There are numerous success skills that children need to master and utilize in order to be the best they can be in their academic careers.  And, we can teach them how to study skills, test-taking skills and so on.  However, there is something else they need that is not exactly a success skill, but rather an internal characteristic.

Motivation.  Some kids have it and some don’t.  For some, grades are their own reward.  For others, grades are just the indicators of how much trouble they are in.  Still others are motivated only to put in the minimum effort, claiming, “What’s the matter with ‘C’s’? ‘C’s’ are average!”  Or worse yet; “At least ‘D’s’ are passing!”

Motivation is usually equated with effort which is equated with grades.  The first issue at hand is whether this is true for your child.  Your student could be highly motivated, putting in a great deal of effort and still getting grades below your expectations.  If this is the case, it may be necessary to acknowledge that your child is working to her capacity and become more realistic about academic expectations.  Or, a child could be highly motivated but lacking the skills to apply her efforts effectively.

This may indicate a need to develop better study habits or better time management and organizational skills.

If after taking a look at your child’s degree of effort and study habits, you find she simply isn’t internally motivated to put in the effort required to get good grades, then some external motivation seems indicated.  Motivation can be encouraged by means of negative or positive outcomes.  In other words, a child can be presented with a series of meaningful consequences if the desired grades are not achieved or with meaningful rewards if the grades are acceptable.

I use the word meaningful to signify that whether they be negative or positive outcomes, they have to have some significant meaning to your child.  For instance, if she is not a sweets-lover, and you threaten to take away desserts, this may not have any significant motivational effect on her academic efforts.  However, if she likes to talk on the phone or text her friends, then the opportunity to communicate with friends may be useful as either a meaningful reward or consequence.

Now, you might ask how can the same activity (e.g.–use of the phone) be both a negative consequence and a positive reward?  It’s all in the way you present it. You can threaten to take away a privilege if grades don’t improve; or you can reward with privileges for academic improvement.  Most of us are more motivated when working toward something (e.g.–a raise or promotion) rather than working away from a negative (e.g.–threat of being fired.)  Putting the proverbial ‘carrot’ in front of your child can light a fire under her feet and create the motivation to achieve.  Granted, she may not be striving for grades, per se.  However, if the dangling carrot gets the desired result, then you both win.  You get the academic achievement that is meaningful to you, and she gets the reward that is meaningful to her.

skillsDr. Vicki Panaccione is a passionate and dedicated child psychologist whose 25 year career has focused on listening to 100’s of kids and helping 1000’s of parents raise happy, successful kids–and enjoy the ride. She is an internationally recognized psychologist, parenting authority, speaker, parent coach, media consultant, radio personality, prize-winning and best-selling author.

To get a free copy of Dr. Vicki’s Top 10 Tips for Top 10 Parenting Issues, visit HERE.