Your spouse/partner comes to you and says, “Hey, I need you to organize the shelves in the garage this weekend.”
“Hey, I’d love to get the garage organized this weekend! Would you be willing to handle the shelves? Or would you rather tackle the pile of tools?”
Which would most get you on board with their project?
I am certainly MUCH more motivated when I’m not being told what to do, but being given choice.
As promised, I’m back with more ideas on what TO DO to motivate your learner!
Back in January, I had a fabulous discussion with Vibha Arora in which she suggested giving a child autonomy if they are shutting down and refusing to work.
I agreed with Vibha on so many things, and this was no exception!
Autonomy is very motivating!
When a child is told that they “have to” do something, a child’s autonomy is being removed and they will fight to get it back. “You have to ____” is instantly going to make a child less willing and interested in doing that thing.
Autonomy’s definition is: “the capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision”. When we are using rewards and punishments, we are using coercion.
How do we boost autonomy and motivation?
Give developmentally-appropriate choices. Two choices for some kids, and many more for others.
Give meaningful choices. Asking “do you want to use the crayon or colored pencil?” is less meaningful than “do you want to practice counting or do you want to practice your letters?” Both kinds of choices can boost autonomy, but more meaningful choices will go further in this aim.
When kids feel powerless, they fight back. Which then causes us to up-level our authoritarian instincts (or is it just me?). We start to threaten or punish and they feel more powerless and things just spiral…
But the opposite is also true: the more often we give choices, the more empowered they feel.
When giving choices, you can give information about what is important to you. “It is important that you work on learning your letter sounds.” Then asking them how they’d like to do it, but offering choices that they can select from.
Younger kids will have had less exposure to all the different options in how to learn something, so giving them a variety to choose from is helpful in their selecting a choice. Older kids won’t necessarily need specific choice, but just the freedom to come up with ideas on how to achieve the goal.
When you are giving meaningful choices, you are giving kids control over something and allowing them to recognize that their choices are important.
Don’t force the responsibility, but allow for it. Allow them to engage meaningfully in the family and participate in what needs to happen.
Rather than choosing a curriculum for your child, allow them to choose for themselves. This might be between two choices you’ve looked at, or it might be more open-ended and allowing them to do all the research behind it (for older kids). (“Would you like to use A or B for your reading curriculum? Look at these features…” or “We need a reading curriculum for next school year, do you want to take the lead on researching and choosing one?”)
We might also allow our child to choose how or where they go to school. Maybe they can choose between two nearby schools, or maybe they can choose home school or public school. Maybe you homeschool, but are open to them selecting the style of homeschooling.
You can allow them to take responsibility over their work space. And with that and other responsibilities, you can give parameters around what is acceptable to you, and establish what is important to them. “You need a clear space where you can focus on your studies.” and “I need this desk kept cleared off when you’re not using it because having clutter in the living room doesn’t work for me.”
Give responsibility as a gift. Responsibility comes with benefits and consequences. It can allow for more freedom, but also more opportunity for messing up and needing to make repairs. Give responsibility and trust in your child.
Follow Their Lead
Whatever a child is already interested in, they’re already intrinsically motivated toward. Encourage and support these interests as well as doing whatever you can to encourage them in developing new interests. (These are the WORST times to utilize rewards!)
Takeaway: Autonomy can be very motivating!
How do YOU foster autonomy?