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Intrinsic Motivation and the Pushy Parent...

The Grumpy Old man and I have been struggling a little with wanting so much for our children and knowing when to back off.

Partially this comes from having the maturity to recognise the amazing opportunities our kids have (compared to what we had as children) and seeing the potential our children have if they would just grasp those opportunities.

Both Erik and Lukas have shown they can paint with guidance. Erik can draw amazing things without any guidance at all. Lukas has a beautiful singing voice and pitch perfect hearing and would make a wonderful musician or performance artist.

AND they are steeped in opportunities to pursue these activities with encouragement from their school and from their wider community.

The thing is, they're kids. As kids, they struggle to recognise the benefits of taking up opportunities which require them to exert energy and focus and discipline to achieve great things.

There are two schools of thought on this.

Perhaps you remember the controversy over Tiger Mum? This mum said that in China parents push their children to achieve well. They see the benefit in their children learning to overcome obstacles rather than simply only applying themselves to things they are naturally good at or enjoy.


I am not at all opposed to this view, I have to say. I know that some of my greatest sense of achievement has come from mastering a skill I, at first, felt completely inept at.

At the same time, there is the view that children should be left to learn according to what inspires them. They should develop intrinsic motivation for putting in some effort.


And I agree with that point of view as well.

If you only ever do something or learn something to please others then chances are you will learn to resent putting in the effort for something that just doesn't inspire you.

So, last year we allowed Erik to discover that he is quite an accomplished artist for his age, and then having let that come to pass, we encouraged him to stretch himself, and while he certainly gained some joy from the adulation and attention he received and while he seemed inspired to keep going, we have discovered over the three projects he has undertaken in the past 12 months that he is not at all intrinsically motivated to do the work.

Whether this is due to a lack of ability to focus, or whether he is just more interested in chatting with his friends on Facebook or playing computer games or listening to music, or watching you tube videos, is not clear. It's probably a combination of all of the above.

The fact of the matter is that we have had to push him and bribe him and coerce him far more than we we like to get him to finish each of the projects in a timely fashion.

The Grumpy Old Man was thinking out loud last night that possibly Erik just wanted to paint without a deadline. I observed that without a deadline he would never finish anything. He might not even start a project without the extrinsic motivation of a show to enter or a book being published.

And Lukas is much the same, except that he doesn't even really know what he wants to do - despite his talents being obvious to us.

We feel like pushy parents.


So, it's probably time to step back.

But will we regret letting all this talent potentially slide into oblivion?

Do we even have the right to foist our opinion on what our childrens' talent are on them?

Also as pre/teens, it is absolutely normal and natural for them to be somewhat obsessed with their peers, their music, developing their own identity. Sure there are kids this age who are wholly dedicated to their interest in art, science, social work and so on, but they are the exception. They are exceptional. Maybe our kids just aren't exceptional and we need to accept that? Maybe when they are older, they will develop intrinsic motivation to do the things we believe they could excel at?


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