Why do some children love to learn and don’t need constant control, while others won’t even think about opening a book without a reminder? The answer is motivation.
It’s the cornerstone of success in learning. No math equation will be solved, and no essay will be written without it.
How to Motivate Your Child to Learn at Any Age
So, what can motivate your child to learn, and what are the strategies to enhance this motivation? Let’s dive right in.
Harness the power of play in preschoolers.
Have you ever seen a preschooler who would sit in one place for more than 10 minutes? Probably not, because their attention span is approximately 3-9 minutes. Thus, kids need dynamics and colorfulness. For instance, preschoolers are inherently motivated by play. They will participate in some activity only if it brings them joy. It is called intrinsic motivation.
So to make them learn, always use age-appropriate educational games and be your child’s playmate. Luckily, there are plenty of flashcards, colorful books, and children’s songs to choose from.
One of my favorite learning tools for preschoolers is the Yoto. Check it out here!
Use preteen and teenager’s social life to your advantage.
Schoolchildren, especially teenagers, no longer rely on their parents’ opinions as much as preschoolers. Instead, they are more affected by their peers, friends, or authoritative adults outside their immediate family.
So, what motivates children in their teens? One way to encourage a teen to study is to refer to their friends or classmates as an example. But be cautious with word choice. Don’t use phrases like “Why did your friend succeed in the math test and you failed?”
Positive energy and affirmations will work better. For example, you can say something like, “You’re just as good as everyone else in your class and even smarter. You can get high test scores if you put in some effort.”
Recognize when a child is growing and changing.
Child’s interests change as they grow up. Thus, the subjects they love learning at one age become abandoned a few years later. High school and first-year students are motivated mainly by finding a good job and acquiring higher status in society. But many of them still need external motivation. A few things parents can do to improve motivation are:
- treating their teenagers as adults
- talking about their hopes and fears regularly
- finding a balance between controlling and giving them space
Put more emphasis on the learning process and not just the result.
When your children return from school, ask them questions about what they learned in class, not what test grades they got. If your interest is limited to academic success only, the child’s motivation to learn can be greatly reduced. In addition, they will be afraid of bad grades because it will disappoint their parents.
As some research shows, fear negatively affects the brain structures responsible for memory and learning. It means that the less scared your kid will be of occasional low grades, the more chances they will enjoy the learning process. So, make sure you express sincere interest and listen to your child when they talk about some exciting things their teacher taught them. It’s also beneficial for a child’s comprehension skills if they repeat what they’ve learned in their own words.
Give your kids more freedom in choosing how to study.
It doesn’t mean that you should let them drop the math and only study world history. But at least create a resemblance of choice and make your children feel that they’re in control of their own learning. For instance, they should decide which subject they will learn first.
Sometimes, school assignments for the same subject also present a choice. For example, a child can write an essay or prepare a presentation. Make sure your kids are aware of this and can pick the type of activity they like best.
Explain why learning is essential.
School is a synonym for boredom for many children. Why? Because they don’t see how to use it in future life. To them, studying is hard work that doesn’t make any sense. That’s why many of them rebel against it.
You need to explain how a particular new knowledge can help someone survive or lead a better life. For example, if they study, their grades will improve, allowing them to go to college and become financially independent. It means having a lot of cool and pretty things.
If the appeal to financial stability doesn’t work, press on something else your children understand and relate to. Find a connection between learning and their dream and exploit it.
Here’s what I know about building an amazing home library for kids.
Recognize and follow your child’s interests.
It’s nearly impossible to meet a child who doesn’t care about anything. They all have a passion and a natural inclination for specific activities – music, computers, sports, etc. You need to discover what motivates your child and enroll them in activities they enjoy, e.g., a science camp, an online course with gardening tips, or a drama club. Encourage them to do what they like and interchange these activities with other subjects.
Choosing their own extracurricular activities will help children develop self-motivation. Plus, it will promote their social growth, since they communicate with more people from different circles, and not limit them to family and schoolmates.
Let your kids find a solution.
If you come up with the correct answer every time a child struggles with school work, it will have negative consequences for their future self-determination. So, when you help your kids with homework, don’t present a ready solution, or they will never develop the problem solving skills.
Instead, be an active participant in learning and finding the correct answer. But your kid must be the one who found it. Then, when they understand something and find a solution on their own, having a “Eureka” moment, they will be motivated to learn something new and solve other problems to enjoy the same feeling of accomplishment.
Help them structure their learning.
Sometimes school assignments can feel overwhelming or too difficult. When a child cannot figure out their way around the task, their motivation vanishes very quickly. So, it’s vital to teach them to break complicated problems down into small but achievable goals.
For example, if they need to write a story for the English class, help them make a list of steps: write the title, an introduction, think of a storyline, etc. When a child has a step-by-step plan, it’ll be easier to complete, and the kids won’t lose motivation ahead of time.
Provide children with a chance to succeed.
Dr. Lee Hausner, a clinical psychologist, believes that “If you want to motivate an individual, what you do is create an environment where they can be successful and feel good about what they are doing.”
Indeed, a small success always motivates a child to get more positive results and facilitates future learning. Moreover, when a child accomplishes something, their self-doubt gradually diminishes.
You can first focus on the child’s extracurricular activities, where children’s chances to show good results are traditionally higher than in subjects they don’t enjoy. Giving children opportunities to succeed in small tasks mentioned earlier and emphasizing it is also one of the strategies you can use to improve their confidence.
Instill a love of reading.
Reading is a powerful tool to train the brain. For example, it improves memory and builds up a vocabulary, thus making school learning easier. But we all know that a child won’t read something that isn’t interesting. So, if you want to make them love books, help them find their genre.
Start creating a reading atmosphere in early childhood and systematically read to your kids aloud. Research shows how important reading aloud is to your children’s language skills development and literacy. But remember to select reading materials that would be exciting and won’t bore your child from the start.
Here are my favorite books for middle school boys.
Help your child find a learning style they like.
Kids receive thousands of impressions through their sensors each second. But only one or two of them prevail in each given situation, while others are disregarded. These sensors determine the preferred learning styles. There are four most common styles among learners: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading or writing.
Some kids learn best when using only one style. For example, they need to hear an explanation to understand some issues better. Others mix two or three styles, depending on the subject. So, if you have two sons, their learning experiences can be quite different. Choosing the right style or combination of several will help your kid enhance the learning experience and improve motivation.
Many parents are afraid to praise their kids too often or give them a special treat for a good grade. They believe that rewards for studying are an unhealthy way of motivating children. In some sense, they’re right because extrinsic motivation (the one caused by external factors) is weaker than internal motivation, which is the inner desire to do something.
Yet, some researchers insist on a more balanced approach to working with academically unmotivated children and use both methods. Positive reinforcement is vital at all ages, but mostly in elementary school. So, don’t be afraid to celebrate achievements and good grades by giving your child praise and small but meaningful gifts.
Create a system of rules.
Negotiating and setting rules are very important to raising a confident and self-sufficient child. “Clear and fair limits reduce power struggles because the kids won’t need to constantly test you to discover where your boundaries lie,” says Sue Atkins, a parenting expert.
Rules about when and how long to study eventually facilitate conscious learning and self-discipline. Make sure your restrictions are not too harsh. For instance, “You won’t go to your friend’s house until you finish your homework” is wise. On the contrary, banning them from going outside completely is a bad idea. You’re raising a healthy child and not dealing with a prisoner.
Organize a learning space.
When creating a productive learning environment, consider your child’s preferences. For example, some require peace and quiet, while others need to be close to their family members. Make sure they’re not constantly interrupted, or vice versa, left utterly alone. They can lose concentration in both cases. So keep an eye on the learning process but don’t intervene.
Infect your child with your enthusiasm for learning.
The best way to promote the right motivation is to show your kids your own excitement in a particular subject. For example, preschoolers or primary school kids are great copycats. If they see their parent’s interest in the educational game, they will likely be more motivated to play it.
If we take older kids, express your interest by enthusiastic comments and wanting to know more about some historical events or math rules. Don’t limit learning to homework or the classroom. Visit zoos when they study biology or travel to the nearby national park for geography insights.
Focus on your child’s strengths
If someone keeps telling you that you’re a loser, you might believe it eventually. That’s why it’s vital to send positive messages. You can start by discussing the child’s strong sides. For instance, regularly mention their skills or valuable qualities, e.g., that they have a phenomenal memory or hearing. At the same time, teach a child that their skill set is not defined from their birth. They can learn and become whoever they want. It’s the foundation to develop a growth mindset and belief in oneself.
Here are some ways to build your child’s self esteem.
Maintain an optimistic outlook
Staying positive is crucial for your child to feel safe and understood. It also helps not to be afraid of complicated tasks. When you believe in their success, they start to believe it, too. By sharing your positive and optimistic outlook with your kids and supporting them, you will teach them to meet each new challenge with curiosity and not with fear. And curiosity, as we know, is a solid basis for developing intrinsic motivation.
Overall, all strategies described above have two things in common – love and support. If you want your child to prosper, you need to be with them every step of the way. Even if you don’t see any tangible results now, it doesn’t mean your kids are hopeless or making you mad on purpose. Try one method after another, and eventually, your effort will bear fruit.
Guest Post by: Natalie Maximets
Natalie Maximets is a certified life coach with cognitive and trauma behavior therapy expertise. She’s helping people improve their family and romantic relationships and go through major life events. Check her other works at the OnlineDivorce.com blog.