Want Motivated Kids? Understand What Brings Them Joy


Children do joy naturally. From their first giggle to the first time they take a step or pick up a crayon, they show us with their bodies and words what makes them happy.

We are born with intrinsic motivation. Every one of us. If we weren’t we wouldn’t learn how to walk or talk or get out of bed. If you remember the early mornings of your child’s babyhood, you know they had motivation to get up and start the day!

Left to their own devices, kids will gravitate toward activities that motivate them. Physical kids will run and jump, introspective kids will read, write or create with arts and crafts, social kids will chat with anyone in the room,

Sometimes what motivates quirky kids isn’t always socially acceptable. The child with a specialized interest about trucks bores everyone with his constant listing of Mac truck facts and figures. We can’t always be buying new Lego sets and it isn’t polite to read Harry Potter in church.

But as adults consistently say “no,” to their child’s favorite past times or nag for them to shift focus and do something else, kids begin to lose their core awareness of what they really like to do.

And that is a shame. Because, even as adults, we need to know what we enjoy to live happy, fulfilled lives. While we appreciate our ability to read, write, do math and make eye contact, those aren’t the only things that make us feel good. Yet for many of our kids, those skills are the ones we emphasize at the risk of minimizing what really lights them up.

No matter what our age, life can’t be about one difficult task and chore after the other. Some of our kids put in a long day at school, then head off to therapies that are challenging in the afternoon, followed by homework with little downtime or free play opportunities.  Is it any wonder they start to lose motivation?

If you want to raise a motivated child, know what brings him/her joy.
What would they do without being asked? If they were given a free day, how would they spend it? If you took away screens for a few hours and gave them free reign to decide what to do, what would they choose? If you committed to say “YES” to any local, no-cost, low-cost outing they asked for where would they ask to go?

Why is this understanding of joy important?
When we know what our children innately like to do, we understand what motivates them.
We can tailor our requests, chore lists and rewards for doing difficult work.

For example, if your child loves to read, but struggles with organization, how about asking him to organize the bookshelf in his room, while you hang up his shirts?

Or, your active child may balk at indoor chores, but may be a superhero at yard work, washing the cars, and taking in groceries.

When your child must do non-prefered tasks, you can reward them with what motivates them.
There is nothing wrong with offering 15-30 minutes extra technology time for homework completed without a fuss, or taking everyone out for a favorite treat or movie after the house is cleaned.

Your child has motivation.
Often it’s just not for the “socially acceptable” things we hope they will do. And since we can’t change who they are deep down inside, our best bet is to know who they are, what gives them joy and adapt our requests to fit their natural motivators.And when we validate their efforts, appreciate their contributions and notice their attempts to do a good job (no matter how imperfect), we see their self-esteem increase.

When you leverage their natural motivators, over time, you will see a tween, teen and young adult who will do the chores because they need to be done, rather than for rewards. Why? They know doing a good job feels good and that can be the biggest motivator of all.

So we encourage you to get to know your child’s joys. They are the key to raising an intrinsically motivated kid!