This is part two of a two-part series about intrinsic motivation. Read part one now.
One of the hardest times of the day to inspire intrinsic motivation in a child is after eight hours of academia of any kind. But that doesn’t mean its not worth the effort. Why? Because there is a truly invaluable lesson to be learned at this time of the day for all of us:
How we find it in us to keep doing what needs doing when we really don’t want to.
Try implementing these steps in this particular order – the order does matter – when your kids get home from school to lovingly support the development of their self-motivation at one of the hardest times of the day to do so. (Ahem, parents, you could try this, too!)
1. Empower their Transition
If your child walks home along every day, their transition from school to home may be built into their day. But most children will require a period of adjustment when they walk in the door after a long day of school. This is a powerful opportunity to motivate them to take responsibility for their own self-care.
The first part of this step is to help your child acknowledge that they had a long day – even if it was a good one, they’ve been away from home a long time. This can be as simple as saying, “Welcome home.” You’d think something so simple would seem flippant, but it is absolutely a transition statement. “Now you are here. You were away. Now you are home. Welcome.”
The other part of the transition is nourishment. This can be literal nourishment – a snack – or emotional or physical nourishment like napping or coloring or playing outside.
Your child may be able to identify what nourishes them in a healthy way on their own, but as with adults, some kids are naturally better at recognizing their needs than others. If your child doesn’t know what would nourish them, they may need to try a few different things or hear your ideas or be given choices.
Then, if you are available to support their transition – and you should be completely available and willing, not distracted or rushed – you may also offer to talk with them about their day, start setting up the snack, and so on. (But they should feel free to say no, and you should, again, feel free not to offer.)
With younger children who have little or no concept of time, don’t worry about the length of the transition. For example if your child needs a snack after school and likes to color, those activities may take 15-30 minutes. When the snack is finished, put away the coloring and get ready for what’s next.
Remember, even young children can participate in choosing and setting up their meal. Let them do as much as possible – this step is about them taking care of themselves.
Middle grade kids or those just learning this concept can use the microwave to track time or, especially if you have multiple children on different schedules, egg timers – they’re cheap, and each child can have their own. One child may need to disappear into their room for 30 minutes. Another may prefer to read and munch in their favorite chair.
How this can go wrong: It’s possible your young child will try to take advantage of the “free time.” For really little ones, just give them choices you already know help calm them. “Would you like to read a book or sing songs?” For the slightly older younger child, try framing the time for them with questions like, “When you get home from school, what do you feel like you need to feel relaxed?” Older children may abuse the time they’ve been allotted by over-napping, for example. There should be natural consequences for this. For example, if they oversleep by an hour, that’s an hour less free time they have after they complete the following steps.
How this will go right: Your child will learn to recognize their need to transition when they move into new environments or come off a long day. Being able to listen to one’s self and acknowledge then address their own needs is powerful. Did you notice there are elements of time management and responsibility here, too? Don’t overlook those desirable character traits!
2. Let Their Work Be Their Own
Set the expectation that your child will sit in a specific place – and make it the same place every day – to go through their backpack for important “parent papers,” and to do any homework that may have come home. Remind them that you are available to help, but that they will need to ask for it. After you set these expectations, let their work be their own.
I know. I know. “But it’s homework.” Seriously, let it go. It’s their work.
Younger children may need you to stay in the room if they cannot read instructions. Feel free to lurk but not hover. They may also need access to scissors and glue sticks, sharpened pencils – even your physical ear if they’re learning to read – so make sure those are easy-to-access, so they can be as responsible for work as possible.
Middle grade children will need less supervision but may still need someone to check their work or sign off on reading logs. You can also take this opportunity to support them in learning how to manage their assignment calendars, crossing things off as they complete them and taking note about what’s ahead.
Again, older children should be managing their own work completely at this point. If they are not quite there, try having them sit in a common room where they can be supervised from afar.
How this can go wrong: Every child at every age is going to forget something at some point. An important paper will get lost. Homework will be completed – you’ll know because you saw them do it – and never turned in. That’s okay! Pray that these failures happen! It is better that children feel the sting of their missing work earlier on in their education than later. Blatantly defiant children will require a little extra support. Standby for more information about that!
How this will go right: Your child will learn to take responsibility for their own work, that you will not be doing it for them. Not only will they learn the work is theirs, but also that they are capable of doing it. Confidence in academics is a win any day of the week! Finally, self-motivation with one’s homework is also a launching point for teaching children to do their best work and take pride in it wherever they are and whatever they are doing. A next step, for example, in the summer time, could be to exchange doing homework for doing an extra household chore.
3. Teach Them to Balance Joy
Unfortunately, American culture and its eduction system are often driven by certain standards of success. A standard could be as simple as natural classroom competition between peers or more complicated like state-mandated benchmark testing. Regardless, the emphasis on “being smart” in one way or another, can not only be stressful, but also result in chronic striving. It’s important to note, desiring success is not strictly a bad thing. Expectations for achievement can be positive, external motivators for children if implemented carefully.
But this article is about teaching a child to be naturally motivated on their own. And for that, your child needs to be familiar with joy.
So after your child has taken care of themselves based on what they feel they need and after they’ve taken responsibility for the work they are, in fact, responsible for, they should do something enjoyable to them.
For young children, this may mean going outside to play with friends. It could be an age-appropriate cartoon. If you are trying to avoid media, you may need to provide choices as a startling point, helping them recognize activities they may not consider but you’ve seen them enjoy otherwise.
In these times, older children will often choose media – computer time, video games or time chatting with their friends via their mobile device. Again, if you’re trying to avoid teaching your child that joy lies in media, help them identify other options. Examples may include, taking a dance class, going for a swim, meeting up with friends at the basketball court and so on.
How this can go wrong: This this step is not intended to be used as an external motivator for your child to do their homework, and therefore, it’s not something to be taken away or grounded from. When this step is wielded as an incentive (or respective punishment), the lesson changes.
Additionally, your child may choose an activity that is not good for them – perhaps their choice involves friends you don’t approve of or an activity they are prone to over-indulge in already. While the goal is to support your child in recognizing and experiencing enjoyment in an otherwise stressful time, it is definitely something to be done with a point. Feel free to parent.
How this will go right: Your child will learn to balance stress with stress relief. They will be able to identify healthy tactics to unwind after hard work is completed. Down the road, having a handful of healthy, coping choices can provide alternatives to unhealthy ones from over-eating to drug abuse.
The Benefits for Blended Families
Just like in the first part of this article, this plan to promote intrinsic motivation in your child is based on a routine that happens at a specific place and time. Therefore, if the step-parent relationship is strained for any reason, it is something the bio-parent can establish and have the step-parent participate in or monitor on their own without too many power struggles with the child.
Additionally, each of these steps are rooted in love for thr child. This isn’t about cracking a whip or regimenting a schedule. Instead its about coming alongside the child during a more difficult time of the day and supporting the child in discovering what they need. Therefore, this can also serve as an opportunity to bond. And that’s what we’re all about here!
Remember, teaching your child to be intrinsically motivated your child isn’t hard, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy, either. Being motivated to do what needs to be done when we feel like we already have been “doing it” all day long, is one of the hardest lessons to learn.
But if you can teach your child the value of using self-care and healthy enjoyment as metaphorical bookends for the necessary, you can also teach them to be intrinsically motivated to do the important work in between.
What do you notice motivates your kid to be just that – more motivated?! Share in the comments below.