Monthly Archives: January 2019

Motivating the unmotivated student

-GreatSchools Staff

Is your child completely uninterested in school? Refusing to even consider going to college? Are you at your wit’s end? How can you motivate the unmotivated student? Of course, as a parent, you recognize the value and importance of higher education to your child’s future. Academic apathy can be a complicated issue, however, and generally, no amount of lecturing, pleading, or threatening will change a child’s point of view. First and foremost, then, you need to understand the causes behind this lack of motivation. Once you have a better idea of the source of the problem, you can more effectively develop a strategy to help combat your child’s seeming indifference toward education.

What causes a lack of motivation?

Low self-esteem

Kids who have a poor self-image avoid activities that they deem beyond their capabilities. Even if they can actually complete a given task, these students engage in self-defeating behaviour to protect the little self-worth they do possess. For them, it is better to withhold effort or to procrastinate rather than risk trying, failing, and feeling even worse about themselves.

Lack of support at home

The home environment shapes the initial attitudes that children hold toward learning. In a home where curiosity, questions, and exploration are encouraged, children are given the message that education is worthwhile and personally satisfying. These kids are more likely to take the risks that are inherent in academically challenging pursuits. On the other hand, in a home where learning is not encouraged, children are given the message that education is of little value and that they lack the competency and ability to learn.

Low expectations in the classroom

Students mirror their teachers’ attitudes. If teachers believe that their students can learn, their students are more likely to trust in themselves and their abilities. Such teachers assign challenging, meaningful, and achievable tasks that promote motivation and link effort and success. Conversely, if teachers take the stance that they are the source of all knowledge and that their students are incompetent, their students are more apt to tune out, stop trying, and fail.

Pressure

Many unmotivated students are simply responding negatively to pressure. Whether the tension is perceived or real, these kids rely on defence mechanisms to protect them from the discomfort pressure generates. Through procrastination or avoidance, these students are trying to escape from their fears of failure and inadequacy. In time, they come to accept the consequences of their behaviour, so they appear nonchalant and composed, even as the pressure they are trying to dodge mounts.

How to motivate your child

Provide an encouraging and secure home environment

Children need to feel that their parents value learning. Show your kids that academic exploration is worthwhile and education is important, and they are likely to develop similar attitudes. So sparks their curiosity about everything. Further, let your kids know that failure is often a part of the learning process, and let them fail without penalty. Kids who are not afraid to fail are more willing to accept scholastic challenges and less likely to sabotage their own academic efforts.

Use rewards carefully

Students who possess intrinsic motivation take on activities because of the feelings of enjoyment and accomplishment they evoke. Students who possess extrinsic motivation perform to gain a reward or avoid a punishment. Students with extrinsic motivation will generally put out the minimal amount of effort to complete tasks in the easiest way possible. In addition, external motivation only exists as long as there is external compensation. In other words, extrinsic motivation is likely to result in limited progress that vanishes when the reward disappears. So be discerning when offering rewards for good work.

Avoid power struggles

Realistically, you won’t be able to take on every struggle that comes along, so choose your battles wisely. Make a clear-cut list of unacceptable behaviours and resulting consequences. For instance, a failing grade in a class might result in the loss of a favourite privilege until the grade is raised. Resist the temptation to ground your child indefinitely or to take away all prized possessions. If you act reasonably and calmly, there is hope that your child will follow suit.

Build on strengths

Find an area in which your child excels and focus on it. Constant failure is certainly unmotivating, and when the primary focus is on weakness, self-esteem and motivation will undoubtedly be lowered. If your child can find success in a nonacademic setting, you can work together to determine the elements of that accomplishment. Perhaps you and your child will be able to formulate a recipe for success and apply the ingredients to the educational setting.

In conclusion, unmotivated students do want to succeed, but they are being held back by some sort of obstacle. With patience, understanding, and hard work, you can help your child find a path to academic achievement.

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9 curiosity killers – and how you can cure them!

– Leslie Crawford

You want your child to be curious, right? Of course, you do! After all, curiosity is the drive to gather new information and experiences and it’s at the very heart of learning. Studies show that kids who exhibit a higher level of curiosity are at an advantage at school and beyond, benefitting socially, emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually.

Curious souls tend to exhibit a wide range of positive adaptive behaviours. They’re more likely to be open-minded, emotionally expressive, have strong coping mechanisms in daunting situations, and they’re predisposed to unconventional thinking (think: innovative problem solving).

Whether it’s your toddler furiously exploring every inch of their new world, your 5-year-old asking “Why?” about everything or your tween becoming myopically obsessed with the goings-on of their peers, curiosity is an inherently human trait. It’s fueled by dopamine, the same reward-seeking neurochemical that’s behind the desire to eat and procreate.

In younger kids, information-seeking abounds. One study found that between the ages of 2 and 5, kids ask about 40,000 questions. But as kids get older, this insatiable desire to know can lose some of its urgency.

Just as curiosity can be successfully fostered in any child it can also be squelched, often by the very well-meaning adults tasked with educating them. In fact, research shows that kids whose intrinsic curiosity is comparatively low are the ones most sensitive to social cues that inhibit or encourage exploration.

While no parent or teacher would purposely set out to thwart a child’s natural inquisitiveness, they often do so unwittingly. Curious to find out how grown-ups discourage curiosity (and conversely, how they can foster it)? Here are nine sure-fire curiosity killers and how you can avoid them.

  1. Freaking out over messes

    OMG! What happened to your kitchen? It’s been transformed into an 8-year-old’s version of a scene from Breaking Bad. There’s unidentifiable white powder all over the counters and floors, bright blue and orange fingerprints on the cabinet counters, and jars and vials overflowing with weird goo. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: this crime scene is none other than curiosity channelled into the best form of creativity. For parents who are new to slime-making, the white substance is probably cornstarch, and it’s really, really hard to clean up! The Day-Glo fingerprints are from food colouring, also a bear to remove. What’s a harried parent to do? Let them make messes! The slime-makers of today might be the scientists, engineers, inventors, and artists of the future.

  2. Choosing a school for orderliness and calm

    One would think that a neat and tidy classroom (or bedroom) is preferable to the one that invites measured chaos. Think again. What attracts people’s interest, including children, is something more complex and unpredictable. In studying what inspires creativity in classrooms, Children are most interested “in the rooms that had wild and complex things that didn’t act in predictable ways,” be it out-there art on the walls, terrariums housing all manner of creatures, and spaces throughout the school that invite experimentation. In a 1984 study, it was found that while kindergarten-age children asked 27 questions per hour at home, that number plummeted to only about three when they were at school. Some of this drop-off is unavoidable because kids at school don’t have the opportunity to ask questions endlessly as they might at home, but it’s not inevitable if the school environment tolerates a curious child.

  3. Stamping out gossip

    Gossip, it turns out, is a natural expression of curiosity in both kids and adults (which is why you go straight for magazines at the hairdresser). People get kind of highfalutin about gossip. But if it’s done without malice, discussing complex social relationships can be a healthy and natural way to satisfy one’s curiosity about what other kids are doing. Especially in a school setting, where so much of the day is prescribed, kids relish talking to each other in ways that are unscripted and unexpected.

  4. Overscheduling kids’ time

    It’s the curse of the modern parent — we want to schedule every nanosecond of our child’s day to make sure every moment counts. But guess what: strategic neglect is a better approach to fostering curiosity.

    Let them be bored. Unstructured time can, after the initial whining, lead to the most fruitful exploration, whether a box gets turned into a car or there’s a rainy-day discovery that painting is your child’s great passion.

  5. Choosing what your child should learn

    You’ve schlepped your 10-year-old and his best friend to the local science museum to see the special exhibit on the Big Bang. The exhibit, which will only be there a month, is an outstanding learning opportunity! But all they want to do is climb the trees in front of the museum. These are valuable teachable moments — for parents.

    You can’t legislate curiosity. The secret to encouraging curiosity is to avoid holding on so tightly to what you think your child should learn that you don’t allow them the latitude to explore where their inquisitiveness leads them. So if you don’t make it inside the museum this time, don’t fret. Your child is getting an education out on that branch even if he isn’t learning anything about the Big Bang today.

  6. Celebrating achievement

    Perfection, it is said, is the enemy of innovation. Of course, it’s terrific if your middle schooler wins her fifth consecutive soccer game or your teen gets into a top college. And there’s nothing wrong with being happy about that. But take care that you’re not hyperfocused on the award, grade, or accomplishment. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, explores how praising the process (the hard work it took to get there) rather than the person (as in, “You’re the best soccer player!”) makes kids more likely to seek out challenges and take intellectual risks.

    The goal of success is often in opposition to the inquiry. Many parents who care about curiosity find themselves conflicted when they have to make a choice between encouraging their child’s curiosity and wanting their child to ‘do well.’ Most of us want our children to get the right answer and the good grade. A good grade is nice, but really wanting to learn something, and being so interested that you can’t let it go, is a much more powerful and enduring experience.

  7. Having all the answers

    For Einstein’s sake, answer the question already so you can get some peace! Not so fast. When your child asks you a question the best thing you can say in response is, “How can we find out?” It’s also fine to admit you don’t know the answer. In fact, what’s far more important than having the answers is to engender an environment in which question-asking is the norm. Information-seeking through questions can be thwarted or encouraged, depending on how parents engage with their kids.

    Mothers who asked a lot of questions had children who also asked a lot of questions. By implication, children may be influenced by messages they receive about how to have a conversation. If their mother uses language to gather information, they are more likely to do the same. So, if you are curious about why ladybugs are called ladybugs or why colds always feel worse late in the afternoon or why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, go ahead and ask! Out loud! Role models have a big impact on kids. When kids are around curious adults, they are more interested in things around them.

  8. Putting safety first

    A big reason parents may unwittingly discourage curiosity is that it can be dangerous. The hard truth is that curiosity and the need to resolve uncertainty and the unexpected is not without risk. Your bold and inquiring tween might decide to see what happens if she zaps a magnet in the microwave or how speedily she can navigate her bicycle down your steep street.

    The curious child, the one thirsty to seek out the new, even at some risk, can have an intellectual advantage. It’s a parental balancing act, to be sure, to keep children out of trouble while giving them room to grow intellectually. Parents have to balance their tolerance for potential harm with their interest in giving their children room to explore. Children are better than we think at taking care of themselves. And kids need to learn how by doing it.

  9. Putting “encourage curiosity” on your parenting to-do list

    As a parent you don’t necessarily have to do anything. Supporting curiosity as a parent is more about letting it happen. Celebrate it and share it with your child but don’t add it to the list of ways you can improve your child’s prospects. Since curious adults and kids both tend to be happier than those who aren’t, parents who begin to pursue their curiosity a little more self-consciously and become just a little more attuned to their children’s questions and urges to explore will probably be doing more than enough to promote their children’s curiosity.