Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. As Zig Ziglar stated, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
Throughout my teaching career, I often heard this complaint from parents, “My child is smart but has little or no motivation.” How can a child who is intelligent have problems completing their work? Intelligence and motivation are not necessarily related. Both parents and teachers become frustrated when they know a capable child is not working to their ability. It is a crazy-maker.
Parents often make more demands and have higher expectations for a smarter child and that can be difficult for a child who already has low motivation. You cannot assume an intelligent child will be highly motivated. For example, there are many gifted children who never complete college and there are gifted children who even drop out of high school. Being intelligent doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, the path to success can be elusive for the highly intelligent child as well as any other child in the classroom. So what can you do?
It is important to realize that motivation can originate from sources inside or outside of the child. An example of outside or extrinsic motivation occurs when you reward a child for completing a project. Intrinsic or self-motivation occurs when the child completes the same project because they feel good inside about the process of completing the work.
Ultimately, it is best for the child to learn to provide their own sense of gratification for completing a task. If a child has not developed that skill from simply being exposed to cause and effect relationships in their world, then the parent and teacher may need to collaboratively develop and implement strategies designed to jump-start the child.
The foundation of this approach calls for the careful implementation of a system of graduated steps and rewards for appropriate behavior. The child must be put into situations that clearly demonstrate the benefits of appropriate behavior such as completing the requirements of a given task. Most healthy children when repeatedly exposed to these kinds of contingencies will develop positive feelings about successfully completing a task and that will spark their own desire to complete the next task in line.
Some parents and even educators mistakenly confuse motivating the child with bribing the child. Rewards are used to encourage a child to do something they are supposed to do anyway. For example, a parent may reward a child with an hour of television time for completing their homework. Bribes are employed to encourage someone to do something they are not supposed to do. An example would be the older brother who gives his younger brother candy to lie about something. It’s perfectly acceptable to reward a child for appropriate behavior to help them develop internal motivation. Motivation is what gets the child started, a habit is what keeps them going.
If rewarding behavior to jump-start motivation doesn’t work, it may be necessary to look for outside help with a mental health specialist. Apathy in a child who does not respond to educational strategies and reward systems can be a sign of emotional problems which can often be helped with early intervention.
Many schools now have websites that allow parents to track homework assignments and whether the student has completed and turned in their work. Staying informed about the teacher’s expectations and your child’s accomplishments on a day to day basis can make it easier for you to track what rewards and encouragements are working for your child.