Motivated children generally employ more success skills to their academics.

They are rewarded by their own accomplishments and good grades.  However, many children are simply not intrinsically motivated to do their school work and are satisfied with ‘passing.’  What should parents do when their children are not meeting their full potential?   In these cases, incentives can be considered to externally motivate these less internally-driven children.

“Why should I have to reward my child for something he should do anyway?”  Good question.  I agree that it would be wonderful if all our children were intrinsically motivated to get good grades.  But they are not.  Some need to be provided with incentives to help motivate them to work for things (e.g.-grades) that are not very meaningful to them.  So, basically it’s a give and take.  Your child is able to earn a privilege or reward for meeting certain academic requirements.  If the requirements are not attained, then the privilege is not allowed.

“I tried grounding my son, but it didn’t work.”  There are several key issues that this statement brings to mind.  First, grounding and the loss of other privileges are only effective if meaningful to the child.  If restricted from playing with friends, but allowed to play with his favorite toys, then grounding may not be a significant motivator.  Same with losing some other privilege or possession.  If you are going to use loss of privilege as a motivator, make sure that whatever you choose will truly get your child’s attention and be something he will want to work to earn back.

The second issue that merits discussion is whether having something taken away versus earning privileges works more effectively for your child.  I personally like to see children rewarded, praised and reinforced as much as possible.  Now, rewards can mean a sticker, hand stamp, special dessert, picking which cereal to buy, renting a movie, staying up fifteen extra minutes at bedtime and so on.  It does not have to be material or costly.  Just earned recognition is very effective for young children, in particular.  As they get older, coins in a jar, a trip to the dollar store or a chance to pick from the ‘treasure box’ may be more effective.

The third issue raised by the above lament has to do with duration.  For how long is he grounded or have a loss of privilege?  Many parents use the next report card or interim report as the means by which to decide if their child can ‘come off grounding’ or get a privilege returned.  For most children, the period between progress reports (usually about 4 ½ weeks) is way too long to see results of their efforts.  In fact, many children start out trying and then become discouraged by the lack of pay-off.  I recommend daily or at least weekly feedback from the teacher, indicating grades, missed or late assignments and effort.  This way, you can have on-going feedback which can then be used to reward on a more frequent basis.  This also allows you to stay on top of your child’s work and make sure that even if it’s late, the assignment has to be done.

I also like using the end of the week teacher report to determine what privileges your student can have for the weekend (after completion of any missed assignments.)  Each week’s report will determine how the weekend and following week will go.  Weekly reports can also help nip problems in the bud.  You can even enlist the teacher to help remind your child of the reward to be earned if he keeps up with his work.

Fourth and fifth issues raised are whether the consequence or privilege fits the behavior addressed and whether the grade demands are reasonable within the given time frame.  If your child got a ‘B’ instead of the ‘A’ you were expecting, then how you deal with his lack of motivation should be less severe than how you deal with more serious lack of motivation.

However, if the required grades, etc. seem too unrealistic for your child to achieve, then he may not even try.  If he is getting ‘D’s’ and you think straight ‘A’s’ are within his capability, he may not be able to make up that much difference by the next grading period.  If you see that he is more motivated and putting in the effort to achieve, be sure he is rewarded and encouraged to keep up the great effort.

Encouragement can then be made to set his sights for the next higher letter grade. Additionally, be sure to reward progress, even if it is demonstrated in a subject or two, rather than across the board.  You want to keep the motivation and momentum going, not shut it down.

Finally, there is the issue of consistency and follow-through.  It is crucial that you follow-through with whatever motivational program you decide to use and consistently follow the agreement.  If your child earns his reward, he needs to be given the agreed-upon reward.  And if he does not earn it, he doesn’t get it.  Period.

Please do not make an exception for one reason or another.  Make sure the consequence or rewards you select are reasonable enough for you to enforce and stay the course!  If you are not going to be consistent, don’t even put a motivational program in place.  Inconsistency just undermines your authority and erodes your child’s trust.  However, if you do follow through and use the above guidelines to help develop a plan, then your goal of successfully motivating your child to reach academic potential is much more likely to occur.

success 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.

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