What Exactly is Intrinsic Motivation? Why Do Your Kids Need It?

What Exactly is Intrinsic Motivation? Why Do Your Kids Need It?

The common trait among all of these intrinsically-motivated behaviours is the quality of being “proactive”

We as parents want our kids to take up responsibilities willingly. Not just for rewards. Kids who do this demonstrate intrinsic motivation. This means a desire to accomplish goals because of an inner desire to do so. 

Intrinsic motivation can help kids build resilience and character in ways that extrinsic motivation cannot.

This piece will take a look at the psychology behind intrinsic motivation, the benefits it has for kids and how a chore chart can foster this form of motivation. 

A Textbook Definition of Intrinsic Motivation

In the book, “Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior With Concept Maps,” the authors provide a more insightful definition of intrinsic motivation. 

“Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.”

If you’ve ever told your child to “do something because you want to”, you were basically asking your child to be intrinsically motivated. 

When someone is intrinsically motivated, they will complete a challenging task because they find it fun and exciting. This means rewards take a backseat. 

This differs from extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is when a child (or adult) completes an activity because it garners a reward. Or prevent your child from getting punished.

What Intrinsic Motivation Looks Like in Kids

It can be tricky to recognize this intrinsic motivation in your kids.

With that said, here are a few examples that suggest a child is intrinsically motivated to complete a task.

  • Practicing a sport or instrument even when there are no rewards or praises to come in the near future
  • Reading an extra chapter or two for a school subject that they could postpone for later
  • Cleaning their rooms or other parts of the house before being told to do so (they genuinely care about the cleanliness of their home) 

That last one is every parent’s dream! 

Nevertheless, the common trait among all of these intrinsically-motivated behaviours is the quality of being “proactive”. 

As your kids grow up, they will be exposed to more tasks, responsibilities and expectations that will ask them to be engaged or proactive.

In fact, kids who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to:

  • Stay resilient in the face of hardships
  • Succeed in school and in the workplace (have higher career satisfaction and earn more)
  • Stay committed to relationships, hobbies and values for the long haul
  • Have a higher quality of life

That’s why it’s beneficial for your child to practice the art of being intrinsically motivated while they’re younger. But how so? 

Pushing their Intrinsic Motivation Buttons

Intrinsic motivation can’t be taught but it can be learned.

Kids can cultivate that desire to do things because they want to. However, they may need help creating the conditions necessary to help your kids develop that sense of inner drive. 

The 5 Pillars to Intrinsic Motivation help to define these conditions

  • Challenge – People (kids included) pursue goals that create meaning, goals that tend to be challenging. 
  • Curiosity  When kids are curious about something, they’re more likely to pursue it. 
  • Control  If your kids can exhibit control over how they act, their environments and the goals they want to pursue, they’ll be more likely to follow through.
  • Cooperation & competition  The satisfaction that comes from helping others and in the face of competition (in a healthy way) fuel intrinsic motivation.  
  • Recognition  Although it may seem like an extrinsic reward, being recognized by others can increase intrinsic motivation because humans have an internal desire to be recognized. 

Use a Chore Chart as an Intrinsic Motivation Board

My Starry Chart is a visual way to have kids stay responsible and organized when it comes to household chores.

My Starry Chart can also be a perfect tool to enhance or create intrinsic motivation.

For example:

  • Assign a chore & make it fun – Choose an activity such as washing the dishes or taking out the trash and find a way to make it entertaining. 
    • Kids are naturally playful and will complete challenging tasks as long as they find these tasks fun and engaging. 
    • Also, if they have a sibling with their own chore chart, a race (of course watching for poor sportsmanship, or competition that ceases to be playful) to collect the star sticker for washing dishes that day can help to boost intrinsic motivation.
  • Turn a chore into a challenge – For kids with strong mindsets, you can turn a chore into a challenge especially if they’re the type to enjoy challenges. 
    • Or, you can set a star sticker on their My Starry Chart, only if they complete the task successfully for the whole week. The challenge may encourage them to stay on top of this responsibility.
  • Observe your kids for proactive, helpful behaviour – Sometimes, kids will surprise you with acts of kindness. If your child is naturally helpful in some ways, encourage them further.
  • Ask your kids to pick a chore they’d like to do  Simply asking what your kids want to do around the house may reveal a lot about their interests. If they pick a chore, let them do it under your supervision.
    • With that in mind, when the chore is successfully complete, allow them the chance to place their star sticker on the board themselves. Participation in their own success will be truly gratifying.

Intrinsic Motivation Drives Kids to Success

Intrinsic motivation takes time to build.

It’s not a natural thing for kids to possess early on.

Regardless of how long it takes, when kids develop an inner desire to accomplish tasks, they will find it easier to take responsibility for chores. Without your reminders. 

My Starry Chart will reinforce this attitude of not needing reminders from parents, as visual representation from the chart will help to do this.

But eventually, this attitude or being motivated on their own will carry on. Into other aspects of their lives, and into adulthood.

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