1. Show interest in what they are doing at school
Lots of parental enthusiasm often works for younger children and, whilst being engaged and interested as they get older is still crucial, you may need to dial down the intensity at secondary school level. Cross-examination sessions the moment they come home can backfire and end up with the child clamming up. So taking the lead from them and letting them tell you about their day in their own time is often a good bet. ‘Hanging out’ and relaxing with your child or teenager for a little while and talking about other things first can be helpful in letting them realise you are interested in them as a person and not just their school life. Once they relax in a positive atmosphere they may well offer some information. As they talk about school it can be helpful to ask questions in a gentle and calm way, even if what you hear is causing you stress, and really listen to and accept the answers without getting onto your own agenda too rapidly. Of course, looking out for good news is important and any positive steps need to be celebrated in a way which your child or teenager will accept and which supports their confidence and self-esteem.
Staying connected with your child’s school, including: communicating effectively and building positive relationships with teachers; attending events such as plays, sporting activities and parents’ evenings and staying informed by checking the parent section of the school’s website will show your child that you put a high value on their education and that you’re willing to make an effort to support them.
2. Tell your child you are proud when they do well
This can be about ‘doing well’ in a range of ways, including: showing enthusiasm and interest in aspects of school life; improving marks; making an effort and producing work which shows they have taken care and tried hard; ‘having a go’ at things they find difficult; participating in school and extra-curricular activities; taking a leadership role; being a good role model to other children; socialising well (including being kind, thoughtful, supportive to their friends and peers); being organised; staying focused; spending time revising for tests etc. When you comment on achievements state specifically what you feel they have done well and the progress they have made, rather than a mere ‘well done’. Children who struggle with some aspects of school need positive specific feedback for making small steps in the right direction. Sometimes children respond positively and can be motivated by hearing a parent telling another person about their achievements.
3. Be a good role model
Show you enjoy learning yourself and let them see your interest in fresh, unfamiliar ideas and knowledge and readiness to master new skills. Let them see you making an effort to persevere with tricky challenges and talk to them about your determination to develop a wide variety of skills, especially those that don’t come easily.
4. Have a ‘growth mindset’
‘I can’t do it yet’ – ‘plug’ this phrase rather than accepting, ‘I can’t do it because I’m useless’. Support them to understand that ability and skills aren’t ‘fixed’ and with practice our brains change and we can all make progress in all areas
5. Avoid the ‘lazy’ label
When there is reluctance with school work this is usually about some kind of anxiety, uncertainty, self-protection or self-esteem issue
6. Support your child with school work (homework, revision etc.)
If necessary help them out and make suggestions about their work (where this is appropriate and helps move them on because they are stuck). However, avoid doing all their thinking for them, thereby encouraging dependence on you. If they are overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to complete support them organise homework time so it is more manageable, with a break after each chunk. Reluctant children can respond well to the ‘when…then…..’ strategy which lets them know they can do/have something they really want when they have completed something they don’t really want to do.
7. Communicate with your child about anything at school which is causing negativity.
Stay calm and speak to them when they, and you, are relaxed. Try to be accepting and non-judgemental. Ask questions which help them to express what’s wrong. ‘Why?’ questions are difficult for many children; ‘What happens when?’ questions are easier to answer. So, rather than: ‘Why are you messing around in your Maths lessons?’ you might try, ‘What happens in maths lessons?’ Then let them answer without jumping in. With younger children or those who have trouble expressing themselves it may help to tentatively hazard a guess at things causing difficulties.
8. Offer help to sort out school issues
What do they want you to do about the issue? – don’t just presume you have the answers. Some older children become very upset with their parents for wading into school without consulting them and may feel that mum or dad visiting their teacher has made things worse
9. Talk to your child’s teacher(s) regularly
After consulting your child (if they are old enough and verbal enough) speak to school staff about ongoing issues with motivation. Talk to the school to explore root causes, share solutions and do some joint planning. Have regular reviews of any action points to ensure that progress is made.
10. Get some perspective
School isn’t the only thing in life. Value other aspects of your child’s life. Parental over-intensity about school can be counter-productive. Sometimes we need to take the emotion out of the situation as children pick up what is especially important to us and can become more belligerent, and a downward spiral is created.