Motivate Kids to Do Better in School

Photo by Jim Franco

Figuring out a formula to help an unmotivated child do homework and focus on education is tough. In many cases, it's not a matter of your child's ability to become a proud pupil, but a matter of her not connecting with the methods used in the classroom. Don't lose hope. Finding your child's learning sweet spot will soon have her seeing stars -- gold stars, that is. If she's floundering, here are a few tips to help her smarten up to the benefits of putting in the work at school.

Set Small Step-by-Step Goals

A child may be overwhelmed and may need to focus on the smaller steps to achieving goals, rather than the big end result. "The number one reason that students feel unmotivated is that they are overwhelmed by the [enormousness] of homework and studying," says Alexandra Mayzler, director of Thinking Caps Tutoring, a tutoring company with locations around the country, including New York City and Texas. "It can make success seem so far in the future it's unattainable." Create a list of small goals that your child can check off as he reaches them. Instead of telling him he needs to write for hours, break an assignment down into researching an idea (check!), writing a rough draft (check!), and polishing it up in a final draft (check!). Or divide and vary studying time -- have him sit down for 10 minutes to go over flash cards and then for 30 minutes to read books.

Focus on a Different Learning Plan

Forcing your child to sit at the table and read chapters from a workbook may frustrate her. Instead, tune in to the ways she learns, consult with her teachers to get their advice, and tailor a plan that highlights her skills. If your child is an auditory learner, record her reading the chapters aloud so she can listen to the recording and master the facts. If she's more visually adept, have her jot down notes in different-colored pens.

Tune In and Listen Up

Avoid trying to scare your child into straight A's. "The college talk is when parents tell their kids that in order to succeed in college and life they need to -- insert current point of academic tension here," Mayzler says. "Adults tend to think in the long term. However, students can't think past next school vacation, [so] talking about something that far in the future isn't motivating." Instead, share what you struggled with in school so your child knows he isn't alone. Take the time to listen to him explain why he's having a hard time focusing and figure out a plan together. He'll appreciate your efforts to bond with and empower him. "Parents should remember that no matter how it may seem, kids do hear everything a parent says," Mayzler says.

Teach While Traveling

It's possible your child may simply be bored with the school routine. Liven up the educational process by taking her studies outdoors. "Connect family outings and activities to things your child is learning in school," says Janine Walker Caffrey, author of Drive: 9 Ways to Motivate Your Kids to Achieve. For example, if your child is learning about botany in school, start digging in your backyard and plant a garden. If she's studying American history, take a weekend and visit a nearby battlefield.

Acknowledge a Job Well Done

Offering some praise when your child successfully tackles a task can really put an arch in his academic life. If he aced a math test, focus on the specific work he did to reach that goal and say, "I'm really proud that you practiced your multiplication tables for an extra 20 minutes last night. That really paid off." If he was struggling on a project that received rave reviews from the teacher, reward him with a special pit stop at his favorite ice-cream shop or allow him an extra 10 minutes to play on the computer or with a favorite toy. But use rewards sparingly, when he does extremely well on something. Never use money or expensive incentives to bolster performance -- stick to praises, small objects, or fun privileges.


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