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Want To Motivate Your Child To Do Well Through The School Year? Here’s What NOT To Do.

motivate child

Typically, the first term of the school year is the honeymoon phase. The work hasn’t started piling up, tests are relatively easy, and before you know it, the term break has arrived. The kids who don’t get caught up in the lull are the consistent performers—from the get-go, they’re setting goals, finetuning their processes, and getting the support they need. But for children without a clear direction, it’s easy to lose steam before the year is even half over.  

For parents who wish to support their children, the path forward is not always clear. How does one decide when to hold back, and when to intervene? Read on to find out!

1. Don’t adopt a wait-and-see approach.

Some children start the school year with a bang — they perform well in the initial weighted assessments — but their grades start lagging towards the middle or end of the year, as the work becomes more demanding. If this sounds like your child, you can check in on his or her processes to see if there’s anything to improve. For instance, have you noticed your child staying up late to complete assignments that were handed out two weeks ago? If your child has a pressing deadline, does he or she display initiative, by asking to cancel playdates or other appointments to free up time? If your child’s grades are satisfactory, take the opportunity to focus on organisational skills such as time management instead.

However, if your child has brought home daily work and test papers that suggest he or she might not be keeping pace with the rest of the class, don’t wait till later in the year to do something about it. Whether you intend to seek help from the school, hire a tutor, or coach your child yourself, you will need to have a clear understanding of your child’s issues. For instance, one KSP member reviewed her child’s math assignments, and noticed that her child:

  • Made errors while doing simple calculations
  • Copied numbers wrongly when doing calculations
  • Tended to omit zeros and decimal points
  • Misinterpreted questions, and supplied answers that were not required

This is a good example of what you should be looking to glean from examining your child’s work. Such information is useful for you to decide on next steps, or to hold fruitful discussions with a teacher or tutor. More importantly, share your observations with your child, or ask him or her to analyse the mistakes that have been made. It gives your child a specific and constructive way to describe his or her challenges, as opposed to simply saying, “I did badly for my test,” or “I made careless mistakes.”

2. Don’t neglect routines.

A lack of routines could affect your child’s motivation to stay on track with school responsibilities. 

For instance, at least one study has shown that compared to those who get enough sleep, older students who experience daytime sleepiness are more likely to be motivated by performance goals rather than mastery goals, to engage in procrastination, and to have decreased self-efficacy — one’s belief in one’s ability to accomplish a goal or task. Keeping to regular bedtimes is one way to ensure that your child is sufficiently rested, and ready for the challenges of each new day. 

screen time

Another area to monitor is screen time. Increases in television watching have been linked to lower math and language scores for adolescents. Video gaming for about 40 minutes a day has also been linked to lower overall average scores for teens. This doesn’t assume causation or a lack of motivation, but it’s worth looking at whether your children’s screen habits are preventing them from adopting sound learning and work practices. 

  • Do they set limits for their screen usage, by using a timer? 
  • Do they know how to minimise digital distractions during work? 
  • Do they hold off screen time till homework and revision are completed?
  • Is screen time viewed as a privilege, rather than an entitlement? 

Have regular discussions with your children about screen time, to reevaluate the current routines and set some new rules if needed.

Finally, you can create a routine around helping your children with schoolwork, in a way that gives them autonomy. “For example, you can make it clear to your children that you’re available to answer homework-related questions every weeknight between 8 pm and 9 pm,” suggests local motivational coach and blogger Daniel Wong. This places the responsibility for getting help firmly in your children’s hands.

3. Don’t assume your child knows how to improve.

Goals are useful for motivating your children to improve their school performance; studies have shown that committing to a goal, writing it down, and informing a third party can improve one’s chances of attaining or getting close to a goal. 

Some children may want to use the local Edusave awards as a goal, while others may aspire to be the top scorers in class. Struggling learners would do best to aim for small improvements, such as a 10% score increase. But first, children would need to understand what they should do (or do differently) in order to achieve their goals.

Let your child decide on his or her goals for the academic year — he or she may already have done a goal setting exercise in school. You can offer food for thought by asking these questions:

  • What exactly is your goal?
  • How will you know if you have met your goal?
  • What steps will you take to achieve your goal?
  • Why is your goal important to you?
  • When do you want to achieve your goal?

Next, talk to your child about the steps that need to be taken, i.e. study strategies, and find out how he or she would like to approach each subject. You can talk about study strategies that have worked for you in the past, or do some research to see what methods have been proven effective. (Read our articles on better ways to read textbooks and school notes, how to take notes, and revision strategies that educators swear by.) Share information with your child, but leave him or her to decide how best to proceed. 

4. Don’t remove roadblocks and challenges for your child.

If your child has homework, or an upcoming test, it should be your child’s responsibility to remember these things. Raising a motivated child means resisting the temptation to check in with the class WhatsApp group on a daily basis, and letting your child take ownership over his or her work. If your help is needed to contact a teacher for clarification, give it readily, but if not, hold back and observe your child at work. Look out for displays of:

  • Effort
  • Focus
  • Discipline
  • Perseverance
  • Trying new strategies
  • Seeking constructive feedback from others

These are what you should praise your child for, in order to encourage a growth mindset, says Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. 

Occasionally, your child may put in effort but still not see results. When this happens, you should acknowledge your child’s effort, but be careful not to minimise the poor results. “[W]e should never be content with effort that is not yielding further benefits,” says Dweck. “We need to figure out why that effort is not effective and guide kids toward other strategies and resources that can help them resume learning.” (Read about what to do when hard work doesn’t lead to success.)

5. Don’t be the cause of stress and tension in your child’s life.

Motivate child

If you find yourself speaking about another child in glowing terms, be mindful of your own child’s feelings — often, children compare themselves unfavourably with others and feel inadequate as a result. If you notice this happening, reassure your child that we can and should admire qualities about others without seeing ourselves in a bad light. In fact, finding out about the work and strategising that goes into someone else’s success can be enlightening for your child; it can help him or her to realise that there is a process for everything, and that many things are achievable with a concrete plan. 

For those coaching their children at home, be honest about the toll that it may be taking on your relationship with your child. If you are getting frustrated with your child, or feel you’re not able to help him or her in the best way, consider hiring a tutor instead. Some tuition agencies will let you set up the initial session as an interview, so you can assess the tutor’s suitability before making a commitment. A good match will ensure that your child is motivated to learn as well.

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