Sparking Motivation: The Key to Success



“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele 


The definition of success is the achievement of one’s goals.  When children are young, parents are responsible for teaching them how to design and reach their goals.  These goals start simply such as, teaching your children to be kind to others, work hard in school, and clean-up after themselves.  As children become adolescents, they are encouraged to become more independent with designing their goals.  These can include getting good grades to get into a desired college, making the varsity soccer team, or working to make enough money to buy a car.  A big component of helping our children reach their goals and become successful is motivation.  This motivation can either come from the inside (intrinsic) or the outside (extrinsic).  A child who is intrinsically motivated can be successful because of the sheer joy of learning and performing well. On the other hand, a child who performs well to gain parental approval, good grades, or rewards, is extrinsically motivated. Typically, children are more intrinsically motivated to perform well on tasks that are of higher interest to them such as a favorite sport or subject in school, as opposed to those tasks that are not as interesting such as chores at home or challenging school subjects.   What interests our children varies and it is important to tune into these interests and try to encourage intrinsic motivation when possible.  

As we approach the beginning of a new school year, many parents and teachers are thinking about how best to motivate their children and get them excited to go back to school, especially after a fun and unstructured summer.  Here are the top ten ways we as parents can help motivate our kids to start off the school year with success: 

  1. Provide a warm, accepting home environment. 
  2. Give clear directions and feedback. 
  3. Create a model for success. 
  4. Build on the student’s strengths. 
  5. Relate schoolwork to the student’s interests. 
  6. Help build a family structure that fosters consistent work towards the goal. 
  7. Help the student to have some control over how and when he learns. 
  8. Emphasize the child’s progress rather than his or her performance in comparison to the other students in the class or family. 
  9. Remember to reinforce the behavior you want. 
  10. Use reinforcers wisely. Recall that intrinsic motivation works best. Follow a child’s interests, when possible, rather than spending time building elaborate reward systems. 

 Motivation in Young Children 

One strategy to motivate positive behavior in younger children is using a Marble Jar.  This is a fun way for children to have a visual reminder of how their actions impact their ability to reach desired outcomes, which is highly reinforcing!  This method involves: 

  1. Choosing a behavior you would like to focus on that is concrete, doable, and observable.  Some ideas might include using kind words or sharing with siblings, helping with specific chores, or completing homework each night. 
  2. Choose a glass jar that you will use to collect the marbles, one earned each time you acknowledge the desired behavior.  Let your child be the one to put the marble in the jar! 
  3. Identify a reward along with your child that is of interest to them such as a special activity, trip to their favorite place, buying something at the Dollar store, or special meal.  

For more information, see Recognize Positive Behavior and Good Choices with a Marble Jar

Motivation in Adolescence 

For adolescents you might consider having them write a list of tangible or experiential experiences they would like and could be earned.  Whether it be clothes, tickets to a concert or sporting event, or going to coffee shops with friends, have a conversation with them about specific steps they could take to earn their goals (e.g., get a part-time job, obtain financial incentives by accomplishing specific things around the house or showing strong efforts to do well at school).  As many parents quickly learn, telling their teenager to do something is less effective than getting their teen’s own buy-in.   As parents, you can facilitate the communication space to dialogue with your teen and brainstorm together, with your teen taking the lead.  When there are current tasks that may seem more mundane to your teen (e.g., doing homework) or may feel overwhelming (e.g., joining a new club), help your child see the “big picture” of how to bridge the steps they take now and the immediate and long-term impact down the road (e.g., help them get better grades, go to the college they want, obtain an interesting job, make friends, etc).      

Here are a few helpful articles to get started and help your kids stay motivated! 

Motivation: The Key to Academic Success 

Motivation in Education: What it Takes to Motivate Our Kids 

How to Encourage Positive Behavior in Developing Children