Welcome to another Master Key Monday.

I’d like to focus today on an article entitled, “The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read,” that appeared in the New York Times yesterday, and its lessons for martial arts students.

I’m sharing the article because it cuts to the core of a common struggle we parents have — extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation.

Bribing a child to read (be it money, treats or screen-time) has been shown to get kids to read, but there’s a catch. With extrinsic motivation, the bribes need to get bigger for the behavior to continue and, often when the bribes stop, so does the behavior.

No $, no more books read.

Besides, we all want out kids to want to read (or always want to go to class), and we don’t “want to force them.” We want them to be intrinsically motivated.

So, extrinsic motivation BAD, intrinsic motivation GOOD?  No so fast.

I think intrinsic motivation is a bit of a learned skill,” said (learning researcher) Judi Fusco Kledzik.

Extrinsic motivation, rather than being antithetical to intrinsic motivation, actually can foster intrinsic motivation.  It’s hard to be excited about something you are not very good at, and reading is not a natural ability.

” ‘I think we underestimate the power of extrinsic motivation,” said Rahil Briggs, director of pediatric behavioral health at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “You want your child to be naturally fascinated, and some are, but some children can benefit from a little bit of a jump-start.'”

Bribes (beyond the fear of failing a class) may be necessary to get a child to read long enough to develop the skill to read.

The article goes on to state, “although some children love a challenge, for many, it’s hard to find pleasure in reading until it comes easily.”

Extrinsic motivation (yes, using various strategies to get your child to read, or get to martial arts class) is often necessary so they can practice long enough to develop the necessary skills to experience FLOW, that feel-good, optimal experience we all crave.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation is a subset of the Nature vs. Nurture argument, which has already been shown to be a false dichotomy— it’s really Nature with Nurture, as it is Extrinsic with Intrinsic Motivation.

There are good ways to use extrinsic motivation that are more than “bucks for books.” 

Some of the best bribes involve something else we all crave, time together and connection. Special trips to the library or bookstore together, intra-family reading competitions, time spent discussing the books together are all types of social bribes that benefit the whole family.

Finally, having a home culture that fosters reading — books readily available, parents who read and discuss — helps kids develop a love of reading.

Martial arts training, as well as any type of skill-development, requires extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, each of which waxes and wanes like the Yin/Yang Symbol. Sometimes we are totally pumped to train, while other times we need a good kick in the pants to get moving. This interplay is natural, and the more we align to it, the more skilled, successful and happier we will be.

(More on motivation next time…)

Here’s the link to the original article: