Motivation is the fuel behind achievement. Some children seem to have an intuitive ability to work toward achievement, but for others, encouragement is often necessary. For parents, helping their children to feel supported must be measured against the development of new skills. Children’s motivation partly depends on their feeling that they matter to others. From infancy, that feeling helps them believe in themselves. Why would any child be motivated to take on a new challenge if she sees herself as a failure?
Motivation begins at birth. Parents start the process by loving their baby, holding her, cooing, singing and rocking, setting up rhythms of smiling, vocalizing and touching that make her feel cared-about. If she gets no response to her first coos and babbles, a baby doesn’t see much point to trying to make an effort.
As your baby grows into a toddler, your job gets more complicated. You have to set boundaries to be sure that her environment is safe to explore as she learns the motor skills – cruising, scooting, crawling and walking – that give her a new independence. When she’s just begun to toddle, you set the limit – no climbing up the stairs unless you’re right there to help her practice.
Parents foster motivation in their children by balancing it against the establishment of limits. Children will test those limits, but that experimentation builds understanding. Many parents worry that when they set limits they no longer unconditionally accept their child. Nothing could be further from the truth. Setting limits is an act of love – it’s not always easy, and the positive outcome will make it worth the effort. Children need grown-ups who love them to clarify the rules and to protect them from hurting themselves. As a child becomes more independent, she finds new ways to resist your authority – temper tantrums in the second and third years, and often, at ages 3, 4 and 5, lying, cheating and stealing. Boundaries help improve the child’s ability to achieve what she wants, as long as they are respectful and she understands the reason for them. Setting limits makes it clear that they are unconditionally accepted, which is the encouragement that will help them challenge themselves in the future.