A Handout for Parents
by Michael B. Brown, Ph.D., East Carolina
and Patricia B. Keith, Ph.D., Alfred University (NY)
What is Academic Motivation?
A child who is academically motivated wants
to learn, likes learning-related activities, and believes school
is important. We want to help children develop a desire to do
well in school because the children believe that learning is
important and rewarding in their lives.
Development of Academic Motivation
Children are naturally motivated to learn
when they are infants. A baby's struggle to reach a toy, learn
to walk, or eat without help are examples of motivation to learn.
This early motivation to learn is later applied to school-related
activities such as reading and writing. When children are not
motivated to learn, it is because something has gotten in the
way of their natural motivation. They believe that they cannot
do well in school-related tasks, and they stop trying or do
not try hard enough because they don't think that it will make
a difference. They become easily frustrated and give up when
learning is difficult. Since they stop trying, they do not learn
successfully. They do not get to experience the thrill of learning
something new. They believe that any success they have is due
to luck or circumstance.
Why do children develop these negative
beliefs? Sometimes it is because of things that affect their
ability to learn. Learning disabilities, difficult temperament,
developmental delay, depression, or chronic life stress may
make it harder for a child to learn in school. Children who
have failed in school before are also very likely to stop trying
to learn because they develop the belief that they cannot do
so. The attitudes of adults can also influence children's
beliefs about their academic success. Parents who have standards
that are unrealistic can discourage their children's efforts.
Competition in school (where someone always wins and someone
always loses) can be very discouraging to children, especially
those who may never be "the best" at school, even
though they can learn a lot. Children who don't experience success
or whose successes are not recognized may develop poor academic
motivation. Children whose parents or peers do not think school
is important or do not place importance on doing their best
in school also can develop poor academic motivation.
Increasing Motivation to Learn
There are many things that parents can
do to increase their child's academic motivation. Keeping good
parent-child relationships and letting your child know that
you think school is important can enhance academic effort. You
can also help by teaching your child good study habits and providing
recognition for his or her successes. Working as a partner with
your child's teacher is also important. Here are some ideas
to help you increase your child's motivation to learn:
· Be firm and fair when you discipline
your child. Children need reasonable discipline to be independent
· Teach your child to be responsible
at home. Chores and expectations for proper behavior are ways
of developing self-discipline that can transfer to school-related
· Work hard to have a good parent-child
relationship. Take time to do fun things with your child. Listen
when your child talks to you, especially about school.
· Do family activities that encourage
learning, such as visits to the library, museums or parks.
· Let your children know that you think
learning is important and is the central purpose of school.
· Provide opportunities for successes.
Children who feel successful are more likely to try new things.
· Talk with your children about your
interests and likes.
· Help your children identify things
that they enjoy and what they do well. Capitalize on their interests
to build learning experiences. For instance, if your child likes
baseball, you can encourage your child to read and write about
baseball players or the history of baseball.
· Talk with your children about school
and show an interest in their school activities.
· Talk with your children about their
career interests and how school is related to a career.
· Be sure to praise your children for
trying hard and for being successful. All children need to know
when they are doing well.
· Balance praise and punishment when
you are helping your child. Too much punishment can be discouraging.
Make sure your child knows what is expected and gets some kind
of recognition. Remember, rewards don't always mean getting
money or privileges. Just telling your children that you are
proud of them or you notice the effort they put into their work
will make a big difference.
Teach Habits that Encourage Learning
· Have a set routine for school work.
Your child should know when he or she is expected to work on
their school work each day.
· Set up a place to study where your
children have the needed supplies and as much quiet as necessary.
· Make sure your children finish school
work at home before doing things that could distract them from
doing their school work.
Work with Your Child's Teacher
· Show your child that you respect
his or her teacher. Don't handle disagreement with the teacher
in front of your child.
· Talk regularly with the teacher so
that each of you know what is going on in school and at home.
Waiting until report cards come out is often too late to make
· Work with your child's teacher to
make sure your child learns good study skills.
· Develop a system to give reinforcements
at home for working hard in school.
If Your Child is Already Having Problems
with Academic Motivation
· Talk with your child about the problem.
Is he or she feeling confused or frustrated by the work? Does
your child feel that he or she is trying hard to do well?
· Talk with your child's teacher to
identify areas in need of improvement.
· Let your child know that you are
willing to help them do better.
· Help your child identify things he
or she does well so that the focus is only on areas of difficulty.
· Help your child identify things that
he or she likes that could be used to help with school work
(for example, if a child is interested in animals, have him
or her read books about animals, make up stories about animals,
· Reward effort and productivity.
· Provide increased rewards for improvement.
· Limit things that interfere with
learning, such as excessive TV, video games, computer time,
· Increase the amount of time your
child studies each day by a small amount 5-10 minutes until
you reach a reasonable goal (such as an additional thirty minutes
Get More Help if Necessary
· Talk with your child's teacher, school
counselor or school psychologist for help and advice. If there
is reason to suspect an educational disability, request a comprehensive
assessment from your school's special education team.
· Often, there are parents groups or
PTA groups that can help you or provide support.
· Find out if instruction in study
skills is available at your child's school.
· Don't be afraid to seek counseling
or other help outside of school if necessary.
Resources for Parents
Brown-Miller, A. (1994). Learning to
learn: Ways to nurture your child's intelligence. New York:
Clark, L. (1996). SOS: Help for parents
(2nd Edition). Bowling Green, KY: Parent's Press.
Levine, M. E. (1994). Educational care.
Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.
Martin, M. , & Waltman-Greenwood, C.
(Eds.) (1995). Solving your child's school-related problems.
New York: HarperPerenniel.
Rimm, S. (1996). Dr. Sylvia Rimm's smart
parenting: How to raise a happy, achieving child. New York:
© 1998 National
Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway,
Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 301-657-0270.
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