Do your child’s grades drop from year to year, or does he get average grades even though you think he might qualify for a higher grade?
Knowing his abilities, you are sure that he can be more successful in school. And it drives you crazy, because you realize how important it is to do well now, so you can get into university or just graduate from high school with dignity. You worry, nag, and chide him for his laziness, lack of motivation, and irresponsibility. You just do not understand why your child is so uninterested in learning, and you come up with different ways of additional motivation. But often the school performance does not improve, it only gets worse.
It’s hard for us parents not to worry about our children’s academic success because we know how important it is to their future. From our perspective, the fact that a child values friends or electronic gadgets above learning is absurd. The truth is that most children are actually motivated, though not by what we think they should be motivated by. Try looking at it this way: when it comes to something exciting, like video games, music, social media, and choosing cool jeans, the child demonstrates high motivation and a complete lack of any laziness. There’s a nuance here: if you pressure your child to be motivated, the situation tends to get worse.
Understand, children have to realize the value of work themselves. Think about it in terms of your own life experience. You know very well that you need to eat right, but you don’t always stick to healthy eating! Your child needs to understand the importance of academic success on his or her own. Of course, there are also objective factors that can hinder good grades (e.g., mental or physical illness, learning or behavioral disabilities, family problems, and the abuse of certain harmful substances). These, too, need to be taken into account.
Some people have all the components of success concentrated in them – motivation, relevant skills, the ability to get things done and get the most out of them. But for most of us, the path to motivation and success is much more winding and thorny. If you think about it, not every child seeks help from teachers, does their homework on time, repeats what they’ve learned every night, and puts aside anything that distracts them from their studies. This is because this is done by children who have a more developed front part of the brain and therefore have good executive functions, which play a significant role in school achievement.
The executive functions of the brain help regulate emotions, promote concentration, perseverance, and flexibility. In many children, these functions develop later – not until adolescence. And, of course, it is very hard for parents to see their child underachieving for a long time. It’s hard to believe, but such children are not lazy, irresponsible, or lacking in motivation. If you disagree or don’t believe this, you will understandably become irritated, frustrated, and angry in response to your child’s seeming laziness, which in turn will contribute to their resistance and struggle with you. The following tips are offered to help you avoid this kind of negativity and improve school performance.
Keep an open, respectful, and positive relationship with your child. Always stay on the child’s side, don’t take a position on the opposite side of the barricade. This will allow you to keep your authority and influence, which is the most important tool of education. Punishment, moralizing, threats, and manipulation will lead to nowhere, destroying your relationship and your child’s motivation. Of course, your frustration, anxiety, and fear are normal and understandable. But to respond to children’s behavior in this way is completely ineffective. Remember: your child is not acting this way to make your life miserable, or because he’s a good-for-nothing slacker. The next time you feel yourself getting angry, try telling yourself, “My child just hasn’t gotten to that point yet. Remember: your job is to help him learn to be responsible. If you have a negative attitude and turn it into a moral issue, your child will be sassy to you without trying to think about the heart of the problem.
Enter the “when” rule. One of life’s lessons says: We enjoy it when the work is done. If you practice scoring a goal, you end up scoring more points and the team wins. Work is also paid for when it’s done. So start talking like this: “When you’re done with class, you can go visit John.” Or, “When you do your homework, we can watch that movie you wanted to watch together. Make this rule and stick to it. If your child is not yet capable of independent planning and initiation, persistently stick to this rule. By doing so, you will help him learn to do what his own brain cannot yet provide – teach him to structure his time.
Get involved in the learning process. If your child is not doing well in school and his grades are dropping, you have to get involved in the learning process. You need to get involved proactively and help him create an optimal class structure that your child can’t yet create on his own. This structure implies a well-thought-out schedule with class time and rests time. You will have to make sure it is followed. For example, turn off the computer and say, “No video games or TV until homework is done. You will also need to think about and decide how much time your child should devote to studying. During this time, do not allow the use of electronic devices (phone, tablet, etc.), as nothing should distract the child’s attention. You can institute the following rule: even if the child has done all his homework and study time has not expired, he must continue to study. Let him repeat, read, or check for mistakes. Introduce a rule of an hour and a half of silence, no electronic devices, just learning. Some children learn better by listening to music, but any other electronic devices should be turned off while studying. These rules should not resemble punishment; they are meant to help your child develop an effective work routine and focus on school subjects.
Ask the teacher. If your child’s grades and work capacity are not up to par, you can work with his teachers to develop a plan to save the situation. For example, the teacher can check to see if your child has picked up everything he or she needs from school, and you can check to see if he or she has packed his or her bag well for school. As soon as you see that the child starts to manage and manage his time better, do his homework, repeat the material before tests, it will be a signal that it is time for you to back off a little.
Determine a place for the class. You may need to sit next to your child while they do their homework, or at least be there to help them when they need it. Maybe your child needs a quiet place to study, away from noisy siblings. Or maybe, on the contrary, your child will do better in a common room with all members of the family. Help him test it out in practice. But once you determine which place for lessons will turn out to be the best, let the child stay there. You don’t have to do your homework for your child. Your help may be to check the assignment and ask your child how he learned the material.
Divide large tasks into smaller parts. Together with your child, think and decide: it may be better if you divide the tasks into smaller parts, and he will do them every day. You can use a large wall calendar or a whiteboard to record daily assignments. You can also enlist the help of a teacher or hire a tutor.
Be kind but resilient. Do your best to be a kind, helpful, consistent parent and steadfastly resist the temptation to punish, over-intervene, and control. After each negative interaction with your child, try to create ten positive ones. Try to focus on supporting and encouraging your child instead of worrying and nagging. When you start reflecting and thinking that your child’s academic performance is a reflection of yourself or the quality of your parenting and that you and you alone are responsible for his or her outcome, you end up in your child’s place rather than in your own, parental place. And this is harmful and ineffective.
Lack of motivation or anxiety? Sometimes lack of motivation (or what looks like irresponsibility) can actually be a child’s anxiety or shame about failing in subjects or not doing their homework. Most people are anxious about doing things and avoid them like the plague. Sometimes children just can’t explain it because they are not always aware of their worries, anxieties, fears, and worries. Here is a typical case. Let’s say a child tells you that he didn’t have any homework assigned today, even though he didn’t. The lie makes you anxious. And if you react by yelling and criticizing, your child, being driven by anxiety, further distances himself from both you and his homework. A small display of anxiety can motivate a person, but too much of it blocks a child’s ability to think, and the part of the brain responsible for motivation. Keep your emotions under control and remember that a child’s anxiety (fear) is not laziness. Your goal as a parent is to keep your emotions in check and respond appropriately to your child’s anxiety.
Sometimes the feelings of shame, inferiority, or anxiety that your child experiences can be misinterpreted by you, and you may mistake them for a poor attitude toward learning, lack of motivation, and irresponsibility. Ignoring such emotional reactions from your child can lead to him or her being confrontational, withdrawn, rejected, or demonstratively disobedient. Remember that what’s happening now may look very different when your child is older. In the meantime, positively, help him or her structure the learning process in an optimal way. And, understanding the whole picture of what is going on, calm yourself down.
Teach your child to find a balance of interests. Don’t forget to keep in mind the big picture of what’s going on. Instead of getting angry about your child’s grades, help him or her finds a life balance between friendships, school, volunteer work, and family activities. Get involved in your child’s schoolwork and show interest in school projects.
Don’t project the future. When we see that our child is not interested in anything in life, it is easy to start projecting this behavior into the future. If he has no interests other than video games and friends, we think he will never succeed and is unlikely to even function independently in society. This builds up our anxiety and fear. But the truth is that we cannot foresee the future. If you focus your attention on the negative, it only increases the tension between you and your child. Better, focus on his positive traits and help your child develop them. Is he outgoing, always in a hurry to help, or does he like animals? Focus on the qualities that produce a developed, successful person, not just school grades. Help your child develop socially, creatively, and emotionally.
When a child falls behind academically, parents worry so much that it often leads to constant fights, but grades never improve. If you as a parent calm down and realize that the cause of poor academic performance is not only a poor attitude and lack of motivation, but that you cannot force your child to be motivated, you will become better at treating your child and helping your child when he or she needs help. Remember: your goal is to stop the negative reaction and solve the problem.