This mini blog includes information on encouraging….

🌷 Intrinsic motivation through the use of encouragement, instead of praise

🌷 Empathy through thoughtful open-ended questioning

🌷 Sharing using empathy and problem solving

The Story

I was nursing my 5 mo and she seemed a little cold so I asked my 3 yo to pass me a small blanket, that was just out of reach. In true three year old fashion, suddenly the once forgotten blanket became the most desired object. He said “It’s my fort blanket. I’m going to build a fort.” I said “Oh, it’s your fort blanket? Ok.” Then I sat for a moment and said “Hmm, what are we going to do? The baby is cold.” A few moments later he said “Ok, you can have the blanket. I’ll go get my own fort blanket!” I said “Oh, wow! Thank you so much! You’re so kind.” He hands me the blanket and then runs down the hall to get a new blanket.

The Process

By giving my 3 yo the time to process the situation, he was able to move from his instinctual brain (which told him to hold onto the blanket) to his logical and empathetic brain (3 year old’s are usually just starting to demonstrate empathy, occasionally). If I had gotten frustrated or even tried to force him to share the blanket, his survival instinct to hoard his goods would have kicked in and he would not have been able to get out of his instinctual brain. Because I didn’t even suggest giving up the blanket, he was able to think about a solution all on his own.

He could have suggested going to get a different blanket for the baby. He could have suggested giving the baby a hug. He could have suggested I go get a blanket or told me “she not cold.” A core belief of Responsive Parenting is children are competent and capable. We believe they are capable of communicating their needs and interpreting the needs of others. We believe they are effective problem solvers, we just need to give them the time to do so. I did give him time to come up with a solution that worked for him.

The Reflection

We want our children to be intrinsically motivated to be kind and generous. But what intrinsically motivates someone to be selfless? Empathy! Most of us want our children to share with others because they are motivated by empathetic thoughts and feelings. A child who is forced to share is extrinsically motivated to do so and the development of empathy, the core intention of the lesson of “sharing,” is lost.

Children need time to process choices. They are still living a lot by instincts. As they age, many become better at pausing, reflecting and making empathetic choices. Friendships are prioritized over autonomy for most older children and adolescents. Developing intrinsic motivation to be generous may actually lessen people pleasing tendencies and the influence of peer pressure, in the teen years. Self-motivated generousity teaches children that it feels just as good to share as it does to receive. When this lesson is instilled during childhood, they often have a desire to continue being generous, throughout their lives. You cannot force an empathetic heart or an altruistic spirit.

For more information on encouraging intrinsic motivation, empathy and sharing, check out these articles!

How Do Children Learn About Sharing? Being obligated to share teaches obedience, not generousity: https://responsiveparentingblog.com/2018/06/09/being-obligated-to-share-teaches-obedience-not-generousity/

A child-led approach to encouraging new skills and interests: How can labels impact intrinsic motivation and identity formation? https://responsiveparentingblog.com/2019/03/09/a-child-led-approach-to-encouraging-new-skills-and-interests-how-can-labels-impact-intrinsic-motivation-and-identity-formation/