If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably wished that your child would do more of what you asked and do it well, on time, and with a sweet attitude.
In this article I’m going to share four things your child needs to develop excitement and motivation, both in studies and around the house, and some unwitting mistakes parents and teacher sometimes make in trying to boost the unmotivated child. These four elements are encouragement, a conducive environment, example, and balance.
Encouragement: When a child does what he should, everything works smoothly, so it’s easy to forget to compliment the behavior. When a child forgets, or just isn’t very good at something, it causes some level of disruption, so it needs to be addressed a fair amount of the time. The challenge is to avoid imbalance. Compliment the good, and you’ll get more of the good, as long as the child isn’t secretly getting away with something! It’s hard to keep balance, but if the balance isn’t there, discouragement sets in. I’ve seen smart, eager-to-please children give up because this natural tendency to notice the error more than the success makes the child misinterpret the behavior to think she isn’t appreciated. In more advanced cases, a discouraged kid will stop caring what anyone thinks. For a parent or teacher, losing a child’s desire to please and seek your opinions and wishes has disturbing consequences. A parent can lose considerable influence to guide the child in the right direction, in any area of life. The good news is, this can often be reversed, since most children are very resilient when conditions change.
Another important asset of encouraging your child is that it prevents negative attention-seeking. Many children figure bad attention is better than none, so they misbehave on purpose just to hear from you. So quality time together is important, and it’s important to make a permanent habit out of looking for the good and commenting on it. Rewards are nice for spectacular achievements, but too much of that can create an expectation of entitlement that will ultimately disappoint the child in life, or the temptation may crop up to substitute quick, convenient rewards for the quality time and encouragement that any child needs, no matter how full a schedule is, for healthy development.
Besides too much or too little praise, other encouragement killers include setting expectations that are too high or too low, promising rewards for performance and then failing to give them for any reason, and comparing children to others (including yourself) in either a positive or negative light.
Conducive environment: In order for a child to obey or succeed in anything, he has to have what he needs to do the task. If you fail to notice and provide too many things, your kid won’t explain his sub-par work after a while. It’s possible you believe he’s just making excuses to get out of work, and eventually that may become the case, even after he receives what he needs, because a negative association has developed between work, and the possibility of achieving it. Imagine the consequences of a child thinking that work and tasks never work out to anyone’s satisfaction, so he might as well not even try. Imagine the consequences when the child becomes an adult and needs to work for a living! This is especially true if he gets an earful for not living up to his expectations and no one believes him when he explains why. Sure, some kids do it to get out of work, so it’s important to determine with absolute accuracy whether his laziness is his fault, or if there are other factors involved.
To succeed in his studies, then, your child needs a clean, well-lit, quiet study area with a comfortable temperature, freedom from hollering and other distractions, time to do the work, regular hearing, vision, and general health checks, an assignment notebook, communication with teachers, tutoring if there’s an area where he’s struggling, transportation to tutoring and the library, all necessary school supplies, proper diet, exercise, rest, and motivated friends who aren’t getting into trouble. Too many household chores, and he won’t have time to study. Too few and he’ll develop an addiction to entertainment. If there’s marital discord being expressed within his hearing, he’ll be thinking about that rather than his studies. So, it’s important to develop a system with your spouse to handle disagreements in such a way as to maintain a calm, supportive, quiet atmosphere so your child can avoid associating his studies (and more importantly, the home) with fear. Fear is unpleasant, and can cause her to develop an avoidance attitude toward anything she associates with it.
Instead, create a strong association between work and enjoyment. Why not turn off the television at dinner time and keep some encyclopedias by the table? Have fun quizzes and entertaining facts during dinner to encourage a love of learning. The child has to agree it’s fun, which will take some creativity on your part.
Also, you can leave a healthy but particularly favorite treat on your child’s desk at the beginning of study time. It’s best to avoid sugar, which can make your child tired and moody. Honey or Blue Agave are much healthier sweeteners. Alternatives to food can include fun pencils, cool assignment books, tickets to educational events like science centers with good programs for children, etc. Of course you can’t leave little presents every day, but the idea is to get a child to feel pleasure whenever he thinks about work…fun things associated with work. Leaving toys will only create another distraction.
Example: Children who love to read often have parents who read a lot. Children who enjoy work not only have parents who make it pleasant, but who take pleasure in working themselves. I know-this can be a challenge if your boss is unreasonable or your job is stressful and the tasks you face at home only add to the complete exhaustion you already face. Sometimes treating yourself to some well-chosen morale boosters can have a big impact on your kids as well. This also helps prevent the exhausted parent’s temptation to have the kids do everything, from making dinner to fetching shoes and glasses, taking care of the baby, bringing everyone drinks, and doing all the housework when guests are coming. If the kids are doing too much around the house, they’re not studying and it may lead them to the wrong impression about what you think of work. They need to see you enjoying being busy, too. If it means cutting down on activities, that’s fine-in the end you’ll feel better and more rested, too. For single parents, this can be tremendously difficult. Some ladies swap help time with close, trusted friends, each taking care of the kids after school on a specific day of the week while the other parents get a chance to rest.
Balance: Too much of a good thing can be bad. Praise for a child’s success is good, but too much praise for very small accomplishments can diminish the impact of the praise. Unduly withholding praise in order to increase its value can discourage a child, too. Too much of anything isn’t good. Time to study is important, but if it robs a child of family time, that will impact your kid’s development and attitude. Chores teach a child to keep a neat house, teach him the value of work, prevent him from having time to get into trouble or developing an addiction to video games or entertainment. Too many chores, or chores that are above a child’s development level, and you can end up with a child with a bad attitude or even health problems.
The bottom line is, if you make it easy for a child to do what you ask, he’ll develop inner motivation and rely less on parental policing to get things done to the best of his ability. This is the key to creating positive, permanent habits that won’t disappear as soon as he heads off to college and into the real world.