I have followed Alice and Living with a Jude for a while now. I love the her honesty and humour while she tells the story of living with her young family including her son Jude who has autism. When Alice said she would like to guest post I gave her free reign of any topic she wanted and I’m glad I did. I love this piece she has written about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation…
My interest in intrinsic motivation came from my training as a Montessori Teacher. I learnt so many things during this time and my eyes were opened to an immense amount of obvious but apparently holistic methods of raising and teaching children.
What is intrinsic motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is considered as performing an action or behaving in a particular way because you enjoy it and feel an internal sense of order and responsibility. It is an act entirely self-chosen. Extrinsic motivation is the opposite so purely doing something because you’ve been told you will be rewarded (or punished) in some way if you do or do not comply. An easy example to define the two is as follows:
A child picks up all the books in the reading area of a class room because they know it will keep the room tidy and they know it’s considerate to look after their environment. An extrinsic motivation would be a teacher telling a child to pick up all the reading books in their class room and if they do so then they’ll be given a sticker. The motivation doesn’t always have to be positive so another extrinsic motivation could be “if you don’t get full marks in your spelling test, you’ll lose your iPad for an hour.”
Internal and external rewards.
From a personal experience, I find extrinsic motivation for most children ridiculous. I also find that many parents completely overkill this method leading to it meaning very little. Empty threats? Extrinsic motivation. Sticker/reward charts? Extrinsic motivation. I feel they are a bit of a grasping at straws, desperate attempt at maintaining the control that many parents feel they must retain.
My eldest two children’s father is a classic extrinsic motivator. Elsa is independent and intrinsically raised so it doesn’t work. If she won’t talk to him on the phone because she’s had an exhausting day at school, he threatens to take away her iPad rather than question why she may not feel like chatting right at this moment. Now, does this make her WANT to talk to him on the phone? No. Does she talk to him on the phone? Not really. She’ll say hello and then ask if she can go and carry on with whatever she was previously doing. By his defined rules, she has completed what was asked of her but gained nothing positive or developmental through his extrinsic motivation.
To encourage her to speak to him, he should perhaps treat her like the very grown up eight year old girl that she is turning into. I’ve tried to relay this to him but he doesn’t listen because he doesn’t think her opinions are valid being that she’s “only a child.” (his words)
She even went through a phase of saying to me “let’s see how long it takes for me to lose my iPad this time?” on her way over to his flat for a fortnightly weekend visit.
How can parents allow more intrinsic motivation into their family life?
- Encourage decision making and try not to criticise end results, rather let the child feel free to control as many elements of their environment as possible. Autonomy is key!
- Expectations. Give a child broad expectations so they can feel they are contributing to the family life and ingest a sense of achievement when they complete a goal. Allow your child the biggest opportunity to succeed and see their confidence flourish.
- Eliminate punishments and reward charts. Children can become a bit obsessed with gaining that next star on the wall which defers them from seeing the real reason for behaving a certain way or for aiming for a certain target.
- Make tasks achievable, with a clear, defined outcome.
- Provide opportunities for children to build skills and therefore build confidence. Give them the opportunity to use these skills regularly and for a reason such as laying the table, making their own breakfast or organising their own bedroom. Set the child up for success! Our actions are often based on our beliefs so children need to believe they are capable of completing a job and thus build stronger self-belief.
- Remind them of how far they have come in a certain achievement. Have conversations about when they first started gymnastics and how hard they had to work in order to succeed at that perfect handstand.
- Work together on shared goals. Allow your child to contribute on a family decision. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing but perhaps ask them to think of a list of places to consider for a holiday or perhaps even giving them a regular (but apparently vital) role in mealtimes.
Children that are intrinsically motivated are more likely to be good decision makers, concentrate well in longer stints, use their initiative, have strong self-esteem, be able to use logic and develop responsibility quicker.
The irony is, all of the above is my true belief in how you should raise children. However, my eldest son is nearly eleven and has severe learning disabilities; he has no ability to intrinsically motive himself so often at school and home, we encourage him to behave well via treats such as a visit to his favourite garden centre or a bowl of grapes or a cereal he loves. I hate it and it kills me to even say “Jude, if you go to sleep like a good boy, you can have a biscuit in your packed lunch.” It’s horrendous and feels so empty. What does he gain from it? Nothing, it’s entirely enforced as a way of coping in our regularly tiresome existence.
I would love nothing more than for him to care about his environment, self-care or family members but he just doesn’t at the same level as a non-disabled child. However, I still believe that intrinsic is the only way to go. My two daughters are given as much freedom as possible and whilst they can be complete nightmares at time, there is no doubting their strength of mind and ability to decision-make themselves. Even Emmeline who is only eighteen months, it’s quite remarkable and I’m often afraid of the beast we have created but know it is vitally important for her to learn for herself and to not be driven by meaningless goals and targets.
What are your thoughts on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation?