6 Ways to Help Motivate Your Child in School
As parents, we are invested in our children’s academic journey because we understand how important it is for their future success and happiness. Unfortunately, children can’t always see or understand these long-term benefits, which makes it hard to stay motivated and committed to studying hard throughout the academic year.
Nevertheless, there are positive steps and reinforcements that you can take to help foster an environment that encourages them to keep focused and inspired for the future. When it comes to knowing what motivates a child to do well in school, there are six different principles which come into play, including the development of a structured routine, as well as an open, communicative, and supportive school and family environment.
Take a look at them below and discover how you can help your child to stay motivated and achieve academic success for the long-term.
1. Develop routine and structure
When it comes to helping your child stay motivated academically, routine and structure plays a crucial role.
Lots of research has been undertaken to look at the important role structure and routine plays in a child’s professional development. In recent years, Harvard University published a journal which expressed the importance of “scaffolding” within the family structure, which they define as “developmentally appropriate support.” This support includes establishing a structured routine to help students self-regulate their time and understand where to channel their energies during set periods of time.
For example, let’s say that you want to ensure that all homework is completed between the hours of 4pm-6pm. If you reinforce this routine at the same time each afternoon, you will find that this allotted time slot will become part of the daily routine. Over a few weeks of reinforcement, you will be met with less conflict, and homework will start to be completed without prompt as it becomes part of your child’s natural daily rhythms.
Of course, even those with established routines may occasionally be met with conflict. In these instances, routine will need to be reinforced or modified to suit your household. You can try using positive reinforcement, such as; “once you’ve completed your homework, you can go to your friend’s house.” Alternatively, you could also spend the time doing your own ‘homework’ too, such as paying bills, completing some of your own work or reading - so they understand that this time period is allotted to the family to complete their ‘homework’ tasks.
However, setting a schedule is only part of the process of setting structure for your child. For it to be effective, your child will need a small designated area in the home which they can study in. This doesn’t need to be a completely different room, as sometimes just having their own desk space can be effective. But the study area needs to be free of distractions and completely separate from where they spend their free time. This will allow them to set boundaries within their daily routine and know that in that space at that specific time, they need to focus on studying.
2. Get involved with school
As a parent, your involvement and support in the academic life of your child is crucial in their motivation to work hard.
Where you can, you should get involved with homework, assist with test preparation, and let them know that you’re available whenever to answer questions and support them through their journey.
Get into the habit everyday of asking questions about their time at school; what they’ve learnt, how challenging it was, as well as the other social elements that come with the school day. By demonstrating an interest in their school life, you’re positively reinforcing school as an exciting and interesting place to be, whilst showing your willingness to support them in any way they may need it.
This can be particularly effective with children of a younger age, who tend to be excited and motivated to carry out academic tasks when positive parental influence is used. Teenagers on the other hand can respond hesitantly if they feel you are asking too many questions, so make sure you are sharing the details for your day too. A conversation is an open, supportive space to talk - an interrogation is not.
Likewise, as your child grows up and becomes more independent, it’s important to play an active role in their academia, but without overcrowding their space. If you are constantly asking them about homework, assignments and other academic elements of school, they may develop resistance and become less motivated - and this could also put a strain on your relationship with one another. Keep the conversation around school light, and remember to ask about all the aspects that come with school - class yes, but friendships and club activities too.
3. Use positive reinforcement
Using positive reinforcement to encourage and reward good behaviour can be a highly effective tool in helping children to keep motivated with their academia.
Positive reinforcement reinforces what children are doing right, rather than focusing or punishing them for what they are doing wrong.
Many parents can be nervous about positively reinforcing their children for good work, and it’s true that tangible rewards can turn lead to a slippery slope. But there are ways to use extrinsic motivators that will be internalised by your children.
Recent studies which observed the link between positive reinforcement and its effects in a classroom environment found that using an incentive for students to repeat desired behaviours by rewarding a particular outcome is highly effective for their levels of motivation.
Supporting their positive deeds and qualities through enthusiasm and natural, logical rewards has been known to increase the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated and help children to recognise the value of their own positive qualities and actions so that they want to repeat the actions for themselves.
This reinforcement refers to “a stimulus which follows and is contingent upon a behaviour and increases the probability of a behaviour being repeated.” But put simply, this can mean offering reward upon a level of behaviour which you feel right, such as completing their homework, working hard in preparation for a test, or receiving a positive school report from the teacher to parents.
Positive reinforcement can take many forms, including any of the following:
- Social reinforcers - mediated by others and involves an expression of approval or praise for appropriate behaviour
- Activity reinforcers - involves allowing students to take part in an enjoyable activity if they behave appropriately, such as screen time, or going to visit a friend
- Tangible reinforcers - involves a physical reward, such as edibles, toys or stickers. Note: these should be used mindfully so to not be seen as an expectation for good behaviour.
- Token reinforcers - occurs when points or tallies are awarded for appropriate behaviour. This could be a sticker chart with an end of the week reward, such as a trip to the cinema or a sleepover with a friend.
These are just a few examples of ways you can use positive reinforcement to reward your children for staying motivated academically. You may need to try experimenting with different ones, or even use a few in conjunction with each other. But as you continue to use positive reinforcement to reward your children’s academic motivations, you will start to see a change in their attitude towards school work as they understand the positive effects that come with academic commitment.
4. Work with the teacher
For most students, a huge part of the academic journey takes place away from home and in the classroom. As such, another important thing you can do to help your child stay motivated is to work with the teacher.
If you have concerns about your child’s motivation or simply want to know how else you can better support their learning, then contacting your child’s teacher(s) is the right thing to do. When it comes to their motivation at school, your child’s teacher will have a great understanding of their academic progress, the behavioural strategies that work best for them, as well as plenty of additional insights on how you can help continue that motivation at home.
Make sure this conversation takes place regularly - especially after the summer break - so you can always keep an eye out for any areas where your child may be struggling with certain topics or subjects. This will ensure you are supporting your child the whole way through the academic year, and can tailor your support at home accordingly.
5. Create a family culture that allows for mistakes
Every great success story comes with at least one failure.
Take Thomas Edison for example. He made an extraordinary number of unsuccessful attempts before inventing the lightbulb. When a journalist asked him how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he replied; “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Thomas Edison is an example of a student who was relentless in his pursuit. He worked long days in his lab and spent an additional chunk of time on problem-solving. Edison formed an incredibly strong willpower to succeed; he realised the potential for something and worked tirelessly to achieve it.
But unfortunately we live in an age that places an enormous amount of emphasis on instant success - with tests, homework, and projects all expected to be completed to a successfully high standard. Bad grades are too often seen as a reflection of poor time management and a lack of commitment, rather than a time to discover a child’s weaknesses and find a way to help improve them.
The truth is, making mistakes is an essential part of every learning experience. Each and every one of us has learnt from previous experiences in order to achieve long-term success.
This idea of using our mistakes to create new and opportunistic possibilities has even been backed by research at Stanford University which discovered that children who are praised for their efforts are more willing to work harder and less likely to give up. In contrast, those who felt afraid of failure were found to be far more likely to become discouraged when they made mistakes. Instead of learning from their mistakes and finding new ways to improve their method, they were likely to give up altogether.
If you want to motivate your child to continue to study hard, then one of the best things you can do is to create a family culture which accepts that sometimes we make mistakes and that it’s OK. This means, at all costs, trying to avoid focusing on your child’s failures and instead help them to identify the learning curves and improve for next time. You could also try sharing your own experiences of failure and explaining how that helped shape your behaviour for future success, so they have an example to relate to.
6. Inspire them for the future
One of the biggest motivating factors for a child’s level of academic attainment is getting them inspired about their future prospects.
Studies from all over the world have demonstrated the positive impacts that future aspirations can have on a child’s motivation in school, with 74% of young people who have been exposed to inspiring future ventures saying that they feel motivated to study harder.
When school seems tough or certain subjects aren’t enjoyable, sometimes the reminder that all the hard work will help them to achieve a career in anything they want to do can be enough to get them motivated. This can be particularly helpful for older children who have developed an understanding of delayed gratification, who may only need a reminder of how their long-term goals and school are linked to help make the work feel more personally fulfilling.
This is why it is so crucial to inspire them from a young age about all the possible directions their future careers could take them in.
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Parents play a key role in motivating kids academically. Establish routine, support school involvement, use positive reinforcement, collaborate with teachers, embrace mistakes, and inspire their future. Oxford Summer Courses offers programmes to nurture academia and inspire aspirations.