Igniting Inner Drive: Building Intrinsic Motivation in Kids

Nov 06, 2023

In the early years of life, adults play a pivotal role in a child's development. However, the ultimate goal should be to empower children with the skills and knowledge to take care of themselves independently and make healthy choices. For instance, active children are more likely to become active adults. Being active not only promotes physical health but also fosters independence and a desire to explore new activities.


According to research by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), parental concerns about safety and injury often lead to resistance to exercise and sports among school-aged children. To address this, children need to acquire foundational movement skills and knowledge, ensuring their safety and participation in future sports. Equally important is nurturing their engagement from a young age, instilling motivation and enjoyment in the activities they partake in. This not only promotes development but also increases their commitment to continued participation.


Motivation is a key factor in learning and dedicating time to acquiring new skills. Without motivation, the learning experience may fall short. To enhance motivation, we can turn to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a theory of human motivation based on psychological needs. This theory can be adapted to children and child development to boost their motivation effectively.


Let's look at building from intrinsic motivation according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which I came across in child development book by author Carolyn Meggit.



1. Healthy Lifestyle (Physiological Needs): Children learn by imitating adults, making the role of primary role models crucial. Educating early childhood educators, health professionals, and families about healthy habits empowers children to build their own skill sets. Fun, engaging, and non-competitive community programs can further connect children with healthy role models. So let's turn inwards and explore how we are looking after ourselves first and foremost.

2. Security and Nurturing: Creating routines provides predictability, boosting children's confidence and independence. Routines around activities strike a balance between novelty and predictability, encouraging children to take risks and try new things. Supportive language and encouragement enhance the learning experience, making it more likely for children to repeat activities.

3. Love and Social Belonging: Engaging all children in activities, even if they are initially resistant, is essential for learning and feeling included. Building on experiences over time fosters engagement and provides opportunities for skill development, problem-solving, and cognitive growth. There is an abundance on research supporting better learning outcomes in positive social environments.

4. Recognition & Support: Children thrive on praise and recognition from caregivers. Small achievements should be acknowledged rather than focussing on what they are not doing, as this bolsters a child's motivation, confidence, and independence. Intrinsic motivation, the drive to achieve something for its own sake, is cultivated through positive reinforcement.

5. Providing Challenges (Self-Actualization): The highest level of the Hierarchy of Needs is self-actualization, which revolves around developing abilities. Caregivers should create environments and offer challenging tasks tailored to each child's interests and abilities. Cooperation, rather than competition, is vital in early childhood development. Knowing and understanding a child's interests is paramount for providing successful challenges.


In nurturing intrinsic motivation in children, we not only set them on a path to lifelong health and well-being but also empower them to take control of their lives and become lifelong learners. By employing these strategies and understanding the psychological needs of children, we can help them develop the inner drive necessary for success in all aspects of life.