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No More Bribes: How to Help Your Kid Want to Succeed


It's one thing to convince your kid to do his homework with bribes of candy and TV time. Good luck the next day, the next day, and the day after that. It's quite another to have a kid who really wants to do his work. Learn to leave bribes behind by fostering intrinsic motivation in your child.

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It's become a regular battle...

By Jasmine Evans

Your child has homework and doesn't want to do it. It's more of a struggle than the debate over brussels sprouts for dinner. You threaten to take away television and video game privileges. That doesn't work. So, you offer extra TV time, then candy, then money. Money catches your child's attention, but two weeks later, you run out of cash and you're right back where you started.

You can avoid this complicated (and expensive) hassle by working on increasing your child's intrinsic motivation.

What do you mean by "intrinsic motivation"?

Intrinsic motivation comes from within—it's when we do something because we want to. Extrinsic motivation is fueled by external factors, like candy and extra TV time. For example, someone who is extrinsically motivated goes to work just for the paycheck. An intrinsically motivated employee goes to work because he genuinely enjoys his work and has a better chance of doing well.

Studies show a strong connection between intrinsic motivation and success in academics and careers. Education and psychology experts also agree that you can take concrete steps to improve your child's intrinsic motivation.

Give me the secret!

The secret comes in three parts: competence, autonomy and relatedness. These are the components of a theory developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, two renowned psychologists and the founders of the self-determination theory. Do these three things, and you'll see the magic over time.

Wait, that's not helpful. What do you mean?

Let's start with competence. To encourage your child to do homework on his own, make him feel like he can do it. Tell him he can multiply fractions and get him to say aloud that he can do it.

Ernest Dempsey, who has been a school counselor for 10 years in Tennessee, encourages parents to play a game with their kids called "Make the Student the Teacher." He says parents should, "sit down and ask the child to show them what they learned at school that day."

If you push your child to teach you material from school, you will prove that he is a capable student. If you're working on a difficult subject, it's up to you to highlight the things your child does well. Applaud when he doesn't give up or when he does better than the time before.

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Okay, make my kid feel smart. What's next?

When you want or need your child to do something he doesn’t want to do, your instinct may be to tighten your grip on him. Try to do the opposite. Your child is more likely to do his homework on his own if he feels like he has some control. That's autonomy.

You want me to let my child run the show?

No, you don't have to let him run completely wild and free. But you can give him a few options that give him the illusion that he's in control. For instance, let him choose the order in which he studies and does homework. If he wants to do math first, let him. Let him choose if he wants a snack before or after homework.

If he feels like he has a little power, he's more likely to want to participate.

I've almost got it. What's the last piece of the secret?

Make school relevant. Your child needs to know and understand that school, and specifically homework, is important. Dempsey's "Make the Student the Teacher" technique can add relevancy to your child's academic experience. "By putting in the effort and time to learn what the child is learning, it shows the child that the parents care and that what the student is doing is important," he says.

Tie your student's academic work to his life. When he's learning fractions, tie it into measurements for his favorite recipe. If he's struggling with reading or math, remind him that he'll need reading and math skills to be a lawyer, astronaut, doctor, construction worker or whatever he wants to be. Give frequent reminders that today's schoolwork is essential for the future.

It's not enough to ask your child, "Did you do your homework?" Take a clear and serious interest in the homework process and ensure that your child feels competent, has autonomy, and knows the material’s relevance.