Children Learning Motivation

The term performance motivation comes from Latin: motivum means motivation. In the everyday language of school we often speak of a willingness to make an effort.

Performance motivation is a personality trait that children learn in their socio-cultural environment. The foundations for this are laid very early in life, which is why this characteristic is relatively stable. It is expressed in activating or inhibiting attitudes and behaviour.

The performance motivation of a child can only be observed when parents, kindergarten or school make performance demands that also apply to others. The situation-related individual examination of such normative performance requirements shows whether a child reacts with hope for success or with fear of failure. Depending on these (positive or negative) expectations of themselves, they are more, less or not at all motivated to perform.

But how do positive or negative expectations come about? This depends to a large extent on the educational style and the educational practices in the family. Already in the preschool age individually different characteristics can be observed. If the little ones experience themselves as the cause of their behaviour from the first year of life, this has a positive effect on the development of their performance motivation. The experience of having achieved something through one’s own efforts strengthens the hope of success. Such experiences are already made by babies, for example when grabbing and moving. Children who are expected by their parents to behave independently and make their own decisions at an early age are more likely to be motivated to perform later than children who are too strongly protected. Praise and encouragement additionally promote the confidence in success and thus the willingness to strive for a goal.

In school, the initial instruction of pupils with underdeveloped performance motivation has an important compensatory task. Pedagogical concepts in which all pupils are given a chance to experience their own abilities through factual and problem-related tasks (e.g. in project teaching), and individualising forms of teaching that allow learning at one’s own pace with different materials (e.g. free work or station learning) promote intrinsic motivation, i.e. learning for the sake of the cause. Learning conditions such as performance competition, note pressure and failure experiences turn out to be negative because they additionally inhibit the fear of failure. For this reason, the grades free of grades in primary school are particularly important for the development of performance motivation.

Performance motivation can be changed

Of course, the matter of performance motivation in everyday life is not quite as simple as the model with the two poles hope for success and fear of failure. And above all, even if the personality trait performance motivation is relatively stable through early imprinting processes, it is not unchangeable.

There is always and at every age a justified hope for improvement, when pupils have “zero appetite” for school, homework and learning obligations.

But such improvements do not occur on their own, because performance motivational disorders do not just happen, nor can good teaching alone compensate for motivation deficits without the active cooperation of parents. Sometimes however coincidental influences cause an increase in motivation, but of course one cannot rely on them. After all, they sometimes also mean an impairment, for example if you happen to get a new teacher who comments on every mistake in class with gloating remarks.


Karla has always performed well in mathematics; she recently had a “3” in her report card. But her new teacher in grade 7 is convinced that girls can’t be good at math. Accordingly, he is discouraged by oral contributions or efforts at the blackboard, which are not perfect right away. Since then Karla has felt “paralysed” in mathematics, as she says. She hardly works in the classroom any more, doesn’t try hard on her homework and can hardly get over learning for a class test.

With Bianca it was the other way round. She had a French teacher in grade 9 who told her: “You’ll never get the Abitur in French! Then she developed a reaction of defiance, because she wanted to show it to this teacher. She changed schools and passed the Abitur – with French, without sitting in between.

Timo had always enjoyed going to school in the first two classes. The teacher had dealt well with his lively and chaotic nature, even though he is a stressful ADHD child. But the new teacher in her third year admonishes, reprimands and punishes him constantly because he often violates her rules. Now he prefers not to go to school anymore.

Christina is convinced that her story “doesn’t lie”. Since she has this subject, she fights constantly against the “Five”, mostly with little success. She simply can’t remember the dates, places and events that have to be crammed. But in grade 9 this changes suddenly, because her new history teacher knows how to inspire her. Since a project ?fashion show in the Middle Ages? she became in shortest time a correct Expertin for this epoch.
Such examples can be supplemented at will. They show that relationship influences at any age are extremely important for the development of motifs. Friendly, accepting teachers who start with the children’s strengths and criticise carefully and constructively on the basis of a trusting relationship can considerably strengthen confidence in one’s own abilities and thus confidence in success. But simple sympathies or antipathies can also influence motivation. Interest in a subject can be aroused if a particularly sympathetic teacher takes over the teaching; infatuation with a fellow student can lead to enthusiasm for a new area of interest. A holiday in England is more likely to motivate you to learn vocabulary when you meet people you want to keep in touch with.

Personal, but also situational influences have an effect on us and can change our motivation positively or negatively:

  • Sympathy and antipathy up to love or hate
  • Compare with others
  • Permanent over- or understrain
  • Suggestions from the environment, interests
  • Violence and bullying
  • anxiety

In addition, there are factors in the child itself that influence its performance motivation. They have a negative effect: Lack of drive due to constitution, sleep disorders, vitamin and mineral deficiency or a disease, depression (have increased strongly in children and adolescents in recent decades!), psychosomatic disorders, drug abuse or drug consumption. In such cases the lack of motivation is only a symptom of a hidden physical or psychological disorder.

What parents can do

At the end of the morning, the teacher writes the homework on the blackboard and explains it to the children. Colin exclaims in horror: “What – so many homework assignments? Mama can never do that in her life!

Do you remember Daniel’s case study at the beginning? For Daniel, it has become a matter of course that his mother is responsible for the homework. Scientific studies have shown, however, that the performance development of students who regard themselves as responsible for their homework and whom no one helps with their homework is more favourable. Parental interest in homework is important and useful, but not parental responsibility. The well-known developmental psychologist Jean Piaget put it this way: “Anyone who tells a child how to solve a problem cheats him out of his own experience”.

Confidence in success translates as: “I know that I will succeed if I make an effort”. This conviction of the “LM + type” can only grow in the child if it has opportunities to make an effort. Pampering or anxiety-protecting education prevents children from such opportunities to a detrimental extent – detrimental not only to the development of achievement motivation, but also to overall development. Children need care for nutrition, good sleep, a rhythmic daily routine with rituals and suggestions for interests and activities, but not more help and protection than absolutely necessary.

Strengthening the performance motive

In order to strengthen the performance motive of the child or adolescent, parents can consider the following points:


Working for school, i.e. doing homework, practicing and learning, is easier when done in a ritualized way. Fixed working hours, a fixed workplace, a fixed and planned sequence of work steps lead to habit formation. One can not only get used to regular duties, one can even learn to appreciate them at some point according to the motto: “I don’t just do what I like, but I like what I do”.


Students need parents who take their rights and duties towards the school seriously. It helps children if they know about the good parent-teacher relationship. It helps pupils when parents participate in the class climate and school life. In the case of learning and performance problems, they need parents who are concerned about causes and possible help, who have the necessary conversations at school or, if necessary, who seek advice. Especially low motivated pupils need the regular parental interest, encouragement and sometimes also (agreed but consequent) control.

Personal and emotional positive attention

A good parent-child relationship is one of the most precious and important things parents can create. It also carries you through the sometimes difficult period of puberty. It is precisely because school can so often be a burden on family peace that parents should endeavour to maintain similarities with their children in the area of leisure: a regular games evening during the week, going to the museum or library together, joint sporting activities such as swimming or cycling, etc. Interest in everyday school life should also have its place.

Performance experiences in the group

Especially when pupils have performance problems in school, they need the experience of success in the group to feel self-esteem. Leisure activities can be beneficial. That’s why it would be fatal to cancel the twelve-year-old’s beloved football training because the grades are currently not right. Especially in sports, the experience is obvious: If I train and exert myself, I will be successful. Perhaps the trainer can then help when it comes to transferring this experience to school learning.

Participation in a homework group or the private organisation of one or more homework partners can be directly helpful for the school.

Encouraging independence

Self-employment education is the source of experience for the child. It enables the child to perceive what it can already do and what it cannot (yet) do. That is why it is important to promote independence in homework and learning from the first year of school. If it has been neglected so far, counselling by a counselling teacher or school psychologist can be helpful.