It's not news that not all children enjoy school. If your child dreads going to school each day or simply seems uninterested in working hard, their motivation for learning may be an issue.
You can help your child get excited about school at any age by getting involved and providing the right sort of praise. You can help your child stay motivated academically by following a few key strategies.
Catch motivation problems early
Children may start to dislike school even in early grades, but parents can encourage their kids to find joy in learning.
"It's important to catch motivation problems early," says Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist and the Research Director of the Neuropsychology Service at Children's Health℠. "If your child gets to the point where they are completely disengaged and shut down with regard to school, it's much harder to address problems."
Address motivations issues head on
If your child is not completing their homework or shows no enthusiasm for school and learning, it's important to address the problem head on. Talk to your child's teachers to see what they're observing in the classroom. Your child's teacher may have valuable insights regarding the cause, such as if your child is having trouble with math skills or if they simply aren't being intellectually challenged enough to stay interested in class.
You and your child's teacher can work together to address early signs of motivation problems and provide a better learning environment for your child.
Praise efforts, not grades
To help increase your child's motivation, it's important that you praise their hard work, not just the result or grade.
"We tend to be focused on grades," says Dr. Holland. "That feedback, whether it is positive or negative, makes kids focus on grades, and a single ‘bad' grade can then result in a negative spiral fueled by anxiety or frustration. Children who lose interest and motivation in school may be frustrated by the lack of control they feel over grades or not reflecting the amount of work they put in."
To prevent this from happening or help your child recover if it already has happened, it's important to recognize and praise your child's hard work no matter the result, Dr. Holland says. This sort of praise can change your child's perspective, helping them know it is most important to work hard and try their best, no matter what grade that work is given.
Praising hard work can also ease your child's anxiety about school so they can regain enthusiasm about learning. Children often have better success both at school and in other activities if they can focus on being enthusiastic and passionate about what they are doing without feeling pressure to perform a certain way.
Don't bribe your child
Many parents turn to bribes to help motivate their children in school. However, Dr. Holland says that this approach is hard to sustain and doesn't necessarily result in positive long-term outcomes.
"Bribes rarely lead to changes in internal motivation," Dr. Holland says. "In the worst-case scenario, bribes can even lead to an externally motivated child who just does things for rewards."
How do you keep kids motivated?
Instead, rewards should come in the form of verbal encouragement, praise, hugs, and other positive attention—again, not focused on grades, but rather on the learning process in general.
Show interest in your child's education
Regularly ask your child about what they learned each day and engage with them when they're excited to tell you something about school.
Modeling a love of learning (e.g., showing interest and enjoyment in reading, going to museums, etc.) also can be powerful in helping a child develop similar interests. These types of reinforcements can help your child feel good about their hard work and learning, which can lead to improved motivation.
To learn more about motivating your child in school and activities, talk to your Children's Health pediatrician.