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CHAPTER FIVE: MOTIVATION AND SUCCESS What we might have said: “Oh, I love this! It’s my favorite. I think it’s your best butterfly ever!” What we’re saying now: “You spent a lot of time on those wings – just look at the details. You must be really proud. Does it make you feel good to spend time drawing?” So we’ve already discussed effort-based praise and how it encourages diligence and a willingness to try hard things. When children are waiting around for a bit of praise or only choosing tasks they know they will succeed at, they become others-dependent and insecure. This is also the case with external motivators. When children are constantly looking for outside rewards and recognition, they will be left helpless in a situation where all that is stripped away. Children need to have opportunities to create their own self-concept, opportunities to rate themselves. They need to find motivation inside themselves and be able to own it. So let’s talk about motivation. When children are very young, they explore and try new things with abandon. They are curious, uninhibited. As they age, however, they begin to look for approval and affirmation. They respond to our judgments of them and are concerned with whether we are pleased or upset. This is normal, of course. But when we create a world wrapped up in what we think of them, dishing out rewards or consequences based on what we consider good or bad behavior, we take the control out of their hands and put it firmly in our own. What growing children need is increased autonomy. They need to be allowed to make their own choices and experience the results. They need freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to be taught to choose wisely -- to set goals and then be left to enjoy the innate rewards of their own doings. When we bribe our children to do what we want, we’re sending the message that we don’t think they’d do it without a reward! We are telling them that there must not be any intrinsic value involved and that we’ve got to pay them to do it. And we’re setting this expectation for the next event too. Soon they won’t do anything that doesn’t come with a reward attached. We end up with children who have lost their desire to do the things that would have been really fun. “External motivators – sticks and carrots – can be devastating, by crippling our creativity and our ability to solve problems. Problems people solve when left to their own devices – when not


offered a reward – become unsolvable when rewards are offered.” Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness As children enter school, you will hear -- “is this good enough? According to you -- have I succeeded? According to you -- am I worthy, acceptable, smart and kind? Have I met whatever standard you have for me?” They are addicted to rewards, addicted to your opinion of them. And if they can’t get the reward or the praise, they don’t have the motivation to do the good thing. They just don’t care anymore. “Good enough forfeits control of your life to the judgment of others. Good enough assumes that the goodness of life is in the eye of the beholder. Good enough is a lazy standard and it makes people miserable.” Matt Appling, author of Life After Art We don’t want to raise children who are trying to be just good enough. We want to raise children who are self-reliant, children who can be their own cheerleaders, children who have learned to persist for the sake of persisting. We want to raise children who are excited about life – who know the benefits that come from making good choices and from doing hard work. We want them to be self-disciplined and self-controlled. I believe the trick is to step back a few steps and give them some space. Children need structure, yes. But children need to live in an environment with built-in, ageappropriate freedoms. They need time and place to explore, to learn cause-to-effect, to create, to make mistakes, to see their own passions and abilities, and to make personal judgments without the appraisal of others. They need to say to themselves “I can do this” and “I enjoy doing this.” Let children pursue things that are meaningful to them. Let them set personal goals and own their successes. Let them feel the inherent satisfaction of sharing a toy or doing a kind deed. Let them feel valued for their contributions, simply because they are needed. And when it comes time to point out what they are doing, offer an authentic assessment that simply describes the situation: “you asked a worthwhile question” or “it looks like your friend is happier now” or “thank you for your flexible attitude.” There might be a place for extrinsic motivators – our society is built upon them. But science is finding that even in the workplace, adults are less motivated by money and more motivated by a sense of purpose, mastery, and autonomy. “If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them… But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive


designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.” Dan Pink Intrinsic motivation is sustaining. I’ve watched my six-year-old sit at the kitchen table for long periods of time, drawing electrical circuits. He is following his interests, he is completely immersed in this activity and he is unaware of things happening around him. He has entered what psychologists call a state of “flow” -- where you don’t really know how much time is passing while you engage in a favorite activity. If I started offering him a dollar for each hour he spent creatively drawing, I would totally cheapen the event. Rewards often destroy creativity, removing ownership, and teaching helplessness and dependence. So if you’ve got a young person that needs motivation, try putting them in a situation where they can make more choices about what to do and when to do it. Give them more ownership over the situation and discuss possible outcomes and the results of each choice. Send the message that you have high expectations and complete confidence in their abilities, but let the reward be theirs and the challenge be manageable. We’ve spent many years trying to create compliant young people – children and teens who will do as their told and students who will score well on tests. But we’re facing a future where we need a generation who is willing to take risks and to think outside the box. We need a generation that is confident in their own abilities. “The definitional tasks of 21st-century work are more complex, more creative. Solving complex problems requires an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment one’s way to a fresh solution.” Dana Truby [source] It’s time we considered raising a generation of confident, self-motivated children who find great joy and meaning in tasks without receiving any external reward. END OF SAMPLE Want to read more? >> Click here to purchase this eBook <<

Teach Me to Be Happy | Sample Chapter  

Chapter Five in my eBook about teaching happiness. A look at motivation and success and best practices when raising children.

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