How to help toddlers develop intrinsic motivation and raise their self-esteem?

How to help toddlers develop intrinsic motivation and raise their self-esteem?

Mar 06 , 2022

Alex deMoca

As parents, we wish our kids to be driven by an internal force and continue even when things get tough. We want children to develop their will to be kind, helpful, contribute, perform, and work hard. Also, to take responsibility for their successes or failures as well.

In Montessori pedagogy, it is well known that external rewards undermine a child’s own motivation to perform and to try as many times as necessary to succeed. Successfully completing a task should be more about achieving with the enjoyment of the process, rather than charts, prizes, other rewards.

The ideal would be for children to do well because they feel good when doing well, have a feeling of accomplishment, persevere, and believe in their abilities.

How can you help raise intrinsic motivation for your toddler?

1. Normalize mistakes! From failure, we grow, it’s not an end, and we should encourage this in our children. Every obstacle, or when things get hard, it’s an opportunity to grow and become a better person. Often children find innovative solutions when put in difficult situations. They use their negative emotions as fuel to try again and again.

How to apply: When your toddler gets frustrated and wants to give up, be there to encourage to try again, to give it another try, to find a solution.

2. Recognize their hard work, no matter the results! When your toddler puts a lot of effort into a certain task, when they are genuinely motivated to succeed, let them know their efforts are seen and that they should be proud of themselves. Talk about their hard work and action rather than the result or “you’re good/smart.”

They should know that if you work hard enough, you can achieve what you want. So, when faced with a failure, they won’t give up or think they are not good enough.

How to apply: Praise the effort, help them identify their feelings when they are succeeding or failing at something, believing that they can do it or learn from it or try again. So, they can enjoy challenges, not be afraid of failures and constantly try to improve and work hard.

3. Recognize progress, the little victories of the great goal! Break down bigger goals, projects into small steps, encourage practicing, work hard, and try again when things don’t go as planned. Just help them see how far they have come in a project they are working on, the effort put into the process.

How to apply: Identify small victories like learning the first five numbers, identify three shapes in a hands-on activity. Create a plan with small tasks to stay focused and be motivated to reach the next task.

4. Practicing gratitude to increase focus when facing difficulties in learning! Everyone has bad and hard times when learning something new. Helping your child see something they are thankful for to remain optimistic and see and do good, even when things don’t go as planned. Perseverance is fueled by optimism and gratitude even when kids get frustrated and want to give up and choose to try again.

How to apply: Get involved and lead by example. Say what you are grateful for or thankful for. Ask children if they did something good today? Did they help their peers? Do they have something to be proud of?

5. Promote a problem-solving attitude and taking responsibility! If possible, set tasks that involve using problem-solving skills. When discussing an activity, talk about the effort and problem-solving strategy, progress and willingness to do better and find solutions.

How to apply: When your toddler is doing a task and finds it hard to complete, or an obstacle comes in the way, stop and encourage finding a solution. Your toddler wants his favorite book that you put on an upper shelf where he cannot reach it. Before offering to give it to him, ask him to find a solution. Of course, one could be you taking the book and giving it to him, or you’d be surprised by his out-of-the-box thinking like bringing his chair, finding a stick, and trying to get it.

6. Having realistic expectations. Let’s be sincere. We all have days or moments when we find it really hard to stay focused and motivated, even completing the tasks we planned for. So, we should be as sincere as we can when it comes to our children. They do have hard times or bad days.

How to apply: When you sense that your child is not in his best mood, help him acknowledge how he is feeling and that it’s ok sometimes to take a pause, reconnect to oneself, and plan how to overcome those moments.

7. Give your child options and choices! Offering choices on how to perform a task or spend his time gives your toddler autonomy and the freedom to come up with his own plan.

How to apply: When possible, give them the freedom to choose from 2 or 3 options like “Do you want to eat pasta or baked potatoes?” “Do you want to go outside now or after we eat?”. Ask for their opinion; “What do you think we should have for dinner tonight?”

8. Master new skills! Help your toddler develop competence by learning a new skill. Help grow their skill slowly by offering the right environment and opportunities to help them progress. Also, allow them to see you learning a new skill and the hard work you put in that it is also worth it once you master that skill. You can get frustrated, struggling but never give up.

How to apply: It can be as simple as drawing perfect circles, riding a bike to school if possible, or more complex, like learning how to play tennis. You can even lead by example and go outside your comfort zone, being ready to learn a new skill alongside your toddler and see your mindset when facing difficulties.

Provide your toddler with an environment where he can freely explore at their own rhythm, being as independent as possible, with slightly challenging activities.