One thing that almost every parent wants for their children, is for them to have an eagerness to learn. We want our children to meet challenges ‘head on’, and to understand the true value of persistence and hard work. So it can be incredibly frustrating when we see our kids ‘dragging their feet’ and hear them complaining when they have to do anything that requires even a little bit of effort. All too often, when we want our children to show interest and we try to arouse their passions, we are met with complaints of “I’m bored” or “I don’t want to do this anymore, can’t I just watch TV instead?”
Although this can be frustrating for parents, it’s helpful to remember that sometimes trying to push our children to enjoy learning can actually have the opposite effect. For example, some parents try to coerce their children into practicing a musical instrument or completing their homework by using a reward system. While this can prove effective in the short-term, rather than encouraging a love of learning we are actually teaching our children that it’s not worth doing anything unless you are rewarded in some way for your efforts. What we actually want to encourage in our children is an intrinsic motivation to learn.
We found this fascinating article that explores this subject in greater detail, and we thought that with a new school year having just begun this was the perfect time to share it. We strongly recommend that you read the article in full however, here is a summary of some of the key points made:
Based on their extensive research, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester have identified three essential needs that parents need to address to help their children develop internal motivation and encourage a love of learning.
Children are far more likely to stick at something if they feel that they are good at it. However, our job as parents is to help give them the confidence to continue doing things that they may not naturally excel at. You can encourage your children to ‘step outside their comfort zone’ and want to take on new challenges by praising them for their efforts and not only for their achievements. Breaking down big tasks into smaller steps is another great way of motivating your child to want to stick at a task that they find difficult, as even the smallest of achievements will help your child to feel more competent.
Trying to force children to do something is often met with resistance and/or stubborn refusal, and this is largely because just like adults, children rarely like being told what to do. Obviously, we can’t give our children total freedom, but involving them in decisions and allowing them to be independent wherever possible helps to give them a sense of control and encourages them to be more cooperative. We can do this by offering them two alternative choices, both of which suit us. For example, instead of telling them “You must practice your violin for twenty minutes before dinner!” try asking, “Would you like to practice your violin before or after dinner?” You’ll find that allowing them some independence minimises resistance and increases their motivation to cooperate with your request.
Building a strong connection with your child to help motivate them to ‘get out of their comfort zone’ starts with you acknowledging their feelings, and allowing them to express themselves openly in the knowledge that they will actually be heard. A great motivator for them to try new things or challenge themselves can be a role model such as a teacher or coach or to be part of a team. Finally, we must make sure that the expectations we have of our children are reasonable. We know that it’s impossible to be fully motivated about everything all of the time, so we must be careful not to put unreasonable pressure on our children.