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Motivation: The Heart of Matters

  • July 26, 2013 |
  • Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Motivation: The Heart of Matters

Every day at SCT, we work with children on tasks that challenge them and yet, they still run into therapy with a smile on their face anticipating what we will do next. How is this possible? How do our therapists capture their attention and drive their motivation?

The Key to Successful Therapy

I was in Target with my 2 year old in front of a row of children’s movies. I turned around to look at something and when I returned my gaze, my 2 year old had climbed the shelves like a ladder to reach his desired movie.

It comes as no surprise to parents, that given the right motivation, children are downright unstoppable.

Therapy must harness this motivation in order to be successful. If a child is motivated to play and interact, progress will be made.

Types of Motivation

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

When a child chooses an activity simply because they enjoy it, they are intrinsically (or internally motivated). The reward they get is the enjoyment of the activity.

Motivation that originates outside of the child is called extrinsic (or external). When a child performs a task in order to receive a reward, say cleans his room to get an allowance, he is externally motivated.

Both types of motivation can be useful, however, internal motivation builds upon itself and keeps an action going.

The National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) has written an excellent overview of motivation in children here: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/home_school/earlychildmotiv_ho.aspx

How to Harness Motivation

We all see how important motivation is every day. Motivated children make more gains in school, try harder in sports, make more friends, try new things. The big question is not “Is motivation important?” The big question is “How do we motivate our children?”

When a child comes into our clinic, it is the first question we ask. Until a child wants to interact, progress will be minimal and therapy will be tedious. I am not so interested in whether a child can perform when she is in my room; I am interested in whether I can motivate the child to learn, interact, and play in a new way that is self-sustaining and generates growth.

Children are motivated when they are successful. For many of the children that we see, learning language is really difficult. And when something is difficult, we naturally shy away from it. We are motivated by success. So how do we motivate a child? Make sure they are successful. How can we make sure they are successful?

Reduce the demands until they are successful and build from there.

Here are some key ways to reduce communication demands:

  • Follow your child’s lead: stay with them. If they want to sprinkle dirt on the sidewalk, put down your shovel and sprinkle dirt.
  • Take turns: As adults, we tend to take about 5 turns to every 1 turn a child takes. Restrain yourself, and keep it balanced 1:1.
  • Keep it simple. If your child is using 3 word phrases, try to do the same. For example, a child playing with a barn, might say, “cow jump up.” This could be followed by the adult saying, “pig jump up.”

By mirroring your child’s language, you are validating your child. They can now keep up with the conversation and are motivated to play with you. They are successful.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions below. Don’t forget to share our blog if you find it helpful, funny, or interesting.

About the Author

Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Lisa has worked with kids since her days in college coaching gymnastics for children 3-13.  Lisa is stimulated by watching children learn and succeed “their inner light shines so bright” she says, and it's this passion that serves as the foundation of SCT's mission to support and enrich the lives of children.

Lisa's therapy focuses on a child's specific needs and personality; a strategy that makes therapy feel more like play and less like work. Her specialties include autism spectrum disorders and advanced training in early speech and language development. Her training and experience with children birth to three years gives her a deep understanding of how to help children at any age. When Lisa founded SCT, she made training in birth to 3 years a requirement for all therapists as part of her effort to provide the best therapy possible for every child.

At home, Lisa has had the opportunity to guide the development of her own children – ages 17, 15, and 3. She finds relaxation in physical activities like running and rock climbing. This summer Lisa's oldest daughter will join her “on the rock” for the first time.


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