mum and daughter doing homework

Motivating your child
through their school years

Supporting your child at home doesn't have to mean nagging. Find out how to encourage them to be the best they can be...

When I get home after a tough day in the office, all I want to do is put the kettle on, my feet up, and indulge in several episodes of Stranger Things.

And so, I do feel for my little one when he steps through the door with a rucksack stuffed full of homework. “Work now, play later” I tell him, but he doesn’t listen and instead reaches straight for the iPad. I feel my cheeks warming, but then I remember all those times when my parents lectured me about homework and I’d sit there rolling my eyes, believing that I knew best.

Parents; we certainly have our work cut out. School years are extremely valuable and shape the futures our children will lead – but getting that point across can be tough. If only we could get them as excited about learning as they are about playing Pokémon GO.

Get this: a study of over 10,000 pupils found that those from weaker schools, whose parents were closely involved with their studying, outperformed pupils from better schools whose parents took more of a back seat. That’s not to say schools and teachers are irrelevant; it simply highlights how important our involvement is in our children’s education. No pressure, then…

Anyway, I’ve now assumed the role of Ms. Motivator (minus the spandex) and made it my mission to get my kid psyched-up for school. If your little one is lacking the drive to learn, don’t fret, as there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

Get involved

If I try and talk to my son about Minecraft or the latest kid fad, I get “the look” (I’m sure you can relate). At least I know that I can get involved with his learning in a relatable way, showing a genuine interest in his work without making him feel like I’m breathing down his neck. If you’re enthusiastic about your child’s learning, some of your enthusiasm’s bound to rub off.

I’ve made it my duty to always ask my son about his day at school. I ask him open-ended questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response – “what did you learn today?” or “what was the best thing your teacher asked you to do in geography?” I get him to read to me, and I sit with him while he does his homework, resisting the urge to blurt out answers to maths questions (yes, patience is a must here!). It shows him that I’m invested in his learning, and it’s a good way for me to keep my eye on him, too.

If possible, get your partner involved. You might be better at helping your kid tackle maths, while your other half could be more skilled at science. Taking it in turns gives you both a break, and your little one is bound to appreciate spending one-on-one time with mum and dad.

Use the ‘when you…’ rule

When you’re slogging away in the office, the thought of letting your hair down at the weekend is what keeps you going, right? In the same way, your child’s likely to feel more motivated if they have something to work towards.

I tell my son, “When you finish your science homework, you can go out on your bike.” Yes, it’s technically bribery, but it works for me (they call it classical conditioning, I believe). He’ll hastily open his textbook and get his head down, as he knows that the sooner he gets his work done, the sooner he’ll get to play.

Pick the right time

As a parent, you need to distinguish when your child is most keen to learn – this might not always be straight after school. I’ve realised, for instance, that my son is most switched-on in the car on the way into school, so I use the time to quiz him on things like his times tables.

Praise efforts, not just results

I don’t blame any parent for grinning ear-to-ear when their child hands them a test paper marked A+. But if your little one gets a lower grade – despite giving it 110% – they deserve an equal amount of praise.

Praising your child for putting in maximum effort, rather than congratulating them on good grades or scores, will help them understand that failure isn’t a bad thing; at the very least, it’s a sign that they tried. Plus, persistence pays off in the end!

Link activities with education

If I told my son that we were going to spend the weekend learning, he’d screw his face up like he was sucking on a sour sweet. So, in the same way I sneak veg into his dinner, I disguise learning activities with fun time. Last week, we visited our local science museum; he loved the hands-on exhibits, and it was a good chance for me to put his knowledge to the test!

Reward

You’ll breathe an elongated sigh of relief when your little one knuckles down for the very first time without you having to ask, nag or bribe them – you’ve achieved your goal, so cherish it! Consider rewarding them for using their initiative to get on with their work; buy them a treat, cook their favourite dinner, or promise a fun trip at the weekend.  Think of it as positive reinforcement; rewards will encourage them to be self-motivated.

Sometimes it can be tricky finding the time to sit down with our kids, particularly when we’ve got so much on our parenting plate already. Don’t put pressure on yourself by trying to conquer everything at once to be the best study buddy out there. Start small; changing just one thing can make a huge difference to your child’s motivation to learn.

If your child’s motivated, they’ll have a positive mind-set about learning. They’ll have high levels of concentration and are likely to carry out tasks without being asked. If you notice these traits in your little one then you have the right to be a proud parent. Mission: accomplished.

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