Motivate your child when they’re underachieving

By admin
15 August 2014

Does your child often seem to struggle getting things together despite having the potential to do well? Perhaps their grades are low or they perform below average in sport or any activity they try. Here are some tips on motivating your child to do their best.

Does your child have the potential to do well, but seem to struggle getting things together? Their grades are low or perhaps they perform below average in sport or any activity they try. You probably believe your child can do better but how do you motivate them to do so?

One way to start solving the problem is to understand your child’s personality. Child psychologist Dr Jolanda Dreyer says how you approach the challenge of an underachieving child depends on the temperament of the child.

For a more optimistic and cheerful child, a parent might need a more direct approach with guaranteed rewards as well as a bit of tough love. For the more moody type of child, she suggests a more subtle approach where there’s a lot of focus on positive verbal affirmations.

She adds that parents should establish whether their child is underachieving. “Many parents do not know their child’s potential – we all believe our children are clever and while it is a beautiful quality, sometimes we are in the dark when it comes to what our children’s true ability is.”

Tips to encourage your child:

  • Get involved. Spend some time with your children while they’re doing homework and see if you can ascertain what the problem is.
  • Speak to teachers. Teachers could possibly give you an indication of where the problem lies and then guide you with regard to a possible solution.
  • Use the right language. Choose your words wisely – underachievers respond better to more subtle talk. Instead of saying, “Go do your work now or you’ll be grounded,” speak in a firm but empathetic tone and make sure to use the child’s name and the word sometimes. Perhaps try, “Jordan, I know it is sometimes hard to get started so what do you want to do first: maths or English?” The choice here gives an element of empowerment that’s necessary for underachievers who often feel powerless. The key is to speak in an encouraging manner instead of being critical or authoritarian.
  • Have a system. Try 25 minutes of studying followed by a five-minute break. During the break the child may enjoy a small reward for working really hard.
  • Get organised. Often there’s a world of difference when parents help their children to plan and organise effectively. A lack of proper planning for the week, month and term could lead to insufficient time for work to be completed or a lack of preparation time for a test or exam.

A good relationship between you and your child is the key to picking up on problems early enough to make a difference. But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, your child still fails? Dr Dreyer suggests working with a specialist. “To motivate a child who has failed is not an easy task and sometimes the parents are just as deflated as the child. One thing they can say is that there is nothing wrong with trying again – it’s not how you start but how you finish that counts,” she says.

Get some expert help:

  • Find an experienced professional to work closely with you. Opt for someone who specialises in child behaviour and education.
  • Seek counselling if you suspect a psychological or emotional reason may be the root of the problem.
  • Make use of a qualified tutor who can assist your child with specific school subjects. Tutoring agencies and universities have referral networks for such assistants.

-Koketso Mashika

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