Is your child motivated to learn?

Okay mom and dad, today is your lucky day. I’m going to offer you $100 in cash if you can do a back handspring.

Right here. Right now.

Did you do it?

Of course not. Why not? Because unless you are a former gymnast who still dabbles in flips and tumbles in your spare time, you probably cannot do a back handspring. Not without breaking your neck. And that is NOT worth a $100!

So what’s your point, you ask? (No, I cannot do a back handspring either). The point is that you may be asking your child to do something he simply is not capable of doing.

Some parents look at their child as an unmotivated blob of a marionette connected to a PlayStation controller in one hand and a cell phone in the other. When it comes time for homework, your child acts as if he has been asked to solve the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Excuses start pouring out and procrastination kicks into high gear.

You lament to yourself, “Geez, my child is so unmotivated.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

Could you do a back handspring? If you could not, does that mean you are unmotivated? Of course not. Motivation

Some children’s lack of perceived motivation is actually masquerading as a lack of Executive Functions skills i.e. the ability to plan, start and complete an assignment. Children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder are at a greater risk for Executive Functions issues. Dr. Deborah Stipek is the Dean of the Stanford University School of Education. She says kids will be self-motivated to learn when they:

  •       Feel competent about something
  •       Have some choice and control over their learning
  •       Believe that intelligence isn’t fixed at birth
  • Ÿ      Feel loved and respected by their parents

Let’s look at each one:

Feeling confident about something comes from practice. Some children need direct instruction about how and when to do their homework. Help your child establish a homework routine by assigning a distraction-free location in the home and a time your child should be at the location.

Help your child gain control of the homework by establishing what order to complete the assignments. Estimate how long each assignment will take. Encourage her to start with an easy assignment to get going. Work on the most difficult subject next. Then finish with easier subject.

Getting your child to believe that intelligence isn’t fixed at birth is clearly a challenge. If he is struggling with schoolwork, he may have a poor self-image. But with your help, or by hiring a Learning Specialist, your child can learn the skills necessary to complete the classwork on a daily basis.

Feeling loved and respected by their parents ought to be the easiest one, right? But think back to your most recent interactions with your child during homework time. Has there been a lot of nagging and histrionics? You may feel your child has put you in a position where all you can do is nag and plead. Take a deep breath and try to implement the 5 to 1 rule: For every negative comment you give your child, make five positive ones. If you are struggling with finding positive things to say, mention small accomplishments. “I’m glad you got up when your alarm went off.” “Your guitar practice sounds great.”

Wrapping it up

Motivating a child who appears unmotivated can seem like a daunting challenge. Before declaring your child a lazy, no-good stick-in-the-mud, ask yourself whether your child has the proper Executive Functioning tools to be successful. Research shows that motivation increases with every successful encounter with a task. By providing your child with direct instruction on how to organize, manage and complete her schoolwork, you will help your child gain much needed confidence. And motivation.

To learn more about Executive Functioning skills and motivational strategies, contact a Learning Specialist at Engage the Brain.

David Karch (Learning Specialist with Engage the Brain)

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