Are You Looking at School Success the Wrong Way?
Child Doing HomeworkDo you teach your children that their school performance is for you? That’s one way to diminish school motivation.

All parents want their children to love school and learn lots. For too many children, the school years are a prison sentence to be endured. School often falls short of its intended role to encourage and motivate children’s natural love of learning and has become rules and curriculum to satisfy a set of statistics. School must be handed over to our children. They must know they have our support in doing the best they can. Some kids flounder in public school. They need your support more than anyone.

When a child thinks he must perform for a parent or a teacher, motivation drops. When he believes he is not meeting your expectations, it drops even more. To have intrinsic motivation to learn, children must feel good about themselves. That should be the number one goal of education. That means adjustment within the system to suit each child’s manner of learning. Hard to do. Much is left up to parents.

Many children will be playing catch-up this school year. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on educational progress. Be prepared for your child to need extra help. Set your expectations accordingly and model patience and perseverance.

child walking to schoolNever lose sight of the fact that your child wants to do well—to succeed and to please you. 

When they are failing, it should never be seen as their fault, their lack of effort. When children don’t do well, there is an obstacle in their way. It is the job of parents and teachers to find that obstacle and work with it. 

Your connection with your children is imperative for them to trust you and themselves. You are their rock. Your job is to believe in their ultimate success—knowing that success might not look like what you imagine.

Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. A few to consider:

  • Effects of the pandemic – from academic set-backs to social concerns
  • Unique learning styles that do not fit the mold 
  • Social fears of being different, not good enough, not belonging
  • Knowledge of lagging behind classmates

Obstacles are signaled in behavior. For younger children, it can be acting out, aggression, anger, words of self-degradation. For teens, it typically shows in withdrawing, lack of interest, quitting activities, spending time alone or with a surprising choice of friends. Social media doesn’t help.Child at a desk

Some ways to dig out the obstacles:

  • Get an emotional pulse about the year ahead. Talk with your kids about possible worries, anticipations, plans. What are they hoping to accomplish; what are their worst fears? Discuss general as well as specific goals. Write them down.
  • Ask them to rate themselves on a scale of 1-10 from terrified to excited. Numbers are often easier to name than words. Encourage descriptions of worst-case scenarios. Validate worries then do some reality checks. How likely is it that that will happen? What would you do if it did? 
  • Establish a regular time to hash over school experiences. Make it pleasant and with food. Make sure you can stay neutral. Even if you hear something disturbing, save opinions until later. Share stories from your past.
  • Ensure that they each know who to go to for help – both academic and social.
  • Ask, “If you were to overhear your teacher talking about you, what would you like to hear your teacher say?”
  • Let them experience the consequences of good or bad grades without adding your approval or disapproval. Never compare one child’s accomplishments with another’s. When grades are given, ask what they think—are they fair, do they accurately represent their effort? If not, ask, “What do you want to do about it?” “What’s your plan?” Focus on effort and determination. Never harp on poor performance. Most kids don’t do well in all subjects. Seek help if they are motivated to do better. When something didn’t go well, offer, “That was really hard, and you got through it.”
  • At the end of the school day, greet them with physical touch, eye contact and words expressing how happy you are to see them. Save questions about their day for later or wait until it’s offered.
  • Set up comfortable homework stations wherever they want. Trust them to handle their assignments. Show interest, offer help, but don’t get involved without being asked. If work is overwhelming, help them break it down into small bit-sized chunks that can be accomplished more easily. Validate their effort and be understanding of their frustration. 
  • Value school-related activities other than grades and test scores—being helpful to a friend, interest in non-academics, relationships with teachers and friends, sports, music.
  • Never punish, give consequences or rewards for grades. Do not teach your children that you care most about accomplishment. Focus on how they feel above how you feel.
  • Show unconditional acceptance. When performance is poor, acceptance means, You’re having a difficult time right now. Let’s find out how to make it better. You then accept the difficulty your child is experiencing which makes connection and helps your child feel understood—necessary for building motivation. What’s wrong with you? You need to study more. Don’t come crying to me when you fail that test, sends messages of distrust and disappointment. Disconnection leads to lack of motivation.

child at school

If you find yourself harping on working harder, getting better grades, laziness, it’s time to turn the mirror around. What was your experience in school? What messages did you get from your teachers and parents about your capabilities? Are you projecting your experiences into fears about your child and missing what her experience is?

Make sure your children’s school performance is not reflective of your parenting.

Your children will better understand the relevance of their education when you value qualities over performance, when you are that rock of support, when home is the place to feel safe. Your belief and trust in them will boost their motivation. Then success at any level becomes inevitable.


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