Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Looking to motivate your kids? A parent's look at motivation theory

Motivation Theory

The term motivation refers to that which energizes, directs, or sustains behavior (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2002).  Different people are motivated by different things.   Need for affiliation, need for approval and achievement motivation are the three big ones.   Motivation can be internal (intrinsic) or external (extrinsic) in source.

Let's set these two terms in the context of chores - something kids traditionally aren't motivated to do!

Intrinsic motivation is often driven by a natural curiosity, a need for cognitive consistency, or high achievement motivation (excellence for its own sake), a strong sense of self-determination, or valuing competence.  For a child who is intrinsically motivated, she may do chores because she loves tidying things, or values having a clean area, or likes working along side her parent”.   You can promote intrinsic motivation by focusing on the satisfaction, enjoyment, or pride that comes from the success in doing the task.   Targeting your child's self-efficacy can help, as children are more motivated to do that which they think they will be successful in doing. 

A child who is externally motivated on the other hand,
might do chores because for each chore she does she gets a quarter.   Paying for chores is a huge motivator.   When you promote external motivation through the use of reinforcements, you can undermine the intrinsic motivation.  It can also be seen by the child as controlling or manipulative, and leave them thinking “it MUST be unpleasant – otherwise why would they pay me to do this”.   Specifically, any rewards should be proportional.  Giving a child $5 for making her bed would NOT be proportional - but telling her you appreciated her taking care of that and pointing out how nice her bed looks would be a good extrinsic motivator.   

In general, we want to encourage intrinsic motivation and use external motivation when necessary, or in a way that builds their intrinsic motivation.  Using fact-based praise is the best external motivator.  Praise that communicates information and builds their self-efficacy is the best. “You worked very hard on cleaning that counter.  Look how shiny you got it”.   Another good external motivator is exposing them to a child similar to them, who is competent at the task and can model the desirable behavior.  I don't think Anthony would have ever started liking salad if it hadn't been for his older second cousin who came to visit and loved salad.

Rewards and punishments

Stimulus-Response Theory.  School is a great place to see the behaviorist approach to motivation.  Children are rewarded for good behavior through both positive and negative reinforcement, and they are punished for poor behavior.    Positive reinforcement is when they get something for good behavior – praise, or stickers, or marbles in the jar.  Negative reinforcement is when they can avoid something unpleasant for their good behavior – they can skip homework that day or avoid the spelling test by scoring high on a pre-test.  Punishment is the response to undesirable behavior that you are trying to stop; for instance you take away previously earned points or add homework when the child is noisy.

In general, children are more likely to behave in ways that they expect to bring about desirable consequences.  But Social Cognitive Theorists disagree somewhat with behaviorist and think that children’s expectations for future consequences have the bigger effect on the behavior than the past consequences. They are influenced therefore by modeling and imitation, as well as by vicarious reinforcements/punishments.

Okay you are saying now, but how do I get my kids to do their chores, or be motivated to get their homework completed without me nagging or yelling.   First recognize their poorly developed brains, then try these strategies.

  • Help them to set realistic goals or time frames and be realistic about their chances for success in a task.  If you only have a few minutes ask them to just put away their clothes (rather than asking them to clean the whole room).

  • Downplay their failures.

  • Use language that is task based not person based

  • Break it down to manageable tasks – sometimes they give up before they even start because they are overwhelmed.

  • Don't always reinforce.  When a response is only intermittently reinforced, it can help children develop persistence at a tough task.  For instance, if they are practicing piano, let them practice, leave them alone, and occasionally give them some verbal reinforcement. 

  • Use motivators when you need them (prize basket, sticker chart, special privilege) but make sure the reward is in proportion to the task you are requiring.

  • When using rewards recognize that delayed gratification gets better with age - therefore to be most effective, younger kids need those rewards sooner than older kids. 

  • Let them choose tasks from a list. This lets them choose the things they enjoy doing.

  • Use chore charts or lists and have them initial the tasks when completed. This gives them a visual tool and it encourages their sense of accomplishment to see it all completed.

  • Make it fun.  Turn on music if you can or let them work as a team.  Keep it up beat and work along side them. 
Thanks for stopping by!  If you have a comment or another tip for motivating your kids leave me a comment and share with the rest of us!

Consulting Texts
**McDevitt, T. and Ormrod, J.  (2002). Child Development and Education. Merrill Prentic Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 
**Stull, B. (2007). Coach Mom: Seven strategies for organising our daily into an all star team.  New Hope Publishers, Birmingham, AL. 

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