How Motivated Is Your Child?

June 15, 2016
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How Motivated Is Your Child?

By Sharon Zonnefeld,  K-6 Talented and Gifted Teacher, EE-12 Curriculum Coordinator

Motivation is a foundational component of accomplishing any task.  Some people are highly motivated and seem able to persevere through the most challenging of circumstances.  Others seem to lose interest and fall short of what they appear capable of achieving.  What motivates young learners?  Are there things that demotivate students and cause them to lose interest in learning?  

A few years ago I became increasingly concerned with the number of students who, while appearing very capable, and sometimes even academically gifted, seemed unmotivated to engage in the learning process.  What could I as a classroom teacher do to better encourage these learners? My research challenged me as a teacher, resulted in a number of modifications to my classroom practice, and also highlighted the invaluable role a family plays in a student's motivation.   

While some of the things uncovered in my research are unique to the classroom environment and teacher/student relationship, other activities identified as influential in building student motivation cross over into the family realm.  Consider the following:
  • Determine the WHY.  For the Christian, the purpose of students working at their fullest potential carries with it a purpose far higher than personal achievement.  Minds are equipped for the purpose of impacting the world for Christ.  Dream with your child:  how can his or his gifts be used to advance the cause of Christ?  How can these gifts serve others?  Here lies a motivator far more powerful than an A on a test! As believers, we are called to offer every aspect of our being as an act of worship.  Would not every aspect include engaging fully and working to the fullest extent of the abilities given by God?
  • Affirm the value of hard work.  Be intentional in recognizing that great reward often comes with great risk and a healthy dose of gut-wrenching toil.  Celebrate when your student perseveres through a challenging project and studies hard.  Be careful with words like, "You're so smart."  Phrases such as these can backfire when students, especially academically gifted ones, encounter truly challenging work.  Instead, provide affirmation related to the amount of effort expended.   Try something like, "Wow!  I'm so proud of the way you hang in there when it gets challenging; with that kind of effort you're going to figure this out!"  Help create the assumption that learning can and should require effort. 

    Support and encourage your student when things get difficult, but resist the urge to rescue them.  Persevering through small failures at a young age lays a foundation for future ability to take the learning risks that result in high achievement.  It has been said that success, and the self-esteem that comes along with it, are not achieved by doing well what comes easily but by overcoming obstacles.

    What does your child believe about his or her intelligence?  Some believe that intelligence is fixed and uncontrollable.  However, students who believe that intelligence increases with effort have been shown to be more motivated in their work and more likely to achieve at the level anticipated.  We get smarter by completing challenging tasks!
  • Celebrate learning for its own sake. Nurture intrinsic motivation, the internal pleasure derived from completing a task.  While external rewards, such as money, grades, or prizes, can serve a purpose, a child's curiosity and desire to learn will have a greater effect on his or her overall achievement.  So how can you encourage this?  When your child does especially well on a challenging project or assessment, instead of focusing on the grade earned, direct the celebration conversation toward the information learned, the problem solved, or the research conducted.
  • Share your passion for your work and continued learning. Do your children know what you do for a living?  Do they hear you talking about your work with enthusiasm? Children benefit when the people with whom they have the closest relationships model for them the connection between hard work and achievement.
  • Provide a balance of stimulation and support. Is there time in your family's schedule for game playing and conversation? Today's world offers a wealth of stimulating activities for children and young people. Choose carefully the extent to which your family participates. Over-scheduling has been noted as a demotivating factor when it leads to a rushed and disorganized environment.
  • Pray daily and specifically. When you pray with your student, recognize that in our own strength, children and adults alike are likely to follow the path of least resistance.   But God, recognizing our inability to do right on our own, has provided access to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit: the source of proper desires and attitudes.   Daily prayer for the Holy Spirit's presence and motivating power should be a part of every child's experience.

    Every student has been uniquely designed by God with abilities to be used for His service.  Working together, teachers and families can increase the likelihood that students will be motivated to fully engage in the learning process and develop their abilities to impact the world for Christ. What impact will DMCS students have for Christ?