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How to Motivate Your Child

Is there anything more frustrating than trying to motivate a teenager to do something that is clearly not as interesting to them as the latest computer game or iTunes download or Stephanie Meyer book?

Professor Andrew Martin from the University of Sydney, author of How to Motivate your Child for School and Beyond, defines motivation as “a student’s energy and drive to learn, work effectively and achieve.” Unfortunately, this can sometimes seem an unattainable goal at a time when challenges to motivation seem so many and varied. But, says Professor Martin, motivation can win – even in the face of Facebook, My Space and mobile phones. It’s just a matter of having the right tools.

What works – and what definitely doesn’t – for motivating kids?

“Positively oriented approaches work more often than not. That means encouraging them, providing emotional support when they don’t do so well, communicating positive expectations, encouraging them to learn from mistakes and move on. Under that, around that and behind that, build a good relationship with them. Increasingly, we’re finding the relationship is a cornerstone of motivation and achievement.”

Is it a parent’s job to help motivate a child if it’s lacking?
“It is a parent’s job to enhance motivation, in positive ways, to create a climate in the home where motivation can happen. Simple things like ensuring there’s no television in the room where they’re doing homework and ensuring they have the materials they need.

Does laying down the law help motivation?
“Clear boundaries, clear consequences, clear expectations are what are needed. (You need) a clear structure that’s implemented with a view to teaching and developing, rather than punishing. Work on creating the climate where motivation can happen.”

What’s something concrete a parent can do to help with motivation?
“Research shows that success builds enthusiasm and motivation. One way to increase a student’s ‘success experiences’ is what I call ‘chunking’ – breaking tasks into bite-sized, do-able chunks. (Information about this process is detailed in Professor Martin’s book.) Teach children how to do that, and then to see the completion of each chunk as a success. It enables them to experience success along the way (even before he or she receives a mark for that work).”

But not everyone succeeds all the time – how can a parent keep a child on track?
“The key is to expand their view of success. Too many students have a narrow idea of what success means – for example, topping the class. However, only a few students experience that, so the rest of the students essentially cut themselves off from success. If students had more expansive views of success – improvement,  Personal Bests, effort, learning, understanding things, solving problems, co-operating, helping – then they would experience more success, which in turn builds enthusiasm and motivation.”

Motivation is not just about school work, is it?

“It’s a life skill. The earlier we learn that, the better. Point out what they’ve learned and how they can apply it outside school. Don’t underestimate the importance of reiterating positive messages – particularly in adolescence, when you feel nothing is getting through. Those messages resurface later.”