A challenge to motivate?


“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” 

- Former US track athlete & congressman James Ronald Ryun

MY own son is doing his “O” levels and I must admit to feeling the “heat” for him. I decided that since I can’t study for him, I would work at keeping his motivation up because at one point he told me he was feeling “blah” over his preparations. My concern was heightened as I saw his listlessness lasted for two weeks. I learnt a lot about motivating your child over these weeks. Allow me to share some my thoughts and reflections.

Motivation from without and within

I found there are two types of motivation: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from getting some kind of recognition or material gains. Intrinsic motivation comes from a sense of purpose often from within a person. Of course the latter is much preferred because it would mean the person is self-motivated and principle-based. However, extrinsic rewards should not be discounted because it can be the spark that starts the flame. After that, intrinsic motivation works like a fuel to keep the fire burning.


This is an important point because extrinsic motivation is often used without a clear intention of building self-motivation. Thus children learn to do things for rewards like extra pocket-money, more computer time, new electronic games, etc. At the end of the day the carrot-and-stick model makes our children calculative, short-sighted and over-dependent on external rewards.

A key parenting objective

One of the goals of parenting is to help our children to shift from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. To achieve this, parents must be clear in their intent on how to administer extrinsic reward (and/or punishment). It should not be chosen at the last minute or when parents have had ‘enough’ of their children's shortcomings. It should not be seen as ‘corrective’ but ‘preventive’, thought out in advance through planning and reading (yes, there are many good parenting books in our National Library) and the approach should be based on the vision of what we want our children to become. Then only would our use of extrinsic motivation help our children to discover their intrinsic motivation.

Reflection Pointers

List 3 activities that you love to do. Based on these:

  • what are the reasons that motivate you to do them?
  • are they extrinsic or intrinsic motivations?
  • what are the differences between these motivations?
  • which motivation(s) is/are better for you?
  • why?
Action Pointers

1. Plan a weekday routine (Monday to Friday) for your child. Upon fulfilling the duties and responsibilities listed (eg completing home work, learning spelling, helping out in household chores), your child can choose a fun activity on the weekend.

2. Set aside a time this week to discuss with your spouse about being intentional in rewarding and disciplining your
child, so that the consistent training will help your child to progressively develop intrinsic self discipline.


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