As parents, it is only natural for us to want to see our children succeed. So when we discover that our child isn’t achieving their potential at school, it is bound to affect us. Our natural instinct is to want to support our children and try to motivate them to become better students. However, we usually do this by requiring them to improve on their homework and practicing more what they’re not good at. And all too often, this backfires and ends up affecting our relationship with our child.
Some parents believe that fear and intimidation tactics are the most effective way of getting a child to perform better. While this may prove effective in the short-term, in the long-term it can cause resentment and result in children growing to dislike learning and education – a dislike that may continue into their adult lives. Strong-willed children may even choose to rebel against this approach, which inevitably results in conflict and power struggles and can damage the connection between parent and child.
Another school of thought that is popular among many parents is the concept of trying to improve their child’s academic performance through a system of rewards. This may include ‘bribing’ their children to complete household chores or financially rewarding them when they achieve good grades. While there’s no doubt that this can prove to be effective in the short-term, we are actually teaching our children to expect a ‘prize’ every time they achieve something. Not only are we robbing them of the opportunity to experience the internal rewards of sustained effort and hard work, but once these external rewards are removed, children are unlikely to feel motivated to want to do the things that they are supposed to do for their own good.
Numerous studies have shown that the most effective way of helping children to become better students is by creating an atmosphere that encourages self-motivation. This requires finding a ‘hook’ that appeals to a child’s individual style of learning. An article, How to Motivate Children Through Purpose, that recently featured in Psychology Today states that the most effective way of helping our children to become better students and achieve their goals is to teach them about purpose. The article stresses that by engaging children in this way, we are helping them to understand why learning is so important and it recommends that parents can achieve this in the following ways:
- Model the behaviour you wish to see – if you wish to motivate your children through internal purpose, then you must first ensure that you live your own life with intention, and that you demonstrate that effort and hard work are rewarding in themselves through your actions. So even when your goals are not met, you show your children that it was still worth making the effort by responding positively to the situation.
- Ask your child to define who they want to be and what goals they wish to achieve, and get them to identify what steps they are going to take to accomplish these goals. By stating the purpose in this way, you are encouraging them to take ownership over their choices and behaviour and helping them to understand the relationship between purpose and the intrinsic value of learning.
- Make sure that your children understand the ‘bigger picture’ by explaining to them why certain activities such as chores or homework are an essential step towards reaching their long-term life goals.
- When your child demonstrates effort or hard work, make sure that you take the time to praise them for this. Try to avoid vague statements such as ‘Well done!’ or ‘Good boy!’, and try instead to be specific about what they have achieved. For example, if they help you put the shopping away you can say ”Wow! I am impressed you put all that shopping away – some of it was really heavy and you still managed to put it away in the cupboards!” This encourages our children to think ‘I must be really strong’ and helps them to make the connection between their behaviour and the positive outcome that has happened as a result.
We’d add the following recommendations to the ones made in the article:
It is essential to develop a growth mindset (as opposed to a ‘fixed’ mindset) in our children.
Studies have shown that focusing on the effort that our children make rather than the outcome is proven to help children develop this growth mindset, which will increase their willingness to take on new challenges, be they educational or otherwise. In light of this, you need to ensure that you always focus on the effort and the progress that your children make, rather than simply praising them by describing them as being ‘smart’ or ‘good’.
When we stop overemphasising grades and academic performance, it becomes far easier for our children to understand the intrinsic value of learning and to understand that the process of learning is actually rewarding in itself, and thus this becomes the ultimate goal.
For more ideas on how to develop a growth mindset, you can read our article: ‘The 10 best ways to praise your child’.