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Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation: Understanding what motivates your child

Self-motivation for kids is an important life skill, but when you find there’s a lack of motivation in teens and kids, it might require some input or at least an understanding from you as the parent.

Let’s dig a little deeper into understanding intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and what motivates your child.


What is intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation?

The key to your child’s motivation generally arises from two factors, intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. As you can probably figure, intrinsic motivation comes from within, and extrinsic motivation comes from external factors.


Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation means you do something without expecting external rewards. It’s enjoyable and interesting, not because you are under pressure or are rewarded for doing it.

It is more likely to be intrinsic motivation if you enjoy reading a book and find interest in the story or subject than if you are reading it to pass a class.

Described by developmental Psychologists, Ryan and Deci (2000) as a major “source of enjoyment and vitality throughout life“, intrinsic motivation can be defined as such things as assimilation, mastery, spontaneous interest, and exploration.

These characteristics emerge spontaneously in children from birth, such as curiosity, playfulness, and inquisitiveness.

A particular type of intrinsic motivation has to do with the concept of growth mindset – the idea that it is possible to learn from mistakes. But intrinsic motivation entails so much more than just that. There is also a link between intrinsic motivation and a mental strength quality known as cognitive hardiness.


Extrinsic motivation

A task completed for a separate outcome such as a reward or avoiding punishment is known as extrinsic motivation.

In many cases, we do things not for pleasure but only for necessity or to obtain something else, and it is extrinsically motivating for us to do so.

For example, your child might put up a fight, but eventually complete their homework to avoid punishment, which is an external source causing the action. 

Because your child is motivated extrinsically by doing it rather than for enjoyment, it is external. Therefore, your child is extrinsically motivated to do the homework.


How to motivate your child

So, how do you find out what motivates your child

Incentives can serve as the hook that sparks interest in learning and self-motivation. This could be promised TV time after finishing homework, a sweet treat after Saturday morning sport or simply words of encouragement after taking out the bins.

It’s important to remember that although children should learn to motivate themselves, they are still developing and learning from their experiences. 

Allow time for your child to motivate themselves intrinsically, and if they’re having difficulty, you can provide encouragement with reasonable incentives when necessary.

If your child is experiencing difficulty with self-motivation, you might like to explore our military-style boot camps. Each Junior Leader Program is designed to instil key life skills like motivation, as well as respect, courage, teamwork, initiative, honesty and resilience to help children and teens forge successful life paths.

Find out more about our military-style boot camp and how we can help your child tackle challenges of all shapes and sizes and have the ability to do so with confidence – whether at school, at home, in social circles and beyond.

If you found this article helpful, you might also like to explore what it means to be a teenager today.

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