Influencing Your Child to Work Harder in School

Posted: July 16, 2012 in All Roles, For Parents and Guardians
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You’re a parent or guardian of a teenager in high school, and they’re not doing as well as you’d like. Influencing your child to do anything that they don’t want to do can prove to be a very challenging task… though there is hope, and there are definitely efforts you can put forth that will drastically improve your chances of inspiring your child.

If you happen to be responsible for a child who is lacking in the self-motivation and discipline needed to excel in school, your first step is to resist temptation.  As a caring guardian of a high school student, it is very likely that you’re going to experience varying levels of frustration (maybe some rage), disappointment and concern regarding your child’s school performance. These emotions, while completely normal, will tempt you to react emotionally to your child’s lack of school investment… but this often works against our collective goal of motivating them. Expressing righteousness and outrage, while a release for us, may lead only to your child’s shut down and resistance.

When your child brings home report cards with less than glowing grades, or you’re receiving more calls than you’d like from teachers expressing concern over your child’s classroom performance, rather than reflexively react, the most productive thing you can do is to reflect (I know, hard to do and fairly annoying).  There are many possible explanations for low performance, and while “lazy” is often the easiest explanation, it’s also very limited.  “Lazy” is most often just a mask for some underlying obstacle, unhealthy habit or need. Before you can influence your child’s efforts, you first have to gain some insight into the forces feeding their lack of effort and limiting their proficiency.

Is your child unable to absorb the lessons taught in class because they’re bringing with them to school the tension, conflicts and stress they’re experiencing at home? Is your child acting up in class instead of focusing on the teacher because they feel “stupid” and don’t want anyone to see that they doubt their own intelligence? Is your child failing because they’ve developed the habit of jumping from activity to activity (ie. texting, chatting, skyping, facebooking, videogaming etc.) and can no longer stay attentive to tasks that require patience and focus? Children, much like adults, are driven by their emotions and confidence levels, and when a teenager is feeling hopeless, powerless, anxious, frustrated or insecure… they’ll often mask these emotions behind displays of defiance, opposition, resistance, pleasure-seeking behaviors and… “laziness”.

So what can you do? What you can do is increase your curiosity about why your child is struggling. What you can do is decrease your emotional outbursts to your child’s low grades and negative teacher reports. What you can do is be thoughtful and deliberate (not overly emotional) with your consequences (and there are most definitely times when grounding and loss of privileges is warranted and necessary). What you can do is create a structure in your home that allots time for your child to do school work and demands that they earn privileges and freedoms.  What you can do is raise your expectations of their effort, while minimizing your decisions driven by guilt or pity (like when something mildly bad happens or when you’ve somehow disappointed them and you allow them to miss school or assignments). And what you can do is find some time amidst your own busy and exhausting days and sit with your child while they go over their notes and study for tests (even if you have no idea what they’re working on).

Unfortunately for both educators and families, no easy fix exists. There is no one recipe, nor is there any one magical lecture or sermon that will lead to immediate and enduring change.  All that we have is our partnerships with each other as families and educators, our connections with our children and our shared determination to continue to support them as best we can.

  1. Sophia V says:

    “Lazy” is just a cop-out to avoid dealing with a bigger issue.

    Another thing that irks me is exit exams required for high school graduation. We never had those when we went to high school, and we’re fine. My state currently requires students to take an exit exam for graduation, yet everyone here complains about the low graduation rates.

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