Long term, if you want an intrinsically motivated child (who does things because it feels good and right) rather than a child who is extrinsically motivated (and does things in order to be rewarded by someone else) then thinking carefully about how you nurture that is really important. The way we talk to our children can make a huge difference in the way they motivate themselves in the future.
Offering rewards for certain behaviours can mean that your child comes to expect a reward for doing things and doesn’t feel satisfied for just doing a job well. Giving children gifts is absolutely fine but they need to be free of any strings or expectations. Pocket money is a really good example here; if your child is given pocket money on condition that they do certain jobs around the house/behave in a certain way, you are unwittingly sending the message that helping out at home and behaving in a kind and considerate way is only worth doing for money. However, offering pocket money with no strings attached teaches children about handling and managing money, saving for things and responsibility - all valuable lessons in their own right. Household jobs can then become an expected part of your daily family life because all members of the family chip in and help out and these chores are not tied to reward. The reward is internal (I feel good about being part of a family & playing my role). See the difference?
Generic praise can be seen as a type of reward. Children who are constantly seeking praise tie their self-worth to how others view them and look for outward validation. Children who are internally proud of themselves when they do a good job are able to build a much stronger sense of self-esteem and don’t need other people’s opinions to feel like they are valuable, important human beings. All children really need is someone to love them unconditionally and give them enthusiastic, focused attention. Showing an interest in your child’s life and spending time with them is what they crave far more than a ‘well done.’
So, where do you go from here? Try out my top tips below and expect to notice how often you say ‘well done’ – I seem to constantly say it without thinking! You can always add to it and tell them what you’re saying ‘well done’ for, that is definitely a step in the right direction!!
Ditch the ‘well done’ and ‘good girl/boy’ and replace it with thank you instead
“Thank you for putting your books back on the shelf, that really helps to keep the house tidy.”
Be specific – tell your child EXACTLY what you are pleased about:
“Wow, I’m so impressed, you put your pyjamas into the washing basket when you got dressed this morning.”
Say what you see – give your child your undivided attention and comment on what is in front of your eyes without adding a value judgment:
“You’ve built a really tall tower. It’s all made from red bricks and then there’s a blue brick right at the top.”
Show interest in what they’re doing and ask questions:
“Tell me about that picture you’ve drawn.”
Notice and comment on effort rather than outcome:
“You tried so hard to tie your shoelaces and didn’t give up!”
Some of these ways of praising can feel pretty unnatural when you’re first starting out but stick with it, you’re helping your child to build a really secure sense of self esteem & the desire to help others without thinking “what’s in it for me?”
Lauren Partington - BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm consultant- CalmFamily York & North Yorkshire
Lauren was born and raised in South Africa before moving to York to attend university; where she fell in love with the city (and her now husband). After almost a decade as a primary school teacher, Lauren left education of one kind and moved into another. Now a certified CalmFamily parenting consultant and owner of 'Extraordinary [Ordinary] Mum', Lauren supports mothers find their calm, understand their children and build a life based on strong, positive principles. She's the proud mother to two feisty children who have taught her what the parenting books never could... what being a mother really means.