How to Motivate Your Child to Study

How to Motivate Your Child to Study

Many parents face the age-old problem of motivating their kids to study. Everyone knows how difficult it is, but no one seems to know why, or how to solve it. Furthermore, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation… motivation is such a complex subject. Or, is it?

In this article, we will demystify motivation, explain why kids do not like to study, and also give some advice on motivating your kids to get to work.

Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation

Just google for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and you will come across many articles and studies that attempt to explain the differences between the two. A common differentiation given by most researchers is that intrinsic motivation arises from pure internal satisfaction, while extrinsic motivation arises out of the desire to gain some type of external rewards, such as prizes or money.

An example of intrinsic motivation is going on holidays. People love going on holidays because it is relaxing and stress-free, and you get to see new sights and experience new things; it just feels good. You sincerely want to do it from the bottom of your heart because you feel great doing it.

An example of extrinsic motivation is getting paid to go to work. Although a lucky few of us do indeed look forward to going to work every morning because of our passion, the rest of us go to work as a matter of necessity. Given a choice, we would choose not to, right?

Then, what is motivating us? It could be money, for survival. It could be colleagues, for companionship. Or it could just be that being a Lawyer/Doctor/Manager/Engineer is cool and gives us a sense of pride socially. Since the driving factor is through something else, and does not arise internally within from the work itself, we call this extrinsic motivation.

Which form of motivation is better? Needless to say, intrinsic motivation is going to be better since it comes directly from within us. However, we don’t always have the luxury of enjoying all the things that we need to do.

On the flip side, many researchers look down on extrinsic motivation, because they feel that once the extrinsic motivation is gone, you will stop doing the activity. That’s not untrue, but let’s ask ourselves, when was the last time we stopped working?

Connecting the two: Motivation by Proxy

What most articles do not tell you, is that intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are always connected. At the end of every extrinsic motivation is an intrinsic motivation.

For example, many people work harder to earn more money (extrinsic), so that they can save more (extrinsic), and use the excess savings to go on holidays (extrinsic), because they love to go on holidays (intrinsic). Some kids work very hard in school to get good grades (extrinsic), so that their parents will buy them a Lego set (extrinsic), which they enjoy playing with (intrinsic).

At the end of the day, without that intrinsic motivation at the end, all extrinsic motivation is meaningless. Conversely, the stronger the value we place in that intrinsic motivation, the more effective is the extrinsic motivation. Once we see this, everything becomes really simple: think of intrinsic motivation in terms of Direct Motivation, and extrinsic motivation in terms of Motivation by Proxy:

Motivation by proxies

In order to motivate our kids, we need to know what motivates them intrinsically. We can then link the activities together, and we would have built in a good structure to motivate them to do things. But before we apply this newfound knowledge on our kids, we must first understand why they are so resistant to studying.

Why do Kids Not Like to Study?

Imagine a salesman, Jim, who sells TVs. Jim is very good at introducing TVs to his customers, and is well-versed in the art of persuasion, telling his customers about video and audio quality in a TV, and how to choose them. However, in recent years, many companies have made the move to Smart TVs, which come with lots of features such as the ability to connect to WiFi, and read USB sticks to play MP4, MOV, and WMV files. Jim is actually very bad at technology. When his boss asked him to start selling Smart TVs, he struggled. Now, he has to learn something new, something he is unfamiliar with, in order to keep doing his job. Jim has to improve himself.

Do you remember the last time you were told to improve yourself at work? How did you feel about it? Did you feel stressed?

It is natural that people are uncomfortable about having to pick up new skills, because learning something new always takes effort to do. John Maxwell said it best: “Everything worthwhile is uphill”. [] Gaining new knowledge is supposed to be hard.

If you thought learning that one thing at work was difficult, try doing it continuously, both at work and at home, for 4 subjects, every single day. Do you think it is tough?

Surprise, surprise! That is what your child is facing every day. Although what they are learning might seem trivial to you, it isn’t to them at their stage of learning. It is still something new that they have to digest. There is no doubt about it: Studying is hard.

And that is just one part of it. To our kids, being a student is a job, and studying is actually work!

Ask yourself this: if you weren’t getting paid, would you go to work tomorrow? Now ask yourself this: what is your child getting out of working? Or, rather, what does your child think they are getting out of studying (working)?

Motivating Kids through Intrinsic Motivation

Let’s go back to the two basic forms of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation arises out of two factors: intrinsic values, and inborn passion.

Intrinsic values take years of experience, learning, and discourse to build. Take for example, the value of reading the news. Adults need to understand the interconnectivity of the World, and how they are indirectly affected, in order to see the value of being in the know. Young kids do not have the luxury of this experience, and so they will not truly, intrinsically want to read news. If someone tells you about “cultivating the passion of reading newspapers at a young age”, that person is kidding you. Most likely, your child will be able to regurgitate news events, but not truly understanding the ramifications.

The problem is that kids do not have experience and perspectives like we do. Of course, we know that the purpose of studying is to give ourselves the foundation for a brighter future, so that we might be ready for the unsurmountable tasks that we are handling as adults. However, at their age, our kids will not be able to understand that. All they can do, is to take our word for it. Sure, they can tell us that “studying is good for them”, but do they really understand why?

Without rich experience and values, the only other possibility left for a kid to be intrinsically motivated, would be for them to be born with the passion for a particular thing. Some kids love Science right from the get-go, because they are just naturally intrigued that way. If your child is already intrigued by their subjects like this, they would already be naturally motivated, and you probably wouldn’t be reading this!

The thing is, inborn passion is not cultivated, but discovered. Every person is bound to have a passion towards something. As parents and educators, our best gift to our kids is to help/guide them to discover it early, so that they may begin the cultivation of that skill as soon as possible. It takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice before someone gets good at something [reference Outliers]. The reason why Bill Gates is so successful, was because he got access to computers at a young age, and thus was able to outlearn everyone else.

However, if your child’s inborn passion does not coincide with what they are studying, then we have to look at Motivating them by Proxy.

Motivating Kids through Extrinsic Motivation

If there is something that your child likes/wants intrinsically, consider using that as their payment for working. Many kids enjoy activities such as playing games, using a mobile phone to chat with their friends, buying toys, or owning Smiggle products. If you are ultimately letting them do it in the end, why not let them exchange effort for it?

One of the most important principles that we can teach our kids is that we must always work for what we want. If they want an additional 15 minutes with their phone, they have to work for it. If they want $1 more for their school pocket money, they have to work for it. If they want that big toy at the end of the year, they have to work for it too.

For it to be effective, make sure to match the right rewards to the right amount of work, so that it appears reasonable to your child. For example, doing 3 problem sums for 15 minutes every night should earn them an additional 15 minutes of time to play games. To get that $30 bag, improving 5 marks for the next test would seem appropriate. For that $399 drone, I’m afraid he might have to be ranked among the top 3 in class at the end of the year!

As a parent, you will be the best person in the whole wide World to know what your kids want, and how much they should work for it. For example, if your child was ranked 9th in position last year, the goal of being in the top 3 would be attainable. But if your child was ranked 39th, your child would think you are being too hard on them, and would give up entirely. Your relationship might even be strained!

At the same time, you will also be the most important gatekeeper to them getting what they want without working for it. Let’s say you want your child to work on 3 problem sums for 15 minutes for that extra 15 minutes of game time, but he throws a tantrum, and you just give it to him because you love him. Over time, your child will get the idea that throwing a 5-minute tantrum is easier and more effective on you than working on 3 problem sums for 15 minutes. Why then, does he need to study and improve himself? In the long run, your love will have a detrimental effect on how your child values work, and they might not grow up to become a contributing member of our society!


Ideally, we would hope that our kids will have an epiphany and understand the importance of studying, but otherwise, using suitable rewards as payment for your child’s work is a perfectly reasonable and often effective method in getting them to study. As long as you explain to your child the [theory of equivalent trade], they will grow up knowing that they have to work hard for things that they want.

If you want your child to work on Math, Practicle has a built-in rewards system where they can earn Thinkies (Thinking Points) by working on questions, and use them to purchase rewards such as screen-time and other items. The rewards are then sent to your email for your approval. Things have never been so easy for us parents!

Share this with a friend
Post a Comment