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This is What Video Games Do Right To Motivate Your Child

Video games

Child psychologists in Highlands Ranch hear the same complaint every day: your child can’t seem to focus on his homework or chores for more than 5 minutes, but can spend endless time working toward the next level on his video game! How are video games so motivating, and what can parents, educators, and counselors learn from them?

Video Games Don’t Punish—And Neither Should You

Bad news from science: punishment doesn’t work. It doesn’t help a person learn how to do a task, doesn’t meaningfully reduce unwanted behaviors, and increases the risk of the person disengaging or becoming rebellious. If a video game punished a player for losing, more players would “rage quit” than continue to play. So what do game designers do instead? Video games today usually use the term “respawn” or “go back to a previous checkpoint.” In real life, this looks a lot like “try again.” Your child may be frustrated to hear that her character has perished and must now “respawn at the last checkpoint,” but she’s still motivated to keep trying—all day and night! You can use some of the same principles to shape behavior.

Child Psychologists Explain Intermittent Reinforcement

If you’ve played any ad-supported phone games lately, you’ve probably noticed the trend to have a “prize of the day” or “lucky wheel” to spin for a free prize. Usually, these prizes are “worth” almost nothing, but there are a few amazing prizes mixed in, like lots of game currency or special abilities. What keeps kids (and adults!) coming back to click these low-reward boxes so often? The principle of intermittent reinforcement. Much like slot machines at a casino, or winnings on lottery tickets, there is a very low barrier to entry and the chance of a very high reward. When that reward does arrive, it’s so big and exciting that it floods the brain with reward chemicals—driving the person to come back again and again. Intermittent reinforcement makes behavior more likely—so make sure you use it to reward good behaviors, not to give in to temper tantrums.

Video Games Borrow Tools From Children’s Play Therapy

When you bring a child to see a play therapist in Highlands Ranch, you can expect the therapist to start out by making each visit as fun and easy as possible. Just like the first few levels of a video game, where “leveling up” is easy and rewards are frequent, your child’s first few play sessions are geared to increase engagement and build positive associations. As play therapy progresses, you may notice that your child’s therapist offers choices and lets your child take the lead—turns out, video game designers took notice of this as well! If you get a chance, observe your child when he first starts playing a video game. Does he go to the battle or race immediately, or check out the boosters? Does he work toward daily goals, or have his own plan? No matter what he chooses, he will see progress in the video game—and he’ll feel pride and ownership because he chose his own course. Any external goals are clearly defined and come with clearly-defined rewards and prizes, so your child can choose what is most important.

Gamification (making things seem more like games) is a tool that has shown good results in the workplace, school settings, business, and marketing—any place where “hard work” can be transformed into “good fun.” Next time you’re struggling to motivate your child, ask yourself how a video game might do it. For more tips and personalized help, call a child psychologist in Highlands Ranch.