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  • Writer's pictureElisa Ferriggi

How to develop intrinsic motivation

Understanding reinforcement is an important part of life, we use it many areas, and for example we go to work for job satisfaction and a paycheck! We exercise for better health and bodies. It is important that children understand this concept in early childhood and this can help them be invested in good choices. Similarly they must learn from consequences of behaviour, for example when they do something inappropriate they face the consequences of those actions. This concept is taught through RDI® methods and is used for many things.

External reinforcement is when you reinforce behaviour or desired outcome with something external, this can be food, toys, tickles etc anything that motivates the child and helps them to do it again next time. As valuable as this is, we do in fact need to put a much bigger emphasis on developing intrinsic motivation because that is what is more sustainable and natural for interactions.

This is a quote that I took from Wikipedia to describe what intrinsic motivation is:

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic Motivation is based on taking pleasure in an activity rather working towards an external reward.”

Having read that description, I’m sure there are many of you will agree that intrinsic motivation is something that is far more valuable in developing with your children that will improve their quality of life. If they developed this it would make interactions much easier and more enjoyable for them. So how do we achieve this?

1. Don’t over do it with the external reinforcement! If you are trying to develop intrinsic motivation then you need to let go of giving external reinforcement for everything. Because the child will learn to expect a reward for every single little thing that you do together and you will make it very difficult to motivate the child without an external reinforcement. Yes, there are some things that naturally may occur and feel right to give a reinforcement for and in many cases are typical in doing so e.g. eat dinner – get pudding, toilet training, taking supplements, completing homework, getting good grades or doing well at something etc. The point is being selective or it will be hard work keeping up with reinforcing every behaviour you want to develop.

2. Make the actual activity more interesting, fun and enjoyable. Definitely do not call it ‘work’. Include experience-sharing elements to the activity; if you are enjoying it the chances are your child will be too. Lighten up a little, don’t take everything so seriously, just have fun doing what ever you are doing together.

3. Encourage competent active roles. I know competence is something I talk about a lot and have written about before, but it is just so important. If you want children to participate and engage with you, they must develop their feelings of competence in doing so, otherwise why would they bother in the first place? You can encourage this by providing clear roles for the child to do and scaffold them if they need extra support.

If you would like to learn more about using RDI to develop intrinsic motivation then please contact me at

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