Motivated people do get better results there’s no doubt about that. Motivation probably counts for more than ability because persistence, effort and problem solving are key skills to overcome challenge and stay focused on your goals. So where does motivation come from and can you help children to become motivated? The short answer is yes and here are 5 strategies to help you fire up your child’s enthusiasm.

1. Don’t rely on rewards if you want to encourage self motivated behaviour. Use rewards sparingly and for dull tasks which have no intrinsic merit but which are essential to hone useful skills. Multiplication tables, music scales that sort of thing. If you can find a fun way to do something instead, then that will work better. There is evidence that rewards can impair performance where skill and creativity are required because it makes the race to the finish more important than the process involved. So the verdict is that although rewards seem a good idea and useful when strong enticement is needed they can be counter productive.

2. Encourage free play. A lot is happening when children are playing spontaneously and creatively with no rules and no pressure. Useful skills are developed and refined like planning, organisation, concentration, creativity and problem solving. Play which is free of rules and has no imposed structure encourages self reliance and the opportunity to become totally immersed in the task. This gives a child the experience of flow. Flow is the result of being totally focused and in control with the knowledge that you have the skills you need to make something happen. Power, competence and the experience of success is a heady mixture which makes self motivation an exciting experience. The child is learning and making things happen. Free play develops a child’s confidence and their competence at the same time.

3. Praise effort not results. If you want children to appreciate the importance of being focused and determined then don’t put the emphasis on results alone. When something is a little bit difficult but acknowledged for effort then the chances are that it will hold a child’s attention while they search for a solution.

4. Work with a child’s strengths. Encouraging children to use skills which are naturally interesting to them helps children to learn about themselves and their unique strengths. Young children learn a great deal about themselves through their creative strengths whether this is art, music, or dance. A child who is musical will naturally find time and opportunities to listen, sing or play. The experience of learn to organise and manage an activity you are passionate about teaches skills which can then transfer to other areas.

5. Plant golden seeds a motivated child needs to be free to explore and experiment, some things will capture their imagination and attention while other experiences are no more than a passing phase. Being a helicopter or tiger parent will over power your child and leave them little room to learn about themselves. However you do want your child to know that you are interested and are appreciative of what they are doing. The balance is to offer observations positively but not intrusively. Think of yourself as holding a mirror up to your child so they gain self knowledge from your comments.

6. be mindful and focus on the present. Children change and grow and their interests come and go too. It is tempting to let your mind wander about whether they will become a great scientist and what would help them do that so and before you know what has happened you are distracted from the present experience. Self motivated people do not always have a grand design or a 5 year plan they do something because they love it and want to see where it takes them.

Self motivation is a delicate process which starts with using your strengths and can grow and expand as your sense of competence becomes broader. As the saying goes: “If you think you can do it you probably will” Encourage positive thinking and nurture self belief in as many small ways as you can.

In my latest book What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive psychology to Help Children Flourish you can find out more about how to help children become confident and self motivated.

Author's Bio: 

Jeni Hooper is a Child and educational psychologist specialising in helping children to find their best selves and to flourish. Her book What Children need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and can be viewed here
Jeni can be contacted at or visit my website