When Your Child Lacks Motivation

It’s a common but serious source of concern for parents: You begin to notice that your child is lacking motivation and commitment in his or her attitude towards school and homework. He might not seem as enthusiastic to learn new things or perhaps he’s not doing his homework like he should? Maybe an argument occurs whenever you try to sit him down to do his homework.

Whatever it may be, a lot of parents find themselves wondering why a child just doesn’t seem to be trying at school and wonders perhaps if there is something more serious going on? There could be many different reasons for your child’s lack of enthusiasm – here are a few tips if you are really worried:

  • Define what you are really worried about. What is your child doing that makes you think there is a problem? Do try and identify what may be happening.
  • Bored may not mean what you think:  Many children use the word “bored” to describe how they feel at school, but they may not mean bored in a literal sense. Sometimes they feel confused, or frustrated – find out what they really mean.
  • Have a chat to his teacher. The teacher is with your child for a good part of the day, so she/he is the best person with whom to discuss the problem
  • Is your child anxious? When children start school or change schools there is always a certain amount of anxiety. Check that your child is not showing signs being stressed or anxious about something.
  • Are there changes happening at school?

During transitions:  Nursery to primary school, primary to middle or secondary school there is bound to be a big change. The child may feel overwhelmed or a little out of his depth at times. Just reassure him that he will settle down and everything will be fine.

Is the home life OK?

Have you or are you in the process or moving house? Has anyone in the family died or is seriously ill. Are parents getting along ok? There could be lots of different things that upset the child.

Are there social factors?

Starting in middle school, children start becoming more involved with other kids on a social basis and this is where a lot of anxiety can start. Think about it  – your child has been to a nice cosy little primary school for several years, got to know all the teachers, all his friends etc.. then suddenly he/she is thrown into the lion’s den! Now he is one of the youngest, in a much bigger school, with many other children he possibly hasn’t even met before and some of them WILL know each other and will of course have formed their little friendship groups already! It’s hard for them isn’t it? However, even if your child becomes a bit isolated and thinks he has no friends, you can still help your child by finding other outside interests.

Learned helplessness?

If you continue to notice that your son or daughter is not motivated or is very obviously under performing at school, it maybe because he hasn’t yet developed the skills he needs to thrive, maybe due to a learning disorder or some sort of weakness. When a child comes up against a difficulty, his reaction may be just to simply stop trying! This is what we call a “learned helplessness”. When a child realises he’s not getting the success he thinks he should get, he gives up completely.

It may be just boredom!

Sometimes it could be that the child just isn’t being stimulated enough. He could be a gifted child, who is intellectually stronger than his peers. On occasions, the child is gifted in certain areas, say math or science, and they get so “into” their favourite subjects that they think about those all the time and don’t listen to the teacher in other subjects.

What other things cause children to lack motivation at school?

Whilst learning disorders are most commonly thought to be the problem with children not being motivated at school, there are other diagnoses that can also be the culprit;

ADHD is probably one of the most common causes for children to get left behind at school. The mixture of impatience, being distracted, acting impulsively and all the energy the child has, can make it very difficult for him to function in the classroom and to remain motivated and interested in his work.

Anxiety is another one, especially separation anxiety whereby the child gets extremely upset on leaving mum in the morning. Social anxiety too, could cause this whereby, the thought of speaking with classmates and teachers make the child so anxious that she starts skipping classes or even school altogether. General anxiety could also simply make the child worry constantly about reaching his or her grades, or about their work being perfect, that they become so obsessed with it, they then lose the motivation to carry on.

So, what do I do if my child is not motivated at school or with homework?

The first thing to do is to TALK with your child. Naturally, depending on the age of your child, you can sit down and just allow him or her to talk about school, how he feels he is doing? If he feels he could do better? If he likes school? If not, why not? Just have a general chat to establish his feelings about it. Ask him if there is anything that he thinks YOU could do to help him be more motivated? Find out if he is being bullied, or if someone has upset him? There could be so many reasons, but the main thing is to start a process of elimination. Once you have established that no one has physically or emotionally hurt him, then start ruling out the other things we have discussed above. Also don’t forget things like “hearing” and “vision”. If your child can’t hear the teacher or see the blackboard, then naturally he or she will struggle.

Of course, on some occasions the reason WILL be that he is anxious about something – I remember many years ago when my daughter was very young and I was a single mum, she went through a very bad time and I eventually found out ( from her) that she was terribly worried that because I had to travel in my job, I was going to die in a crash! Once we had discussed it and I had assured her that mum intended to stay on the planet for a very long time – she was fine!  

Also, some children find it hard to motivate themselves so its something that parents should teach their child, for example, I made my daughter write a list one day of all the things she could do if she was at home, bored ( I got so fed up with hearing: “Mum I’m bored!”) we kept the list on the wall in the kitchen and when she said “ I’m bored” I just pointed to it!

Your child may be still at the stage in development where he can’t motivate himself – he may need some gentle encouragement, but don’t worry – it doesn’t mean he’s not going to be successful in the future!

If you DO feel your child needs some extra help you can always bring him to my therapy programme for children who need motivation and confidence!


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