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"It's not that I'm so smart," Albert Einstein once said, "It's just that I stay with problems longer."

How telling that one of the greatest geniuses of all time explained his success in this way. Einstein gave the credit not to his superior intellect, but to his tremendous persistence. He was motivated. 

A motivated kid is likely to:

  • Choose tasks that are challenging.
  • Begin tasks without having to be prodded.
  • Show serious effort and concentration.
  • Have a positive attitude toward learning and schoolwork.
  • Use coping strategies to get through the rough times.
  • Stick with tasks until successful completion.

A kid who is not motivated is likely to:

  • Choose work that is inappropriately easy.
  • Need lots of prodding to get started.
  • Put in minimal effort.
  • Show a negative or apathetic attitude about learning and schoolwork.
  • Give up quickly when the going gets rough.
  • Leave many tasks unfinished.

Based on these characteristics, it is not difficult to see why motivated students are more successful! Motivated students can rightly take credit for their own achievements, but most of them also owe a debt to the people who started them out on the right path—their parents. As a parent you have a large role to play in whether or not your kid will be motivated to do his best in school. In the end, it’s up to him—but you can create an encouraging environment. 

There are many ways to motivate kids based on their temperament. However, this guide will spotlight seven ways proven to work for nearly every kid. Implement these ideas, and you will assure your kid of your loving support—and that may be the best motivation your kid could ever receive.

1) Set proper expectations

Expect your kid to succeed, and her chances for success improve greatly. Expect her to come up short, and the odds are that she will. Kids are usually keenly aware of how their parents view them, and they often tailor their actions to those views. So it’s very important to have high expectations—and communicate them to your kid. It’s equally important to base your expectations on your kid as an individual who has strengths and weaknesses like all individuals.

Set appropriate expectations by:

  • Communicating with your kid - talk kindly, but honestly
  • Re-evaluating as necessary - Your kid will grow and change; so will their interests and abilities

2) Help your kid set goals

Goals turn expectations from ideas into reality. Knowing what he is expected to do will help your kid accomplish little unless he has a plan for how to do it. Here are some ways to help your kid set meaningful goals:

  • Write the goals down - research shows that we are more likely to accomplish written goals than those we merely talk about.
  • Make the goals specific - "Jake will raise his math grade from a C to a B"
  • Make the goals measurable - A measurable goal allows you and your kid to chart progress.  For example, you can tell whether Julie is on her way to raising her grade by whether she is finishing her homework with less difficulty and marks on quizzes are steadily improving.

3) Show your kid you think school is important

Taking time to set expectations and goals with your kid clearly communicates your interest in helping her to be her best. Build on that by showing your enthusiasm for education in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Maintaining a relationship with your kid's teacher.
  • Supporting programs at your kid's school - attending back-to-school night, conference, plays, etc...
  • Creating a suitable environment for homework.
  • Keeping up with your kid's assignments.
  • Saying positive about school and schoolwork.

4) Support your kid's learning style

Your kid is more likely to want to learn if he uses the learning style that feels most natural and makes the most sense—to him. Help him figure out, and use, his best learning style. Does your kid learn best by:

• Hearing, such as listening to a talk or a book on tape? If so, he may be an auditory learner. He enjoys music and hearing stories. He can probably follow oral directions very well. He is comfortable talking. He would probably prefer spelling his words aloud to the teacher to taking a written quiz.

• Seeing, such as reading a book or a graph? If so, he may be a visual learner. He appreciates artwork, movies and the live theater. He can probably follow a map like a pro. He likes to have something written on paper to back up oral lessons. He would probably prefer studying a chart of the times tables to repeating them out loud with the class.

• Doing, such as building a model or preparing a chart? If so, he may be a kinesthetic learner. He loves to move, making recess and exercise critical parts of his school day. He would much rather participate than sit and watch. He likes using his hands to create things. He is probably much happier during his hands-on science lab than he is during the theory lesson that preceded it.

5) Speak the language of encouragement

Most parents enjoy praising their kids with words like “good job!” and “that looks great!” But research shows that encouragement that has a bigger effect than praise on a kid’s motivation.

So, what is the difference between praise and encouragement? They do sound like the same thing—but they are not.


  • Discusses results. “Great work on the science quiz! You got an A!”
  • Uses opinion words such as “good,” “great,” “terrific,” and “wonderful.”
  • Is typically given when the kid has performed as you had hoped she would.


  • Notices effort and progress. that paper! I can tell you’ve spent a lot “Look at of time on it! It must feel good to know you worked so hard!”
  • Uses descriptive words. the bathroom without being asked. “You cleaned Look at that shiny sink! I can see myself in it!”
  • Can be given regardless of the kid’s performance. work out the way you planned, did it? “That didn’t I can tell you’re disappointed, but I know you’ll try again next week. What do you think you might do differently next time?”

6) Reinforce learning at home and in the community

Learning becomes drudgery if your kid sees it only as something that happens while he is sitting at a desk. Motivated students know that learning takes place everywhere. They realize that many of the activities that can increase their knowledge and understanding are also lots of fun. Use your imagination and creativity to make learning come alive for your kid! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • When your kid reads a classic, see if a video version is available. After he reads the book, rent the video and watch it as a family. Ask your kid to tell you about the differences he notices between the two. Don’t forget the popcorn!
  • Dive into the cultures your kid studies. A wonderful way to do this is through food. Eat at a restaurant that serves the food of the culture. Or get on the Internet and search for some recipes then try preparing the food yourself.
  • Expand your kid’s point of view by taking him to something that doesn’t fit with his typical tastes. If he loves basketball, take him to the ballet. Point out that athleticism might be found where he least expects it.
  • Getting your kid into the habit of reading the newspaper is like giving him a gift that will last his whole life. Clip relevant articles for him, or read bits of articles out loud. Broadcast news may be up to the second, but it can rarely provide the depth of information and perspective that the newspaper can.
  • Museum visits are always fun, but they are especially appropriate when your kid is studying science and social studies. Taking your kid to an exhibit on rockets, dinosaurs or life in ancient Mali will give his schoolwork a new dimension.

7) Encourage your kid to be resilient

Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., a noted neuropsychologist and professor at the University of Utah, strongly believes that encouraging resilience is one of the best thing parents can do for their kids. Resilient kids are ready for whatever life throws at them. They get that way, according to Goldstein, by developing qualities like these:

  • Strong belief that an adult in their lives will always be there with love and support. • Ability to solve many of their own problems.
  • Ability to focus on their own strengths.
  • Regard mistakes as something that happens to everyone, and something to learn from.
  • These characteristics show that a resilient kid is also likely to be a motivated kid. When a kid is not resilient, believing she has no strengths to harness to help her bounce back from adversity, her motivation will drop sharply. Encourage your kid to be resilient by:
  • Empathizing with your kid. Before acting, try to see the situation through her eyes. “I can see you’re very upset about the argument you had with your sister, but hitting is unacceptable even when we are feeling upset. Can you think of a better way to show your feelings?”
  • Providing your kid with reasonable choices. “Breakfast will be ready in 20 minutes. Would you like toast or eggs today?”
  • Changing your approach when it clearly doesn’t work. You complain your kid doesn’t listen, so you yell louder. She tunes you out. Instead of continuing to yell, try something different. Turn her face to yours, and whisper. You may surprise her into paying attention.
  • Supporting your kid’s interests and talents. If your kid is struggling in school, her part in the school musical may be the only thing saving her self-esteem. Celebrate this talent. Never take it away from her “until you bring up those grades.”

What about rewards?

Parents and teachers alike often use rewards to motivate kids to do better in school. These rewards include classroom awards, stickers, candy and extra privileges. Experts disagree about this. Some say rewards teach kids to work only for what they can get out of it, instead of working for internal satisfaction. But others say offering occasional rewards is realistic. After all, most adults do not go to their jobs each day only for internal satisfaction. They go because they need a paycheck to support themselves and their families. The best approach may be to simply take a middle ground. Treat your kid to a reward once in awhile, but other times reward him only with a smile or a big thumbs-up. Or tell him: “You can really be proud of yourself. Look what you did!

5 steps to help your kid accomplish nearly anything:

Parents know, and kids soon find out, that there is a big difference between wanting to do something and actually getting it done.

Here are five steps parents can use to help kids do something they want to accomplish. Experts say the likelihood of success increases with each additional step they take.

Steps and the Likelihood of Success for Each:

Make a conscious decision to do something .......................25%  Decide when they will do it .............................................40%

Plan how they will do it...................................................50%

Commit to someone else that they will do it ......................65%

Make a specific future appointment with the person they committed to, at which time they report whether they’ve done it …................................................95%

Given the choice between ability and hard work as the most important key to success in school (and in life), experts say hard work is hands-down the most important. By finding ways to motivate a kid to work hard and make the most of her educational opportunities, parents can help their kid use whatever strengths and abilities she has now or can develop in the future.

Striking the spark that motivates a kid produces an internally fueled quest for success that no amount of external rewards, threats or pleas can equal. Motivation is truly the secret to helping kids develop their greatest potential and parents would do well to learn how to do it. The ideas in the guide are a great way to start.

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