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How to Create Intrinsic Motivation

May 2016

How are you going to get them to do it in a way that builds positive self-concept?

Are you going to drag him kicking and screaming into the shower? Empty her room of all of her belongings because she wouldn’t clean it? Ground him from all activities and take away his electronics until he pulls his grades up?

You could try these things. They might work. But they aren’t very nice, and they probably won’t nurture a positive self-concept, nor help your child be intrinsically motivated to do these things in the future. Children who are not already intrinsically motivated to do the “right thing” may need a bit of external reinforcement to get them started. Once you get the behavior started, they will experience the natural reinforcers that go along with doing the “right thing”, and this will translate into what we call “intrinsic motivation”.

Furthermore, if we assist in the process by providing extra positive reinforcement in the form of verbal acknowledgement or specific praise, this helps children frame their positive choices in terms of their own self-concept. Repeated reflections that “You just did a great job showing self-control by not throwing that toy”, and “What a great friend you are for giving Sally a hug when she was feeling sad” translate into “I have good self-control” and “I am a kind friend”. People’s behavioral choices will reflect who they think they are as a person. If your child thinks he has good self-control, he is more apt to show self-control. The reverse is also true – if you fall into the trap of constantly reminding your child that he lacks self-control, he will not even try to practice a skill that he’s been told he doesn’t have.

Dr. Teri Bullis, Ph.D., BCBAI believe that every parent I’ve ever worked with loves their child and is doing the very best that they can. But while parenting is the toughest job anyone will ever have, children don’t come with a “how to” manual. I can provide those “how to” directions, tailored for your unique child and family situation.

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