Motivation - an internal desire or need that energizes one's life and gives it direction - is important to success. Many believe that it is more important than natural abilities or aptitudes. At some point in your child's development, you will probably feel that your child lacks sufficient motivation. Most parents face this worry. Different "signs" may trigger this concern - your child seems turned off by everything, complains excessively about school or home life, drops out of activities, or acts particularly bored with routine and non-routine events. Your concern comes from a sincere interest in your child's future and well-being. That is why it is so important not to react in ways that might actually make the problem worse.
Simply put, encouragement, not criticism, inspires children. When a parent criticizes a child, even constructively, that child is often discouraged and less motivated to do what is expected. On the other hand, by noticing and encouraging good behavior, a parent will see more of that good behavior. For example, complimenting your child for completing her homework before going out to play will encourage the same behavior to be repeated. "Thank you for picking up your room" will produce better results than "How many times do I have to tell you to pick up your room?"
Criticism can sink into a harmful cycle when the parent criticizes in a humiliating, hurtful way. "You are being really stupid!" "What is the matter with you?" "Don't you ever learn?" The child internalizes the criticism, loses confidence, becomes angry and alienated, and becomes less motivated to behave. The parent criticizes, and the child reacts. Both parent and child begin to believe that the child is all of those negative things.
On the other hand, parents who look for their children's good behaviors are far less likely to find faults. The children feel good about themselves, their behaviors improve, the improvements are recognized, and their motivation increases. All motivational problems are not simply solved and can require professional help. But parents can make a huge impact by focusing on and supporting the good in their children.
Motivating middle school students
Middle school is a time a great change and turmoil for your children. Your middle schoolers are trying to adapt to:
- Biological changes and the onset of puberty.
- Emotional concerns triggered by with physical and social insecurities.
- A new school environment with less support and increased workload and expectations.
- New social and peer pressures.
- Less confidence in their abilities, especially in comparison to their peers.
You may observe:
- Short attention spans. When they're used to TV programs and media presentations that are fast, short, and entertaining, demanding homework may be difficult to focus on.
- Undeveloped work ethic. For some adolescents, middle school is the first time that school becomes really challenging. The work is no longer just fun, and success requires sustained effort.
Some ways you can help motivate your adolescents include:
- Being a good role model. Young teens benefit from seeing their parents putting forth their best effort, completing work, and meeting obligations. Parents need to demonstrate that they value learning and hard work.
- Letting your children know that sustained effort over time is the key to achievement. Teach them to set high goals and to work hard to achieve them. Help them to see the value of tackling challenges and of finding ways to meet or exceed those challenges.
- Steering your children toward appropriate classes and suitable activities. Young teens need opportunities to excel and be useful. Success can be a powerful motivator, and boredom may be a sign that your children haven't enough opportunities to develop their talents.
- Offering support. Young teens need to be reassured that they can do something. Your children may need hints about how to get started with a new project from you, another adult, an instructor or a book.
- Finding their strengths and building on them. Every child can shine in some area. Identify what your children do best, no matter what it is.
- Communicating with your children's teachers, counselors, or school principal when necessary. A drop in grades is not uncommon when students go from one grade level to another. But if your child's grade drop is extreme or if it persists for more than one marking period, get in touch with someone at the school.
- Having realistic expectations. It's important to hold children to high standards, but when young teens are asked to do the impossible, they may stop trying. Holding realistic expectations also requires that you consider your children's personalities and temperaments.
- Being patient. Children's motivation generally improves when parents take the steps discussed. However, patience may be required.
Make sure that your child knows, deep in his heart, that you love him for what he is and not for what he does.
Adapted from the U.S. Department of Education, MY CHILD'S ACADEMIC SUCCESS - Helping Your Child through Early Adolescence - Helping Your Child Series at http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/adolescence/index.html