External rewards are very effective with some children.

Ways to Motivate Preschool Kids

by Maggie McCormick

Sometimes it seems there's absolutely nothing that could motivate your preschooler to do something she doesn't want to do. You might find yourself dragging her away from the TV, pushing her to sit down and read a book with you, or locking the door so that she'll get some outside play time. Rather than fight it out, look for ways that you can motivate your child.


To get your child to willingly do things, make an effort to make things fun. Children most often chose a "play area" method of learning when presented with different learning options, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. If you want her to eat healthier foods, cut them into cute shapes; if you want her to learn the ABCs, play games that teach them.


Admit it. You prefer doing things that you're good at. It's only natural. The same will be true with your child. If she's constantly failing at the things you want her to do -- and feeling the frustration you have when she does fail -- she'll be less likely to want to do them. Though you can't ensure that your child will succeed at everything, you can present her with activities that are age-appropriate and slightly challenging. For example, she may not be ready to sound out full words in a book, but she might enjoy playing a game where she has to identify the first-letter sounds of words.


Choices are what make your little one her own unique person, and if you remove her ability to make decisions for herself, she may be less motivated to do things. Want her to get dressed quickly? Let her pick out her own clothes rather than choosing the outfit she hates. Want her to do some learning activities? Ask her if she'd rather string beads (which works on patterning and fine-motor skills) or play ABC bingo.

Extrinsic Motivators

The above suggestions are all intrinsic -- or internal -- motivators. The motivation comes from within your child. At the preschool age, though, extrinsic motivators may be just the ticket to getting your little angel off her butt. Different things work for different children, but common motivators are sticker charts, small candies and money. Some children are also incredibly motivated by praise from adults, so try spreading it on thick to see if she responds to this.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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