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What Motivates A Child To Do Well In School? Strategies to Try

December 2, 2022
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    If your child has trouble with school assignments, you're not alone. For many parents, homework - or even getting kids to attend class - comes with a power struggle. So, what works when motivating children to do well in school? In this article, we'll answer that question and discuss why kids might seem as though they don't want to do well in school, what to avoid, specific tips that'll help your child succeed, and how Joon can help.

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    What Will Motivate Kids To Do School Work?

    There are two types of motivation: Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

    Intrinsic motivation is another term for internal motivation, and it occurs when you are motivated to do something because you find the activity itself rewarding. It is rewarding for you, and not due to an external factor. For example, if you like a book series, you may be motivated to read due to your excitement for the story alone. On the other hand, you probably won't be internally driven to read a book you dislike. 

    Extrinsic motivation is when you're motivated to do something based on an external reward. So, even if you don't want to go to work, you're motivated to go to work and do well because you know you'll get paid for your job. In that case, money is the reward. Another example is using a special treat to motivate your child to visit the doctor.

    If someone has an intrinsic motivation to do something, it's best not to give them external rewards, as it may start to feel like "work." However, an external reward can be helpful if they don't enjoy doing an activity or task.

    If a child dislikes school, external rewards might be the best way to go. 

    Additionally, it is important to understand why a child doesn't want to do schoolwork. That way, you can get to the root of the problem. 

    Why Doesn't My Child Want to Do Well in School?

    As an adult, you know that doing well in school now will influence a child's future goals. On the other hand, many children don't see the big picture regarding education. This is just one possible reason why a child might struggle in school, however. 

    ADHD symptoms impact education alongside other areas in a person's life. Hyperactivity symptoms can make it hard to finish activities where one must remain seated, which is often the case for homework or schoolwork. Similarly, inattention symptoms make it tough to focus on tasks in school. Sometimes, children with ADHD thrive socially. Others with ADHD experience social challenges that make going to class tough. These are all things to consider for a child with the condition. 

    Often, shame and embarrassment are also factors for kids who have trouble in school. If a child doesn't know how to do well - or if they feel like they can't do well in school no matter how hard they try - they may rebel or say that they "don't care" about school. Deep down, many kids are ashamed when they don't understand what's taught in class. That's part of why it's important to approach education challenges with care. 

    With all this in mind, what can you do? Let's talk about what to avoid first. Then, we'll get into how you can help.

    How to Motivate Your Child To Learn

    Difficulties with school can start at any point in time. Whether you have younger children or an older student, education-related problems can strain family life. That said, there are positive ways to encourage and motivate your child to do well in school. Here are some tips to try.

    How Joon Can Help Your Child with Motivation

    Joon increases independence and acts as an external reward for kids. It makes life easier for you and your kids, and many parents say that Joon has improved their parent-child relationship. 

    Here is how Joon works:

    • Parents customize a list of real-life tasks in the app. 
    • Children complete their tasks, also called quests.
    • Parents approve the child's quests in the app once the child is finished. 
    • Children get rewards in the game that let them take care of a virtual pet. 

    Examples of tasks parents might add to the app include but aren't limited to homework, getting dressed, going to a tutoring appointment, or washing the dishes. 90% of kids who use Joon complete every task their parents assign. Children slowly build independence and a routine by using the app in a fun way.

    Joon is rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars, and there are over 3.6k reviews.

    Get started with your free trial today. 

    If you found this article helpful, visit our parenting resource hub for more.

    Note: Does your child need help with motivation? Joon is a new game designed specifically for children with ADHD aged 6-12. In the app, parents assign kids real-life tasks like finishing their homework or eating breakfast. Once kids complete the tasks their parents set, they get rewards in the game that allow them to take care of a virtual pet. The Joon app boosts independence and helps kids succeed. Even better, Joon is backed by child psychologists, occupational therapists, and teachers. Click here to try Joon for free.

    Help your child develop routine and structure

    As discussed, routine and structure are crucial for people with ADHD. It can be hard to start a routine with ADHD, but once you lock a routine into place, it becomes habitual. 

    Create a structured routine for your child and stick to it meticulously. Deviating even slightly can throw a child off. Think about how difficult it is to get kids back into the swing of things after holiday break, for example. It'll happen, and it's an important opportunity to teach flexibility, but do keep deviations minimal. 

    That's why structure is so vital, perhaps even unavoidably so, for success. If homework time (or another task) is built into the day and a child starts to expect that that's what they'll spend time on from, say, 5-6 PM, there will usually be less of a battle over time. Expect that when you first create this kind of routine, there will be pushback. It's tough, but don't budge. 

    Teach your child how to be organized

    Gently and calmly, teach your child ADHD-friendly organization skills. Just like external rewards can be helpful for motivation, external tools can help with organization. For example, lists, chore charts, planners, calendars, and alarms. 

    Give positive reinforcement

    Positive reinforcement is helpful for any child, but it can be particularly beneficial for kids with ADHD. External rewards are known to motivate children, and they can come in different forms. What many parents don't realize is that positive reinforcement can be verbal. When kids hear that you recognize their effort, it makes children feel good and motivates them to keep going. Don't negate the power of words when it comes to motivating kids! 

    One thing to keep in mind is that it's important to give positive reinforcement for effort and hard work; not just good grades. This will help kids develop their work ethic and focus on learning rather than perfection. Focusing on perfection can have adverse effects, like nervousness and procrastination.

    Reward systems are another way to motivate positive behavior. For young kids, reward systems might include sticker charts or collecting small objects. For older kids, screen time, token systems, and special experiences are great rewards.

    Accept mistakes

    Accept that your child will make mistakes, and let them know that it's okay. If you're helping with homework, for example, remain patient when they get it wrong, and walk kids through the proper steps.

    Show interest in your child's schoolwork

    Kids who struggle with schoolwork may benefit from having someone by their side as they complete assignments. There are a couple of reasons why showing interest can be helpful.

    First, spending time with your child while they work on any task means that you can guide them through obstacles. Second, for kids who struggle with focus, it can be beneficial to have someone else there to keep them on track. 

    For young children especially, who are prone to mimic parents, your interest in their work might even encourage them to enjoy it more. Regardless of their age, be patient and show interest in the topics your child learns about. 

    Bonus: When you're with your children as they work on assignments, it gives you an opportunity to make learning fun. You might connect a math problem or a similar task to your child's interests, for example, to help your child stay engaged.

    Consider your child's interests and learning style

    Unfortunately, many schools aren't able to take a child's learning style into account due to the volume of kids in class. What you can do, however, is take your child's learning style into account at home. 

    Learning styles include:

    • Bodily/kinaesthetic. If your child has a bodily/kinaesthetic learning style, they learn best through hands-on activities.
    • Auditory: If your child has an auditory learning style, they learn best from hearing information.
    • Reading/writing: If your child has a reading/writing learning style, they learn best by taking notes or reading written instructions.
    • Visual: If your child has a visual learning style, they learn best through pictures, videos, and graphics.

    If their assignments are via an online course rather than in person, or if you homeschool children in another capacity, you can consider your child's learning style(s) for daily learning activities.

    Talk with your child's teacher

    Experts say that one of the most effective ways to encourage your child's success in education is to communicate with their teachers. Ensure that you have open communication with your child's teacher. Let them know about your child's challenges with school, and keep your child's teacher in the loop about what you're doing at home to help. For older children in middle or high school, this may require speaking with multiple teachers. 

    Many children faced additional hardship in class during the pandemic due to lower levels of teacher involvement. If the pandemic affected your child's learning, or if they are behind for any other reason, it may be time to consider extra help. 

    Consider extra help

    There are numerous ways to get a child extra help if they struggle in school. First, tutoring can be beneficial for children who are challenged by a specific subject, like math. Additionally, children with ADHD can often get an IEP and accommodations to help them succeed. Accommodations for kids with ADHD can include but aren't limited to extra time on tests, changes to the learning environment (e.g., being seated in a particular spot during class), and so on. 

    Sometimes, but not always, learning disabilities overlap with ADHD. If you suspect a learning disability like dyscalculia or dyslexia, it is certainly something to test for. Some kids may be eligible for a 504 plan, and this will typically occur when ADHD pairs with another disability. 

    What to Avoid

    Although you want your child to do well in school, some approaches are more effective in motivating kids than others. Despite positive intentions, some strategies can have the opposite effect on a child's learning experience or otherwise negatively impact a child.

    Here are some actions to avoid:

    • Taking away extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities can make a child feel more connected to the school environment. Threatening to take after-school activities (e.g., sports or theater) might seem like it'd motivate a child, but it could be detrimental in the end. Sometimes, children are required to maintain a certain GPA to remain a part of a club or team, 
    • Shame. When you want to encourage kids, do not shame them for bad test grades or "not trying hard enough." That feeling of shame may lead to shame spiraling where the sensation goes on and on, acting as a vicious cycle.
    • Lack of routine and/or organization. Don't fail to teach your child time management or organization skills. Rather than leave it up to them to finish assignments, ensure your child has a routine that incorporates time for schoolwork or homework.
    • Refraining from teacher involvement. Do not feel as though you're bothering your child's teacher. Talking with education professionals can help you find out what's happening at school. It is also an opportunity for parents and teachers to collaborate on keeping a child motivated.

    Now, you have an example or two of what not to do to encourage your child. What can parents do instead?

    Final Thoughts

    Many different things can make school difficult for a child. However, the right motivation can go a long way. Kids should learn that the most important thing is their effort and hard work rather than getting top grades. Tangible rewards, creating a positive learning experience, showing interest in your child's work, and talking with your child's teacher can all help children focus and succeed at school.

    You can also use an app like Joon to keep your child motivated.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.