Many psychologists are interested in what motivates children to perform well. But what exactly is motivation? “An overall tendency to evaluate one’s performance against standards of excellence, to strive for successful performance and to experience pleasure contingent on successful performance.”
One crucial factor is the value that the child attaches to success. This in turn depends on many things including the value that the family attaches to a particular task and the reinforcement involved. Social comparison is a common factor in school age children starting around 6 or 7. The extent to which this plays a role in a child’s motivation will depend on how competitive their society and their school is. The child will then begin to compare himself either to his/her own standards or to those of the students around him/. Expectation also plays a role in this process, basically the child must believe he can succeed in order to be motivated. More importantly, how the child understands his previous success or failure will shape his/her future performance.
- There are four basic ways in which the child can interpret performance. The first is ability. This is an internal (comes from within the child) stable attribution therefore the child believes that he/she succeeds because he/she is good at the subject or fails because he/she is bad at it. This type of attribution does not allow much room for change since the child believes this is his/her nature.
- The second way the child can interpret performance is by thinking that the task was difficult, which is an external, stable attribution. Here the child is also not really motivated to change because he/she believes the ‘problem’ is with the test.
- Thirdly he/she can attribute his/her performance to effort. The child believes that he or she has succeeded because he/she put a lot of effort or failed because of a lack of effort. This means that the child believes he/she is accountable for actions and is in control and will try harder to achieve a better performance.
- The last attribution is to luck, where the child does not attach their performance to anything in particular. This is an external, unstable attribution where the child is least likely to make an effort.
As parents it is important to teach your children that their performance depends on effort so that they will work hard. You should also emphasize that if they try hard but fail, it is OK. While effort is very important each child is born with a particular ability and if you accuse a child who is unable of not making an effort, it will affect his/her self-esteem. It is important to be positive with children and to push them far enough to challenge them but not so far as to cripple them.