Motivating Your Child in School:

Beating the Spring School Slump


May 2008, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman


It’s spring – soccer, softball, skateboarding, shorts, summer approaching…Ah, but school isn’t out until mid-June. How can we keep the momentum going until then? This is when motivation becomes the most challenging. And these tips will help your child have a successful September when he heads back to school.

Achieve Success in Life

What motivates your child? What are your child’s strengths and preferences? Is he successful at these activities? If your child is a good soccer player, does he stop there or practice even more to become even better? Can you see the feeling of success and self-confidence on his face and by the way he walks?

To motivate your child in school, first find success and confidence somewhere – anywhere – sports, music or drama. We all enjoy success, and we all are pleased to receive praise and feel good about doing a good job. Feeling successful motivates us to continue.

Achieve Success in School

Do not take away an extracurricular activity as a punishment for poor grades. Studies have shown that children who have outside activities do best in school. They need a feeling of accomplishment in some activity to generate an overall increase in self-esteem, which can be redirected academically.

Have high, but reasonable, expectations. Expect education to be a priority in your family, but don’t expect the impossible. Your strengths may not be the same as your child’s.

Be alert to problems. If your child doesn’t want to do homework or class work, investigate. Is the work too difficult? Is he having trouble getting organized or getting started? Ask the teacher(s) and ask your child. Be available to help. Potential impediments to success are depression, a family crisis, negative peer influence, organizational challenges or a learning disability. If you suspect a learning disability or attention disorder, have your child tested. If your child has an IEP, make sure it is being followed. If your child is behind in a subject, help him get caught up.

Make the homework environment appealing with a designated homework/study time, a clear work space with pencils, erasers, paper and other materials, and a parent nearby. Do not hover or be too eager to help. Let your child work as independently as possible, but be available as needed. While your child is working, try to do your own “homework,” such as bill paying, dish washing, reading, etc. Do not do something fun, like watching TV, if you can help it.

Help make homework fun. Can you make social studies come alive or make the spelling words talk? Can you work with your child to come up with funny acronyms to help study and memorize for a test? Homework does not always have to be a chore. Tutor Carole Heller incorporates games, such as word searches, to help study vocabulary words. Tutor Stephanie Johnson helps young children break homework assignments into smaller increments, while taking fun breaks in between each part.

Praise and reward efforts, but use criticism sparingly. Praise your child’s small achievements by being specific (e.g., “I am impressed with the strong adjective you used in this sentence.”). Praise works much better than criticism. When you criticize, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish other than expressing your own frustration. According to tutor Tony Maida, “Scolding a child during failures is a mistake; however, asking him, ‘What did you learn and how can we fix it?’ allows a child to realize there is no fear of failure, and more scholastic challenges will be accepted.” Instead, point out your child’s strengths (e.g., “I’ve noticed that you have a great memory of what you read.”).

Advocate pleasure reading in your household. Reading for pleasure will enhance skills in reading, writing, spelling and speaking and will also improve general knowledge. If your child becomes a better reader, he will be more successful in all subject areas.

Listen to your child and be his advocate. There is no substitute for good rapport between parent and child. Ask your child how you can help, and listen to what he has to say about difficult issues that may be impeding his success. You may need to step in and talk to the teacher, counselor or principal, but you also need to teach your child how to be a problem solver and where to go for help while at school.

Motivate with Rewards

All of us get tired of fighting with our children to do homework and chores. Many families use behavior charts to offer encouragement. Children can earn points or stickers for accomplishing challenging tasks, such as getting ready for school and completing homework independently (and putting it in the backpack). A certain number of points can earn a reward, such as a small gift or lunch out. While trying to earn stickers and rewards, children will create good habits and routines, which should increase their success and self-confidence.

Connect School to Real Life

Help your child see the connection between school and everyday life and career goals. Estimate your cost of groceries and gas mileage to demonstrate why math is important. Discuss the current elections and compare them to historical elections. Talk about interesting things you have read and ask your child about what he is reading. Help make school relevant.

Get Help if Needed

If your child has poor eyesight, you know you need to get him eyeglasses. Your child may need professional help in other areas – a tutor, academic coach, speech therapist, occupational therapist or psychotherapist. Learning disabilities, ADHD and other challenges that are not treated can lead to failure, which leads to more failure. If your child is struggling, you must strive to find out why and work with him to find solutions.

It is a challenge to motivate a child to do what he doesn’t feel like doing. There are always more fun activities beckoning. However, there is a lot you can do to help. And don’t forget to be empathetic. Remember, you were a child once, too, and faced many of the same challenges. A positive attitude and a sense of humor can go a long way.