Motivations of Gifted Children – What Can You Do?

I am delighted to have Rebecca Howell, a very popular guest blogger from last year’s blog tour, writing for us again this year.

As the Education Consultant for NAGC UK, Rebecca supports parents of gifted children and teachers through the information and advice service, membership materials, training and research. She has developed the successful Parent Matters series of parent workshops which reaches parents across the country through NAGC’s events and through schools.

With three children of her own, she is all too familiar with the issues that gifted children have! Her background is in educational research and governance.

UK Education Consultant, Rebecca Howell

“He has the ability but he just doesn’t try hard enough!” is what a parent reported to me the other day, encompassing much of the frustration of teachers and parents alike when it comes to trying to get gifted children to do something they aren’t interested in.

Through my experience working closely with gifted children and their families at NAGC (UK), and through the clarity brought by Betts and Neihart’s Revised Profiles of the Gifted and Talented (see The Creative), this lamentation is often indicative of intrinsic motivation that is the driving force of so many gifted children. When coupled with a strong will, this intrinsic motivation can sometimes be the only motivation the child has!

When it comes to motivation, intrinsic is the highest form and can be for several reasons.

With younger gifted children (up to at least age 9) their intrinsic motivation is mostly for inherent joy, and for some because it is morally right (tied up with their advanced moral sense). They often don’t understand about the need to develop skills until later. Traditional remedies for motivating youngsters sometimes do not work with gifted children because they are focussed on the extrinsic rewards of pleasing others ‘it will make me happy’ or ‘be part of the team’, for a reward ‘if you do X you can have some sweets’ or ‘if you do Y you can go on a trip’, and for being top of the class.

Intrinsic motivation is going to be a good thing in the futures of these gifted children. It will be the driving force behind them working hard to achieve their dreams. They have the talent, they have the drive, and as long as they receive meaningful challenge in childhood they will have the resilience needed for success. The problem is that people do not expect children to work in this way!

So, What Can You Do?

If a gifted child you know seems to have ‘motivation difficulties’ – does not want to engage in classroom tasks, has trouble applying him / herself to homework, even struggles with everyday tasks like getting dressed on time – it may be that the child’s motivation is only intrinsic. Great for the future – not at this moment in time! What do you do? Make the motivation for doing the task intrinsic!

This can be done in two main ways:

  1. Adjust the task to interest the child – If the task is to write a story including punctuation, connectives and interesting vocabulary, make the story about their area of interest. A story about a dinosaur fireman rather than an ordinary fireman is better than no story! If the task is below the child’s ability level, make it more meaningful for him/her by increasing the complexity of the task.
  2. Help the child to understand the purpose – Gifted children are often ‘big picture thinkers’ and if the child understands the purpose of the task and where it fits into the bigger picture of the family, class, year’s work or developing a skill, they are more likely to be compliant.

The above two rules can applied to almost any situation. For example:

The child doesn’t want to do homework? Explain the bigger picture; what knowledge it is cementing, what skill it is practising, what the child will be able to move onto next, what the aim is at the end of the course. Adjust the task to interest the child; asked to write but the child hates handwriting, allow them to do it on a computer or create a presentation or make a video to demonstrate the same knowledge, or increase the complexity to make it more interesting and meaningful. Or do both!

The child doesn’t get dressed on time? Adjust the task to interest the child; make the getting dressed task into a game – if the child enjoys role-play, go into the child’s world and make getting dressed part of the game, or if the child is into robots, ask them to dress like a robot would. Or ensure the task is done before the child can do something they want to do, such as have breakfast, read a chapter of a book, or play a game (this is combining an extrinsic reward with their intrinsic interest). Explain the bigger picture; what time the child needs to be dressed in order to enable the family to leave the house on time and what impact it has if everyone is late (going as far as if daddy is late for his job a lot he won’t get a promotion). Buy a clock the child can read and set alarms by to aid punctuality.

Once it is understood that a gifted child works in intrinsic motivation, it is relatively easy to engage him/her by using one of the above methods, although it does take creativity and keeps adults on their toes! It is the understanding about motivation being often lacking, together with being asked to do tasks that are not meaningful for the child, which leads to such frustrations for both the child and the adults trying to engage him/her. If this explanation resonates with you, please pass it on to others who have contact with gifted children!

This post is part of the #NZGAW Blog Tour.

Blog Tour icon and link.


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in gifted, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Motivations of Gifted Children – What Can You Do?

  1. Sue NZ says:

    Thanks, Rebecca.
    Years ago I remember someone at a GT conference talking about the need for the tasks we give gifted children to be ‘respectful’ and I think your ideas on ways to motivate gifted kids are in accord with this.

  2. innreach says:

    Yup Rebecca, and important post here… so many times folks find the motivation issue a challenge… I have also found that using interest based tactics and bigger picture to be highly beneficial… I would also add that having thoughtful reflective conversations at times can also help to get kids to internalise how certain actions can affect a day or senario may unfold… another would, for visiual children to draw to roads and miles stones on them… one with a positive ending and another with a negative ending… get them to drive a virtual car up each and talk about what can happen at each milestone, and also whether it might be possible to take a sliproad from one to the other (repair.. if they are at a negative milestone… what can they do to take an exit off that road back onto the positive… / slipup: what could happen at a positive milestone that would cause them to take a wrong turnoff and end up on the negative one….. )…. Sorry I am rambling on….. ;-D… Wonderful posts like this always get my brain tumbling with thoughts … ;-D.. Best.. Les..

  3. My apologies to Rebecca, and to the first 311 readers of her post. When Rebecca sent me her post, there was a diagram in it which my computer did not display. I did not realise it was missing, and therefore uploaded the post without it. I have now inserted the diagram, and regret the inconvenience caused.

  4. I have been working through the blog posts from the tour, adding an idea from each writer to the Gifted Education PhotoQuotes collection. We can so easily think of motivational issues as an impassable wall, hence my choice of image for this one – see

    Many thanks to Rebecca for helping us to see beyond that solid wall, and to Leslie, who offered a further useful approach in the comments.

  5. Pingback: Rebecca Howell ~ Big Picture Thinkers | Person Of Pinterest

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