I always wanted for my children to learn swimming in a young age, to insure their safety around pools and in beaches, and because I know that the younger they were when they learn any kind of a skill the better chances they have to master it. When my son were four years old, I have registered him to a one-month one-on-one swimming lesson, he learned a little bit, but still fear prohibited him from trying to swim without an aid. Now, he is six years old, and I chose to register him again but this time in a group swimming class, as I thought that peers could give him more confidence. I was right! Until the time came for him to swim without floats and he panicked again!
Once he finished his lesson, he asked me several times to promise him not to take him back to the swimming lesson ever again! I couldn't promise, because I really wanted him to continue his lessons, and I'm against using the reward system on everything, especially to motivate my child to learn, one of many reason is that if you offer a reward, it will be understood on some level, that the task is undesirable.
I had about two days of thinking on how to encourage him and convince him into continuing his lessons willingly. I tried to explain to him the importance of learning to swim, and I tried to assure him that the trainer will keep him safe but this didn't work. Hours before his lesson, he was so nervous and unwilling to listen to any of my speeches, and I didn't want to force him into it. So, as a final resort, I sat down with my eyes into his holding his shoulders and said "Your father and I were so proud of you last time when we saw you swimming, you really did it, you are progressing, and you were doing ok without aid that we were so impressed. I wish that you continue with your lessons.", it was truly what I felt. Suddenly, his eyes became brighter and he was smiling with joy and said "Ok mom, I'm going to the lesson.", I was stunned, before my short speech I was desperate and I didn't know that this small amount of encouragement and positive words would have this huge and quick effect on him.
According to Dr. Maria Montessori young children are naturally enthusiastic and passionate about experiencing and exploring their world. She believed that if this passion is nurtured and encouraged, it will help create independent, self- motivated people who enjoy learning, take responsibility for themselves without relying on outside direction.
Now the question is how do you develop internal motivation in children?
1.Show them that you love them unconditionally.
Children who feel loved and secure in their primary relationship don’t feel the need to accomplish in order to be loved. Anything that they drive themselves to do comes from a whole and empowered self.
2. Create opportunities for them to feel successful.
This is why I love Montessori's practical life activities. If you present a child with a developmentally-suitable practical life activity – anything from dusting a table to arranging flowers – they are given an opportunity to fine tune a skill and get a sense of accomplishment. (practical life activities tend to be an area where anyone can succeed with a little bit of focus and determination within a few attempts.)
Start out with basic skills and then encourage children to fine tune.
3. Make the work fun!
Adopt a fun attitude towards the work, even if the work is intrinsically not fun.
If possible, add a fun element to the job. If learning how to count, try to use fun counters to do it, instead of using a fun reward to motivate “boring” job.
4. Inspire children to be reflective of their work
Ask them about their work; listen to them and encourage them to figure out way out of any roadblocks:
- Can you tell me about your work?
- How did you feel about your work?
- What did you like about your work?
- What was hard about this work?
- What was your favorite part?
Try to use judgement-neutral remarks similar to this, “Wow, you worked really hard at this!” or “I love all of the bright colors you used,” You can still be encouraging and affectionate while encouraging children to be self-reflective.
The focus is on their interest, on their work – not on how the grown-up feels about it after the work is done.
5. Reward appropriately
Certainly, reward your child when it's right and allow them to enjoy rewards that they have earned.
Be selective and judicious when giving out rewards, and try to pick rewards that are relative to the accomplishment. Try not to let the reward overshadow the amazing work that your child has done.
Also, promising rewards as motivation can be hard to do, but there is a fine line between motivating your child to do their best, and trying to encourage your child with a prize.
An extra sixth step should be taken for some children:
6. Encourage children to refocus
Some kids are already in the “external motivation” mode, and in those cases it is good to encourage them to adjust their focus. For instance, if your child wants to be a star soccer player for fame, try to refocus on what intrinsic benefits they might experience while playing soccer, the fun of the sport, etc.
You wouldn’t want a doctor who is more concerned with their respect and pay-cheque than with taking care of their patients and practicing good medicine – the same principle applies here. You want to boost your child motivation for the “right reasons.”