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Sticker charts 'don't work in the long run' says psychotherapist - try these 8 tips to teach kids intrinsic motivation instead

 A mother helping her son with homework while sat at a table.
A mother helping her son with homework while sat at a table.

One expert has explained eight things you can do as a parent to help your child develop intrinsic motivation - and it means abandoning the sticker chart.

Motivating your kids to do things that they don't necessarily enjoy isn't easy, as parents know all to well. There's the struggle to get your kids out the door in the morning, and once your kids reach the age they're ready to do chores, that can be a whole new point of conflict. Many parents employ a sticker chart - where children receive stickers in exchange for desired behaviours - to help encourage kids to do things like brush their teeth, clean their room or do their homework. But one psychotherapist has shared why this method is unlikely to work in the long run.

Zara Kadir, aka The Therapy Shed, is a psychotherapist and mum with five years' experience working in schools. Taking to Instagram, she explained why sticker charts are a "quick fix", while the key to teaching kids intrinsic motivation takes much longer. But, fortunately, she's shared eight things you can do to help your kid grasp the skill.

Writing underneath her Instagram post, Zara explained, "The reason people love a star chart is because it does work quickly, but the results end as quickly as they start in many cases."

She added: "If you really want to teach your child intrinsic motivation, you have to think about a long game. This is a life skill, this is a skill that they will need when they’re at work and their boss isn’t there to give them a reward or a bonus every time they do something good. This is a skill that they will need if they’re an entrepreneur and nobody is there to witness their brilliance."

How to teach kids intrinsic motivation

A post shared by Zara Kadir

A photo posted by the.therapy.shed on

  1. Support autonomy: The more you encourage your child to explore, question and be curious, the more motivated they will be.

  2. Encourage a positive mindset: Try encouraging your child to finish a negative statemtent with 'but luckily'. For example, "It rained so we had to leave the playground, but luckily we can go back tomorrow". Lead by example as a parent and do this yourself too.

  3. Praise the specifics: Focus on the effort and not the outcome. Instead of saying, "You're so good at art," try, "You worked so hard to draw carefully and you look excited to share that with me. How does that feel?"

  4. Avoid labelling them: Fixed statements like "you're so good at maths" don't prepare children for the possibility that this could change. This means they may give up with little effort when they eventually struggle with something.

  5. Teach the value of mistakes: When children get frustrated, they need to hear you say "this is exactly how you're supposed to feel, this feels hard and you can do hard things". Encourage flexible thinking and explain, "you can't do it yet."

  6. Set smaller goals: We need moments of success, so if your child is working on a skill point out the small steps they're making and encorage them to reflect on what they've done.

  7. Mental time travel: If we encourage our children to think about what the future might look like when a skill or trait is nurtured, they're more likely to stay motivated.

  8. Take a long-term view: A star chart might make things easier now, but when your child is an adult and no one is there to reward them for the things they do, how will they find the motivation?

In other parenting news, a psychologist has revealed how to give shy children more confidence. Elsewhere, these five pharses can teach your children about the mental load and there four tips can help teach your kids to share.