Developing Motivation in Children: Implications for Policy and Public Systems

Developing Motivation in Children: Implications for Policy and Public Systems

Creating platforms to help early childhood development that promotes strong motivational skills in the future is important and difficult.

As we’ve noted, researchers, parents and caregivers, and practitioners all have key roles in developing, advancing, translating and then acting on the science that connects brain development and motivation later in life.

The information is based on a new study titled “Understanding Motivation: Building the Brain Architecture That Supports Learning, Health, and Community Participation,” published by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

It might seem obvious why this question matters to people directly charged with teaching or raising children, but what about society at large? The authors note:

A healthy, engaged community depends on people achieving to the best of their potential, contributing actively to the economy and public well-being, and helping the next generation to thrive. A complex set of intertwined social and biological factors influences people’s motivation to participate actively and productively in schools, jobs, and communities— and to persevere in the face of setbacks. To unlock this puzzle and ensure that all people have the opportunity to develop motivation to learn, improve skills, and make healthy choices, it would be helpful to understand the underlying mechanisms in the brain that develop in childhood and build the foundation for later complex behavior.”

The report outlines several implications for policy and public systems:

  • Support the development of motivation in early childhood programs. High teacher-to-child ratios, training in effective strategies to facili- tate playful exploration and build self- efficacy, reducing stress in families’ lives, and skill-building for parents and providers of early care and education are all contributors to ensuring that the foundations of healthy motivation systems are built in early childhood.”
  • Shift schools toward a balance of positive feedback that supports intrinsic drivers. To improve student motivation, school systems should reduce emphasis on extrinsic rewards (like grades, tests, and performance-based recognition programs) and increase emphasis on constructive feedback and coaching to improve performance.”
  • Focus response to addiction on treatment rather than punishment. Policies and programs relating to addictions can be improved by understanding that addictive drugs rewire and redirect motivation and reward systems. Knowing that craving or wanting addictive substances happens below the conscious level means that solutions must also occur on the physiological or biological level, rather than expecting awareness of potential punishments to change behavior.”
  • Include motivation-building supports in programs for adults who care for young children. Foster a growth mindset by praising effort, looking at mistakes as learning opportunities, and monitoring progress toward goals.”
  • Replace punitive approaches to program retention with methods that reduce stress, provide positive feedback and social/peer support, and demonstrate quick successes. Programs can increase motivation to participate by making it easier to rejoin after a lapse (reducing stress), helping participants achieve small successes quickly (building self-efficacy), and making participation more rewarding by praising effort (strengthening a growth mindset).”

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