Motivation is what drives us to act in order to achieve our goals.

Children can become self-motivated when their natural curiosity is encouraged and supported.

Children who are self-motivated have better mental health and wellbeing than those who rely on being rewarded by others to feel good about themselves.

They tend to stick at things for longer, feel a sense of control over what they are doing and are likely to face challenges.

Children’s motivation develops through positive experiences

Babies are born with a drive to explore and learn about their environment. Most babies are highly motivated. They want to respond to anything new in their surroundings.

As children begin to realise their actions have certain outcomes, they start to develop a sense of control and mastery (eg. when I touch the mobile, the toys light up; when I cry, daddy comes). This makes babies feel capable and good about themselves which motivates them to try more things.

As their confidence grows they become more capable, self-sufficient and self-motivated. They are not motivated by rewards from others, but by the sheer delight of seeing that their behaviour has an effect on something or someone.

Children's motivation levels can vary for a range of reasons. Like adults, they can be motivated to do some activities more than others.

Sometimes children can be less motivated because they feel tired or unwell. Some children are less or more motivated because of their temperament or personal style.

This tells us that motivation is complex and can be influenced by many factors. Whilst many factors are not in the control of parents and carers, there are a number of things you can do to support children to become curious, confident and motivated learners.

Some things that you could do to increase children’s motivation

Parents and carers play an important role in supporting the development of motivation in children.

Recognising children's efforts rather than their achievements supports the development of children's self-motivation.

Here’s some things you can do:

  • Providing an interesting environment that can be explored in the presence of a warm, caring and trusted adult is essential for supporting children's curiosity and motivation.
  • Encouraging children to talk through what they are doing and why they are doing it.
  • Providing opportunities for children to set their own goals and to talk about their play.
  • Supporting children's learning and gradually reducing your involvement over time helps children to learn how to complete similar activities in the future.
  • Supporting children's opportunities to build relationships in their play.
  • Asking children questions, talking them through activities and praising their efforts can all help children become engaged in their learning.

Children can also motivate each other

Children's motivation doesn't always need to be faciliated by adults. Children can be very good at motivating each other.

Playing with friends can provide opportunities for children to learn how to work together, and motivate each other to achieve things.

Some other ways you can help children to motivate each other include:

  • Encouraging children to work together on a group project (eg. building a cardboard cubby house, making a collage) where everyone has a specific role.
  • Rewarding children for helping others during a group activity.
  • Involving children in making up rules for how to behave during specific times or in particular areas (eg. meal times, story time, the quiet area, and the outdoor area).

For more information

Motivation and praise