Child Losing Steam? How to Keep Kids and Teens Motivated at School

 

Is your child or teen fighting with you every step of the way lately, from  refusing to get up on time in the morning, to complaining about homework at  night? For so many families out there, this time of year is really tough. Your  kids are tired, their teachers are tired, the winter has dragged on, and the end  of the school year seems nowhere in sight.

For kids, this time of year can feel like Groundhog Day, as they  deal with the  same routine without a clear break. In my experience working in  residential  treatment with special education classrooms, I also found that  teachers are  naturally feeling some of the same frustration and boredom. Cabin  fever makes  things more challenging for everyone.

Related: Fighting with your child every  morning?

When  you yell at your child for lack of motivation, you’re giving the resisting  behavior power.

 

A  Parallel Process Just as our kids are reacting to the  bad  weather and long winter, so are we—it’s a parallel process. If you’re  trying to  attend to homework and other school expectations in the midst of all  the  millions of other things you’re doing, and your kids continue to be   unmotivated, it’s easy to get frustrated and feel defeated. If you don’t see   good results from all the work you put in with your child, this lack of success   just feeds the stress and anxiety—and the feeling as a parent that your   responsibilities are never-ending.

Three Causes for Lack of Motivation in School: Here  are three major reasons why your child  may lose motivation in school:

  • If your       child seems less motivated  than in the past, it may be due to a dip in       interest. Maybe there’s  an overly challenging subject (let’s say your       child has a hard time  writing, or doing algebra), or they really don’t       jive with this year’s  math teacher. I think it’s helpful to realize that many of these kinds  of challenges will       pass naturally, and your child will be back on  track.
  • For other       kids, there may be social problems at play, including friends who are no longer  interested in       hanging out with your child, bullying, or break-ups with a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Consider       your child’s peer group. Are they all skipping school, drinking  and/or smoking marijuana or getting       detention? There may be peer pressure  to under-perform in school, as well.
  • Understand that there are times when  your teen is more moody or ornery       than usual. This is  actually tied to normal adolescent development. My husband James and  I found that it was important to “Expect (and accept) bad moods and  bad days” with our child, and with the teens we worked with. Just like  us, kids can wake up on the wrong side of the bed or go through tough times  in their lives. For your older adolescent, problems at school could       be connected to the struggle of becoming more independent, and the  uncertainty of what       life will be like after high school has ended. This  doesn’t mean that you ignore rude behavior or let them slide when they’re not  performing at school; rather, it’s an acknowledgement that these moods and  behaviors happen and that you should not take it personally as a  parent.

Related: How to Stop Doing Too Much for Your  Child.

The important thing for you to watch for is how  long the problem and lack of  motivation lasts and how pervasive it is. Try to  understand what may be  contributing to your child’s under-performance at school. This  will be helpful  when you sit down with them to assist in problem-solving the  situation.

Note: If your child seems  distressed, despondent or sad for a  prolonged period of time, or if you suspect they are abusing substances, have  them seen by  someone with diagnostic skills. Be sure to have a pediatrician  rule out any  underlying issues that might be causing anxiety or depression.

There are things that all parents can do to  help keep their kids motivated  in school. Here are five suggestions that can  help get your child back on track  and across the finish line.

  1. Don’t give the behavior power: When you yell at your child for  lack of motivation, you’re giving the  resisting behavior power. As a parent  myself, I understand that we all get  frustrated and yell sometimes. But  understand that it won’t solve the problem.  If you’re yelling or arguing with  your child over schoolwork, you’re giving him  more power in the struggle, and  you don’t want to do that. Leave the choices  really clear him. Use “I” words  instead of “you” words:
    • “I want you to get out of bed  and get ready  for school.”
    • “I want you to do your homework   now.”

    Then leave the bedroom. If your  child doesn’t do it, then there should be  consequences and accountability. If  he says he doesn’t care, don’t get into a  power struggle with him over it. Kids  will tell you they don’t care even when  they do because it gives them a sense  of being in control.

  2. Talk to your child in        terms of “problem solving.” Focus on what your       child needs to do  to get through the problem situation. (For example,       is he failing  math, does he owe three writing assignments,  or is he failing to  pass in homework?) You can help him by first naming what’s going on: “You didn’t finish       your writing assignment that was due last week.” Then,  ask him       about how he’ll handle it. You can say, “How are you going to  solve the       problem of having work missing?” If he can’t come up with an  answer, you       can help: “Finish the assignment, and take it in to your  teacher after       school. Maybe he’ll be able to give you some credit, and at  least you’ve       shown him you can do the work.”You may have to  play the “Coach,” encouraging him by telling him that he can  handle it and the  work can be made up, the “Limit Setter” who reminds him that  he can’t use the  car if he has failing grades, or the “Teacher” who sits with  him and helps him  find the right solution to the problem. In fact, it’s  important for you to play  all of these three roles as a parent. Your approach  may change depending on the  seriousness and type of situation; be flexible in  order to match your child’s  need.Related: The most important skill you can teach your  child — how to solve problems.
  3. Don’t take it        personally: Try to remove the emotionalism       from your reaction to  your child’s poor school performance. Your approach       with your child should  be objective and neutral. Realize that even though       it may seem like every  other child is thriving and excelling in school,       this is very likely not  the case. Try to have realistic expectations for       your child, including the  reality that this can often be a difficult time       of year for students. This  doesn’t mean that you let your child off the       hook for poor performance,  but it does mean that you try to have matter-of-fact discussions with  her about how       she’s doing. Deal with this subject in a “businesslike” way,  and don’t       take it personally. Remind your child that her responsibility is  to go to       school and try her best. You can offer her a reality check that  includes       suggestions and encouragement to keep moving forward, one task at  a time.
  4. Keep the       communication  about school flowing between you and your child. Talking about school  can just become a normal part of your       family life. Your caring and  involvement may be that extra spark of       motivation your child needs to get  the work done. Talk with your child,       tell her what you see and ask her  about what’s happening at school. It’s       your job as a parent to try to help  your child through the situation, and       it’s your child’s job to do what she  needs to do (homework, class time,       tutoring), to get it done and move on.  It’s important to be in       communication with your child about how school is  going – to stay involved       as much as possible.Let you child  know that if she is not able to talk with you about the  problem and come up  with a way to solve it, you will need to communicate with  the school. This  isn’t a threat, it’s simply what you as a parent need to do to  help your child.  If your child doesn’t want to talk with you, you need to talk  to others to find  out what’s going on. For example, you may need to say, “It  looks to me like  you’re not doing much homework these days. I’m concerned. If  you’re not willing  to show me what you’re doing or talk about it, I’ll need to  check in with your  teacher.” And then follow through.
  5. Find a way for your        child to be active and involved outside of the classroom. It may not be  the first thing you think of, but helping your       child be active is going to  help him manage his more sedentary time like       sitting at a desk all day.  This can be through sports, outdoor time with       the family, or just being  able to take a walk or play with friends       outside. It’s a challenge to do  in bad weather, but well worth the       struggle. Activities can also work as  motivators. Maybe your child would       respond well to a computer class, or an  art class at the local college?       There may be a social activity that might  be motivating to your child –       chess club, volunteering after school at the  local pet shelter, getting       together with his cousin who lives in the next  town. All of these things       shake up the routine, and give your child  something to look forward to.

Finally, remember to take care of yourself.  Just as your child needs to find  a way to be active and break up the monotony this  time of year, so do  you—especially if you’re challenged by your child’s lack of  motivation and  responsibility. Take a walk by yourself, get to the gym, have  lunch with a  friend, call your sister or buddy. You need and deserve the break.  The truth  is, sometimes you just have to cheer yourself on as a parent so you  can cheer  on your kids!

 

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