June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

My Child is Not Motivated, YIKES!!!!

Reuven, a 6th grader, is assigned a school project. He comes home and tells his mother about the project:

Reuven: “Today, I received a very hard English project. My teacher said that it is due on Monday! I really don’t think that I will be able to do it.”

Mother: “Reuven, of course you can do it! This is very similar to the assignment that you completed last week! The best thing to do is to try to complete a little every night so the work won’t be so overwhelming. You have always been such a diligent student!”

Reuven: “Mom, I guess you’re right. I still feel a little overwhelmed and nervous about this assignment, but I will try my best to complete it.”

Motivation relates to an individual’s desires and pursuit of goals. As applied to children, it refers to the particular degree of desire to engage in physical, social, or academic pursuits. In the above example, Reuven was motivated to complete his project, even though he had to overcome some emotional stress. Reuven’s positive work ethic allowed him to work with and possibly avoid any uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that entered his mind related to the assignment.

As parents, we may be familiar with external motivation (otherwise known as rewards or ‘bribery’) when faced with situations where parents must reshape or remove a negative behavior. This applies to 11 year old Rachel who began doing very poorly in school. Rachel’s parents became very concerned. After speaking together about the issue, the parents decided to offer Rachel specific incentives should her grades in school begin to improve.

When discussing the concept of internal motivation, we are referring to helping our children create inner feelings of confidence and success. These feelings or positive thoughts can then be accessed whenever (academic) situations become complex or challenging. The desire to work hard, do well in school and persevere through some academic discomfort seems to be internalized somewhere ‘in his psyche.’ This is illustrated in the following example:

David works hard in school and gets good grades. His successes build academic confidence and he is able to continue to work hard, even as tasks may become more challenging. However, in a student that we commonly refer to as ‘not motivated,’ an academic challenge may trigger an underlying thought that the work cannot be done. This may often lead to sadness, anger and even hostility at others who attempt to force the child to engage in these difficult task.

Jonathan has just been assigned a five-page history paper on the American Revolution. Jonathan has never enjoyed writing and has struggled in the past on writing assignments. Here is the conversation between Jonathan and his mother:

Mother: “I just got an email from your teacher that the American Revolution paper is due next week. Have you started to do it?”

Jonathan: “I really haven’t started it yet! I have no idea where to start and am very confused on what the teacher wants us to do.”

Mother: “How do you expect to do the assignment if you don’t try? Remember the last time this happened! You waited for the last minute and panicked when the assignment was due in two days! I offered you help on the last assignment, but you never told me that you needed it! Do you need help with this assignment?”

Jonathan: “No, forget it. Whatever! I will just deal with it.”

Let’s highlight some important aspects of this example:

Is the mother confusing motivation (or lack of) with an academic issue (in this case, struggling with writing)

Does Jonathan have a ‘motivation issue’ or is he just frustrated with his constant academic struggles, especially in writing?

Has Jonathan in the past received support for his writing difficulties? If not, is he ‘being lazy’ or does he just need some academic support?

When the mother volunteers to help Jonathan, perhaps she should be a little more directive and say, ‘Let’s sit down and start with the reading part of the assignment and then we can move to the next part of the assignment.’

The above example emphasizes how careful we need to be when considering a child’s level of motivation. The terms ‘lazy’, ‘not motivated’, ‘doesn’t’ care about school,’ are descriptive terms that are often said about children. However, they are not always an accurate description of the problem. If you are concerned about your child’s motivation, here are some tips on how to be helpful:

Be directive: If you see your child that you child needs a ‘push’ and needs more specific direction on an academic assignment, provide that direction! If the child cannot do it for himself, then we as parents cannot just let the child ‘fend for himself.’

Create a structured learning environment. Some children may need additional structure to get their work done, break down long term assignments and focus on areas of academic weakness.

Stay on top of your child’s academic progress. Our continued involvement with our child’s school enables us to put a plan in place if an area of academic weakness should arise. So for example, if Chaim is struggling in math, ongoing collaboration with the school can help to develop a plan to keep Chaim on track. One can only imagine how Chaim may feel if he falls three units behind in math without any plan for assistance. When Chaim then fails the next two math tests, is he ‘unmotivated’ or frustrated with his academic struggles?

These issues will be discussed in future columns as well.

Mark Staum, LCSW is the school therapist for the PTACH program _ MTA. He maintains a local private practice in Teaneck, NJ. For questions or comments about this article, please contact mstaumlcsw_gmail.com . To learn more about Mark, please email me or feel free to look at my web site, www.markstaum.com

By Mark Staum, LCSW

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