“I hate school, I’m never going back!” “I can’t do it!” “ I’m not smart like the other kids.” “My teacher hates me.”
If you’ve heard these comments from your child, you are not alone. Children with learning differences in particular are at risk for school burn-out. The work is challenging and the battle seems mostly up-hill; once he or she masters one skill, the next, more difficult lesson poses yet another daunting challenge. You can’t take your child out of school, but here are some ideas to make the time they spend there a bit more relaxed and motivating.
5 Steps To Motivating Your Child In School:
- Appeal to your child’s sense of fun!
- Surprises: Try to do something at least once a week to remind your child that you care at school. This can be a notecard with an interesting fact tucked in his pencil holder, a note that says you love him, or some words of encouragement in his Spelling folder on the day of a test.
- Extra-curricular Activities: Finding the activity that suits your child’s interests and abilities can foster a connection to a teacher and other students. Be supportive and positive in letting your son or daughter choose one activity that appeals to him or her!
- Talk it Out: Get out of the one-word answer rut by asking a different question each day. You can ask questions such as:
- What is something that you did really well today?
- Who made you laugh today and why?
- What did you make in Art class?
- What songs did you sing/play in Music?
- If it was a bad day you can ask: What can you do differently to make tomorrow better?
- Set Realistic Goals: Give your child practice setting goals by making a specific plan each week for what they can do to improve the school experience.
- The child should be involved in the process, rather than having you tell him what he needs to do.
- Be sure that the goals you set together will be met with success by creating the goal at or just above the child’s current ability level. For example, if your child got 60% correct on his last math test because he didn’t study, you could set a goal that he will get 70% on the next one and make a plan study one hour in advance of the next test.
- If he meets his goal, recognize that at dinner for the whole family or find another way to reward his efforts.
- Break it Down: There is a mountain of research since Hermann Ebbinghaus’ 1885 discovery that spacing learning out over multiple practice opportunities results in better retention and recall than cramming. If your child is going to study for an hour this week, help him break it down into smaller, more focused sessions that will take place throughout the week. Recognize and praise him as he follows the plan.
- Positive reinforcement works: Rather than punish your child for mistakes, and further contributing to his sense of failure, look for progress everywhere, including in subjects you may not find as important. If your child sees that you recognize his effort in his favorite subject, and he gets a reward for doing well where he can, this is an opportunity to gradually begin to reward more difficult areas. Depending on your child’s age, rewards can be anything from a certificate of recognition to a formal plan with monetary, tangible, or other meaningful rewards such as special privileges. Consistency is the key with reinforcement systems; be sure to seek the help of a trained professional if your child has substantial barriers to learning.