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Motivating Children
to Do their Best in School

School Award

by Wes Fessler
Motivating Children
to Do their Best in School

November 12 , 2010

There is nothing more that parents can ask of their children than to give their best efforts in school. There are times, however, when low marks or behavioral issues can cause parents to question whether their children have the necessary motivation to do their best. Parents want their children to be successful in school, but when motivation appears to be lacking, it can make parents wonder what can be done to achieve the necessary motivation for success.

Rewards or Consequences?
What does it take to motivate children to do their best in school? Should parents offer rewards to get a child to work harder, or is it necessary to resort to consequences to demonstrate the importance of having motivation for school? While there may not be any single cure-all method that will resolve every motivational challenge, there are two sides to every coin, and motivation can best be served by showing children both sides.

Natural Learners
Children are inquisitive. They are excited by new discoveries. Kids are natural learners who want to know what things are and how they work. The same applies to their learning. It is best to be upfront and open about the benefits of superior effort and the drawbacks of substandard work.

Questioning Why
Long before children start school, they use the question “why” as a tool to pry information from anyone who possesses it. It is this curiosity that should be nurtured when efforts at school decline. Children are accustomed to learning about what they want to learn, and doing so with speed. They repeat the question why, until the doubts of their minds are sufficiently resolved. In school they are required to submit to structure, to learn what others want them to learn, and to do so at a different pace than that with which they are familiar. This manner of learning can be quite different from their natural learning, and can contribute to wandering minds and decreased motivation.

Consistency of Expectations
It is best to be upfront with kids from the beginning about why motivation is important for learning in school. The advantages of motivation and the disadvantages of its lack should both be explained. These concepts may seem weighty for children in their early years of school, but consistent expectations can help them to understand what is required of them, so they can feel more comfortable with formal classroom learning. Such consistency should be reinforced over time, as minds begin to wander and when motivation declines. It is important to set a constant pace for children that is somewhat challenging, but not overwhelmingly so. Maintaining balance in workload and expectations is essential to keeping children motivated to learn.

Make Learning Personal
It is important to show children how their schoolwork applies to their lives. Showing kids the “big picture” helps them to utilize their inquisitiveness, and to feel that what they are engaged in matters to them. Making learning personal in this way, gives children a sense of attachment to what they do, and helps them to feel that they are learning because they want to learn, rather than because they must learn. Showing children how their learning applies to them helps to answer the “why” questions that naturally come to them, and gives them a feeling of empowerment and control in their learning.

Parental Involvement
In strengthening motivation of children, two elements should be considered: first, what parents can do for their children to eliminate obstacles that stand in the way of their learning; and second, what parents can do with children to help them to attain the desire to motivate themselves. Some of the actions parents can take toward these goals may fit into both categories; being actions that are carried out both for and with children. Ultimately, however, the goals of parental efforts should be to help their children to gain autonomy and independence that allows them to motivate themselves, and to do their best on their own. The following are factors to add or eliminate from the learning environments of children in order to help them to remain motivated to do their best in school:

What parents can do FOR their children:

Eliminate Distractions
Eliminate distractions that make it difficult for children to concentrate. When children are doing homework, turn off the television, video games, or stereos to give children the silence necessary to focus on their work. Being able to finish work in one sitting without distractions can help children to develop determination. Interruptions and distractions, however, can prevent children from completing tasks, or cause them to lose focus and concentration. When children cannot complete their homework, or make mistakes due to lack of focus, it can contribute to a sense of inadequacy that decreases their motivation for work at school and at home.

Add Structure
As a parent it is important to add structure and a routine for education. Parents should set priorities for their children. It is important to make homework the first thing that children do when they come home from school, before playing with friends, watching television, or switching on the video game console. Children should be given a routine that shows that school is important. Parents should establish expectations for their children in regard to school by first showing them what to do, and later allowing them to do it for themselves. These expectations can be reinforced if motivation begins to wane by referring back to what was taught from the beginning. Consistency and structure help children to grow accustomed to expectations, and to maintain motivation to reliably complete their work.

What parents should do WITH their children to increase their motivation and to allow them develop independence.

Eliminate Concerns
Parents should help children to eliminate feelings of inadequacy or disinterest. When a child’s attitude about school turns to negativity there is frequently an explanation. Parents should listen to what their children say about school, listening to their tone and watching their body language. Feelings of frustration may indicate that a child is simply bored, but they can also be indications of learning and attention problems. It is important to identify the sources of a child’s frustration in school, because attitude plays a significant role in motivation to learn.

Add Parent and Teacher Communication
Parents should consult with teachers. Attending parent and teacher conferences can be beneficial in identifying strengths and areas that need improvement in a child’s work. Consulting with teachers can also help in identifying a child’s particular learning style. Some children learn best by hearing, while others may do better by seeing, experiencing, or writing. It is important to use a variety of learning styles to promote learning, but knowing which learning style works best for a child can lead to emphasis on that style which, can result in greater learning and confidence. Parents can help in this effort by working with their children and focusing on the learning style that works best. Parental involvement in this manner can make a difference by focusing on learning methods that are most familiar and effective for children.

Add Help with Homework
Parents should assist children with their homework when needed, with the goal of helping them to be as independent as possible. Parents should fly with their children, rather than hovering over them. The goal of involvement is to build a child’s abilities with achievable challenges, and to be there to provide solutions when schoolwork becomes confusing or too difficult for them to manage on their own. Children need challenges, but not challenges that are so great that they stifle a child’s motivation to learn. Praise should be given generously for improvements, accomplishments, and diligent efforts. Parents should not provide a child with all of the answers, but being available for children when it is truly needed can be very reassuring to them.

Add Vision, Goals, and Support
Parents should help their children to identify a path to their dreams. While this may sound delusive, there are real benefits to entertaining the aspirations of children who envision themselves in the engagement of future occupations, however grandiose they may seem at such an early stage of life. Helping children to become familiar with the job requirements of actual careers can help them to make decisions on whether to pursue education toward those professions. Allowing children to explore their interests in such a manner can help them to shape their goals and ambitions. Parents can assist children in such quests by believing in them, supporting them, and taking them to meet individuals who work in specific fields of interest. A parent’s support and guidance in such curiosities can make a big difference to children, and may just provide the boost of confidence that is needed to achieve the motivation necessary for children to achieve their dreams.

Caring Enough to be Involved
There are many things that parents can do for and with their children to help them to be motivated to do their best in school. The interest and involvement of parents in their children’s learning can have a significant impact on their attitudes and confidence. It is important for parents to be honest and open with their children from the beginning about the advantages that may come from doing their best, as well as the consequences that they may face from a lack of effort. Education is extremely important to children. Parents can help their children to understand the importance of motivation and doing their best. Ultimately the goal for parents should be to help children to develop autonomy and independence in developing their own motivation, but the help and support that parents offer along the way can greatly influence whether their children will have the motivation to do their best in school.



Related Reading:

Weekly Homework and Study Planner: Help your kids stay organized and on top of school with this printable weekly homework and study planner. There is room for up to 6 subjects with homework, reading assignments, and review work.

Summer Learning for Kids: How to keep your kids' minds active during the summer, so they can retain what they learned in the previous school year.


Fostering Motivation in Kids With Learning and Attention Problems,
Accessed November 12, 2010

Renchler, Ron, Student Motivation, School Culture, and Academic Achievement
Accessed November 12, 2010


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