What Motivates Your Child to Learn?

By Sheila Seifert
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FOTF/Cary Bates
Understand what motivates each of your children and whether those motivators are formed within themselves or developed through external circumstances.

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

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.

© 2017 Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Sheila Seifert photo
Sheila Seifert

Sheila Seifert is the editorial director of parenting content for Focus on the Family magazine, the author of over 20 books and the founder of Simple Literature.

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