How to Raise a Self-Driven Child

By Elise Wile
Give your child interesting challenges -- and hold back the praise.
Give your child interesting challenges -- and hold back the praise.

Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine once said, "Motivation will almost always beat mere talent." If you're a parent who has paid for years of piano lessons but must always threaten and nag your child to practice, you likely see the truth of this statement. For your child to be successful, she has to want to accomplish her goals for the sheer joy of achievement. And as a parent, you play a more important role in igniting that inner joy and motivation than you might imagine.

Limit the rewards you give your child for achievements. When you give your son a surprise because he learned to ride his bike, you've redirected his attention from his accomplishment to the reward. Self-motivated children do things because they are motivated to do them from the inside, not because of potential rewards. Encourage your child to build his intrinsic motivation so that he'll enjoy working towards goals for the sheer pleasure of accomplishment.

Praise the effort, not the results. The next time your exuberant daughter runs up to you with a drawing she's made, let her know that you are impressed with the amount of time she spent working on it. Tell her you like the colors she used, but resist the urge to tell her that she is the next Picasso. Children who receive too much praise for their efforts become afraid to tackle more difficult tasks, as they worry they might change the adult's perception of their talent or abilities.

Allow your child to take risks. If you fall into the trap of always helping your child with tasks because you're afraid she will fail, you're limiting your child's ability to grow. You want your child's motivation to come from the inside, and when you're sitting there "helping" her do her homework, that isn't going to happen.

Encourage children to tackle tasks that are challenging, but not so difficult that they cause frustration. A child who completes a challenging task has a sense of satisfaction, and will be motivated to try another challenge. A child who completes something very easy, however, will not feel the same amount of pleasure and will experience less motivation.

Allow your children to learn how to entertain themselves. If you always respond to cries of "Mommy, I'm bored!" with an offer to go to the park or other diversion, your child will never figure out how to make things happen for himself. Boredom in children can have marvelous results -- at least until your self-starter takes apart your toaster to figure out how it works.

Model the values you want to your child to have. If you want your child to be a self-starter, let her see how you solved the problem of fixing the clogged sink without automatically resorting to calling a plumber.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.