Keeping school learners motivated

Question and Answer with Careers New Zealand graphic

Continuing our Q & A series – answering questions from parents about their young people's work and learning choices.

Dear Careers NZ

The end of term is coming up and I’m worried about my teenage daughter. She’s usually a good student, but lately she’s been unmotivated to do any of her schoolwork or homework and is falling behind. I try to be encouraging and help her realise the importance of doing well at school, but she just doesn’t see it. What can I do to get her back on track?

Worried dad

Dear worried dad

We know how difficult it is to feel helpless as you watch the young person you care about drift off track. But don’t fret, we’ve got some tips and exercises that other parents have successfully used to get young people motivated to study and get back on the right path.

Parent tries to help daughter with her schoolwork

The tips below will help you to motivate your young person

1. Empathise and see their point of view

It’s helpful to sit down with your young person and talk through the situation. Avoid being confrontational and instead make it clear you’re trying to see things from their point of view. Empathise with their problems and try to help them come up with a solution.

If there is an area of schoolwork or an extracurricular activity they excel in, try to find out the reasons why they’re doing well in them. Could these reasons be used to motivate them in other areas?

2. Focus on their strengths

Even though your young person might be falling behind at school, it’s important to celebrate areas they are doing well in and things they are good at. Focus on their strengths and offer to help them improve their weaknesses. Explain how they can use their strengths as motivation to do better in other subjects or activities.

3. Highlight what’s in it for them

Often a lack of motivation at school stems from not seeing how something will benefit them. Talk to your young person about what they want to do in the future and how their schoolwork can help them get there.

For example, maybe they want to become a builder but don’t see how maths is useful for that. You could explain how builders need maths skills to accurately read and interpret plans, and to do measurements.

4. Set goals and celebrate achievements

At the start of each term it can be useful to set goals for the term ahead, along with incentives to encourage your young person to achieve them.

Maybe you’ll pay for a night out at the movies or give them a week of no chores if they get all their homework in on time for a month. Find an incentive that works for both of you and make it something to aim for.

Make sure the goals are reasonable and achievable though, otherwise they could discourage your young person even more.

5. Work together

Above all it’s important that you and your young person work together. If you can, set a regular time to sit down to help with their homework and talk about how they’re doing at school.

It’s essential to be there every step of the way to motivate them and ensure they follow through, and to make sure they feel supported.

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Our Q & A series of career advice and tips answers common questions parents have about their young person's work and learning choices.

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Updated 2 Oct 2019