5 Ways to Foster Your Child’s Intrinsic Motivation

5 Ways to Foster Your Child’s Intrinsic Motivation

Newborns are born with a built-in radar system, aptly named—intrinsic motivation.

The Deliberative Mind said,

“Motivation is what moves you to go after something you want to have.” 

A few weeks ago, I held my friend’s adorable granddaughter, three-month-old, Isla.

Beautiful children–Evan, Isla & Ella

Cousin Ella squeezed a plastic giraffe. When the toy squeaked, Isla was Intrinsically motivated to turn her head, and then she reached for the toy. While reading a book to Ella and her brother, baby Isla leaned forward, and then focused on wiggly, glass puppy eyes. (Look closely and you’ll notice the book resting against my knee).

Babies and young children don’t have long attention spans. But engaged in an activity they love, a motivated child will strive to complete the task. Tread lightly though. A child who performs an activity simply to please an adult is motivated by extrinsic rewards, and soon their interest will wan.

Matilda and I came up with 5 ways to stimulate your child’s intrinsic need to succeed:

  • Present age appropriate activities      

Yeah, stock up on picture books, building blocks, crayons and coloring books.

  • Give your child ample time to work on the task at hand.

Don’t tell them five minutes later they need to stop what they’re doing because you’ve got to run errands, or that you need another nap.

  • Teach them to persevere

Get down on your hands and knees, and engage in the activity with your rug rat.child.

  • Encourage them

Don’t go overboard and demand they complete the task your way. Good grief! Let kids be kids! 

  • Reward their efforts

Hold on! Ask your child, “How do you feel now that your project is all done?”

Matilda’s correct, again. Only then, reward your child’s effort with praise.

Boy, I’m good!

If you follow these simple suggestions, your child will not only be intrinsically motivated, but you’ll have taught them how to foster a positive attitude, and you’ll have prepared them to embark on an adventure that will last a lifetime.


“To succeed, you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.” Tony Dorsett


How did your parents or teachers motivate you to succeed?


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13 Responses

  1. I didn’t grow up in a don’t touch environment. I was encouraged to look, see, touch and smell and understand things within my own framework. Rewards for me were the excitement that came from new discoveries, most often found in the forest. My forest adventures sent me sailing into my books to explore further. I guess Matilda and I are a lot alike………we can never have too much intrinsic motivation !!!

    • Hi Terrol,
      Matilda and I are tickled pink that you were allowed to explore life on your own terms. What forest did you live by? Oh, I agree, you and Matilda are extremely alike. LOL 🙂 Thanks so much for your comments.

      • I was practically raised by wolves……ok not literally……..I grew up in Northern Ontario in a town called Schumacher. Some of my earliest memories included blueberry picking (yes we were allowed to eat them without sterilizing first) drinking spring fed water (yep you guessed it no boiling) ice fishing, snowshoeing, canoeing, and doing a lot of micro and macro exploring (hey you made me come up with a new term)…We brought home wounded birds for repairs, snakes and frogs, built forest cabins (on a child’s scale) and my only only curfew was home before dark. Imagine that….I didn’t even have a cell phone or pager or an Epi-pen, or a first aid kit, a GPS or an instruction manual…………you get my point….I survived and it was AWESOME !!!!!

  2. Thanks for the reminder about intrinsic motivation. I do want my kids to care about their work/projects and do their best not just for me, but for themselves and for God.

  3. I grew in both a don’t touch and an explore environment… A long story but I enjoyed this post thoroughly. I believe being attentive to the motivation you raised, helped me raise my daughters to explore their creativity more. 😉

    • I’m so pleased my post made you think of your “don’t touch and explore environment”, although I’m sad to hear that. But you did chose to change the pattern with your daughters which is wonderful. 🙂