will need to identify why a task is important and understand the need for it. Children must grasp the meaning and worth of doing something to fully internalize it.
For instance, training for hockey is a difficult thing to do, but practicing is critical and necessary for growing better at it. You may need to help your child understand that if they want better hockey skills, they must practice even if it’s not always as enjoyable as a match.

Independence can be a crucial step in developing intrinsic motivation. Once children can learn to make their own choices, and the right choices at that, they may feel more motivated. Sometimes though, allowing them to practice decision-making and experience these wrong choice consequences (as long as they’re not dangerous) under your guidance can be good for growth. There are some tasks a child must do like attending school, so that may not be negotiable, but if they absolutely refuse to complete homework, letting them face the natural consequence at school one time can let them experience the importance of it.

Everyone loves the feeling of accomplishment some intrinsically motivated tasks offer. But a task that is too easy will be too boring and a task that is too difficult will be too discouraging. The best challenge for motivation will include a level of difficulty slightly higher than a child’s experience level, while still being achievable through practice and dedication. This will inspire a healthy growth mindset if done correctly. Help them figure out a process for working through problems and encourage them to practice. Once they master a new skill, their new level of competence can boost their positivity and motivation for what comes next. One of the most reliable motivators for a child’s performance, can be a parent’s involvement. This does not mean to overstep, control, pressure, etc but be there for them and cheer them on. Being involved in your child’s learning process has been proven to help boost their school, art, music, and sport performance. Our team of tutors and child care providers is here to help get your child on the path to success. Feel free to let us know your family’s needs on our website, or call 623-400-8470 to ask any questions that are holding you back.
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