Model Motivation: How Parents Can Help
“I’m not sure what motivates my son. He does his work. He gets adequate grades, but I know that there is so much more that he can be doing.”
“I have a business trip coming up and my daughter’s play practice is starting up. In the past, that’s been a brutal combination. I hope we can keep this momentum going!”
Unfortunately, these are common comments from parents who care deeply about their teens yet are baffled about how best to help.
I can understand the bafflement. Motivation is a tricky thing. When someone feels like doing the work and the work falls into that sweet zone of being just challenging enough to be interesting but not too challenging to be overwhelming, things are peachy.
But things quickly turn not so peachy when:
- Conditions are attached. If you do your homework, you’ll get a good grade. If you do your homework, you can go out.
- It’s too difficult. No matter how hard I study or try, I can’t get my math homework finished.
- It’s too boring, there’s no passion. I just don’t care about this subject at all.
Start by determining if your child has the knowledge foundation to get the work finished. If not, then almost any sort of motivation tactic is going to fail and produce only more frustration. If there truly is a gap in the information that your child needs to learn the material find out quickly and fill the gap. We like what we understand and what we believe we have a reasonable chance of success at.
The second place to look: what’s your relationship to the same material? When you sit down a look at a sheet of math problems, do you feel giddy with the excitement of a number of puzzles to solve? Or is it a pain in the butt that you just have to get through—or in this case, get your child through—so that you can move on to something more fun?
If you’ve consistently expressed a dislike or fear of math or science, your kids may have picked up on that. As much as teenagers try to hide how much they model after their parents, they watch us like hawks and pick up on little clues on how to approach life. Trust me, I’ve worked with teenagers in one-to-one conversations for over 10 years. Teens tell me how much they secretly appreciate their parents, even when they show you something completely different.
So here’s my suggestion next time you’re looking at your child’s homework: Do it with them and do it with glee. Passion is infectious! Find that place in your own experience when doing the work just for the sake of the experience was fun. Look at it like a fun puzzle to solve and to see how well and how quickly you can solve the problem. Whoever thought chemistry could be so fun?
Remember the two main guidelines:
First, we like what we understand.
Second, we learn our attitude and perspectives from those around us. From friends, who may love or hate homework. From teachers, who require it. Or hopefully from parents, who (after reading this little post) look at homework like solving fun problems and will jump at the chance to do some homework problems.
Now who wants to do some MATH?