Here's my definition of internal motivation for kids. Kids will do (x) because it's the right thing to do- not because their parents make them do it.
An example of internal motivation could be found in my backyard as a child. I played basketball all the time. No one ever made me do it. I loved all aspects of the game. Sometimes, I would watch basketball on TV by myself. Next, I would go outside and shoot at halftime; then watch the second half. Months before winning the Knights of Columbus state free throw championship when I was 12, I practiced free throws for hours. If I applied that same desire to my schoolwork, no Ivy League school would have turned me away. Simply put, I never had the same motivation in the classroom.
Here's a fact you need to know. Most kids are internally motivated. However, these motivations are not always aligned to the parent's motivations. Exactly how often were you motivated to do something your parents didn't want you to do? Never mind, that answer could take all day!
A concept I talk about in my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures is called "buttons." The basic premise is if I can push the right button, I make most people do almost anything. This, of course, would include children. Allow me to try this on you if you don't believe me.
Let's say I want you to do 10 jumping jacks in the next minute. How many of you think I can motivate you to do it? My first method may be to merely ask. Will you please do 10 jumping jacks for me? How many of you did it? Come on, be honest. I bet all of you did it, right? No? OK, I'll try again.
(In my loudest voice) DO 10 JUMPING JACKS FOR ME RIGHT NOW!!! Did that work? Did I scare you into doing them. I am pretty intimidating, right? Are any of you out of breath? No? OK, allow me one last try.
I would like you to do 10 jumping jacks in the next minute. If you accomplish the goal, I will donate $1,000 to your favorite charity. Now the situation has changed, hasn't it? You probably wouldn't have considered doing jumping jacks before but what about now? Have I hit your button yet?
In this hypothetical example, no one would have taken me seriously, until I mentioned charity. You'll notice, of course, I didn't offer the money to you. But most of us have a desire to help others. When I tapped on that desire, I got your attention.
Motivating kids to do projects and tests isn't hard providing you hit the right buttons. I've worked with hundreds of children who have been through hell most of your kids will never know. I can tell you as a fact that all of them had buttons. When I pressed the right button, they would move mountains.
I can also tell you that the more difficult a child was to teach behaviorally; the more buttons I would acquire on that child over time. This was a key to any success I’ve ever had with children.
Finally, though there are many ways to motivate kids; one method really sticks out to me. That method is the use of positive words. I knew how to motivate children with many different methods. Examples would be giving them something they wanted (for the desired action) or taking something they held dearly (if an action wasn’t to my satisfaction). Regardless, positive words are my #1 tool only because I’ve never had a tool work better.
I remember a boy once being restrained on the living room floor of St. Joseph Children’s Home by other house parents. I had just walked in to start my shift. He was shouting curse words and acting like a real a**. I’d worked with him extensively on “behaving for other adults.” He happened to look up at me and stopped his tirade. I remember looking down at him angrily and hollered, “You know you could have done better!” After that, I walked away because I was upset and didn’t want to say anymore. After I turned and walked, I heard the boy sobbing. That boy knew what I knew. He could have done better and he failed. Though my tone was loud, I was actually praising him for being smarter than what he was showing at that moment. On a bright note, I will tell you he turned out to be one of the best kids I have had the honor of working with.
Now is the point where I will see whether I pushed your buttons. If you liked the content of this blog, please pass it along to other parents you feel would benefit and encourage them to pass it along as well. If I didn’t do enough to press your buttons, don’t pass it along and allow me to try again Friday. All the best to you and your families!!!