Pamper your Children the Right Way


Do you recall the thrill of earning a sticker on a perfect assignment in school?

Many of us loved seeing those gold stars teachers would hand out. At face value, these stickers validated our hard work and effort, but this incentive system might have been harming our intrinsic motivation. In other words, these rewards were unmotivating us to want to learn or engage from within- we were distracted by trying to earn merits, not learning to learn.  

In study after study, it has been proven that rewarding a child’s behavior directly reduces their intrinsic motivation. This can backfire causing children to discontinue the behaviors, lose interest, or stop these activities in the future. If the use of rewards is left unchecked, pretty soon our kids will only desire to do something if they will get something out of it, even if it is just a gold sticker. As parents, we need to understand this correlation, because many of us enjoy giving our sons and daughters treats and rewards. After all, we want to build our children up, not set them up for failure.

Developing Intrinsic Motivation

Sometimes it is easy to find a child’s inner motivation. If one loves basketball, he or she will eagerly pick up the ball and shoot free throws for hours on end perfecting their shot. Or, maybe they are fascinated by Harry Potter and will devour any material they can get their hands on without being asked. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find intrinsic motivation for our sons and daughters.

Often, we have the best intentions when we offer rewards. We just want to get the children excited or want them to experience positive outcomes. However, far too often these motivators only work for a short time. To help kids boost their inner motivation, we need to limit our treats, use activities, arouse a child’s curiosity, and use humor to keep our children engaged without the threat of becoming spoiled.

5 Ways to Pamper Your Kids the Right Way

Listed below are ideas to help us balance rewards without dampening our children’s intrinsic motivation:

Instead of always relying on toys or food, pamper children with your attention. Our kids crave our input. Instead of showering them with material objects, spend time with them. A few minutes of our time spent with our boys and girls is a wonderful way to indulge them without using bribes or knick knacks. You are reinforcing the message they matter to you and deserve your attention. Plus, you will be creating new memories and getting to know your child on a higher level.

Allow them to earn rewards. I know we just said this was bad. However, there are times children need a little encouragement to get over a hump or overcome reluctance to try new activities. In these cases, it is alright to use a chart or system to track their progress. Make sure the reward doesn’t become the main priority and use rewards or privileges sparingly. We don’t want children to start expecting hands out just because they got a 100 on a test or took out the trash. Make the rewards count and avoid overuse. 

Give experiences. Instead of loading the house up with cheap toys that break or add clutter, consider using experiences as a reward. Take the children to the park, go swimming, pack a picnic, visit an ethnic restaurant, sign up for a monthly subscription to try new foods, or plan a day at the children’s museum. Go for walks and teach them about nature. Take trips to the symphony and discuss the music, instruments, and composers. Play games with them and encourage them to count, spell, or use strategies. This will help kids internally appreciate the world around them while encouraging them to broaden their horizons.

Moderation is key. It’s okay to indulge our kids once in awhile. One of my greatest childhood memories is when my parents splurged on concert tickets for me to see my favorite band. I will never forget that weekend, plus my parents and I were able to bond as we stood in long lines or sat in the stadium seats. It is alright to spoil a kid every now and then. They are only young once and deserve to enjoy the magic of childhood. Just remember to limit the rewards and treats, to prevent them from becoming common or expected.

Offer choices. Give children options or a say in what tasks they do. Nobody likes to be controlled and this freedom can increase a child’s motivation and help them feel in control. Experts recommend trying to avoid offering more than three options, because higher numbers can be overwhelming.

What suggestions do you have for developing or strengthening intrinsic motivation in our kids?

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About Hilary Smith

Hillary Smith loves technology and hasn’t met an app that didn’t catch her attention. After graduating from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism, Hillary began a career as a freelance writer focusing on the challenges of digital parenting. She works out every day and spends time with her children, ages 4 and 7.

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