What Motivates Your Child to Learn?

Various stickers for motivating students: Great job, Nice work, Keep it up, Well done are examples of what is on the stickers.
FOTF/Cary Bates

My oldest son entered kindergarten unable to recite his ABCs, though I started working with him before he could walk. I did a lot less for my second son academically, but he was fully prepared for school. What works for one child doesn't always work for another. And the more motivated a child is, the easier he'll be able to learn.

When my youngest son started reading, he was driven by his desire to be like his older brothers. Some kids have intrinsic motivation (from within themselves), but this son had mostly extrinsic motivation (from external factors).

Of course, no form of motivation is inherently superior to another. Instead, each is a means toward academic success for individual children. So study your children to determine which areas best motivate them.

Intrinsic Motivators

Personal Achievements

Some children desire to be viewed as competent and successful in academics and other activities. If this motivates your child, here's what you can do:

  • Recognize your child's hard work and character qualities, not just his achievements. This helps develop a resilient learner.
  • Help him set small goals to keep track of his improvement.
  • Expect excellence, and don't give him unearned praise or he may lose motivation to succeed.

Personal Interests

Some children are motivated by their natural attraction to a specific topic. If this motivates your child, here's what you can do:

  • Encourage your child to find relevance and a connection to what she is studying, even if certain parts of the topic don't naturally interest her.
  • Give her some control of her own learning, within your guidelines.
  • Encourage her to explore her personal interests through research, interviews, hands-on experiences, etc.

Extrinsic Motivators


Some children are motivated when they feel acceptance, encouragement or pressure from others. If this is how your child is motivated, here's what you can do:

  • Focus on building a strong relationship with your child.
  • Affirm him as an individual, and help him better understand that his identity is in Christ, not the acceptance of people.
  • Concentrate on his strengths, and set people in his life who can mentor him in those areas.


Some children understand that the outcome of learning is valuable. If this motivates your child, here's what you can do:

  • Help your child continue to understand how each area of learning is relevant to her life now and in the future.
  • Make time for meaningful conversations about the importance and purpose of education.
  • Share your enthusiasm for what she has learned, and express appreciation for what she is in the process of achieving.
This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2017 Focus on the Family.

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