HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

How Can I Motivate My Child to Work?

By Dr. Ruth Jacoby, Educational Consultant


My 5 1/2-year-old is currently attending kindergarten and had three previous years of preschool. He seemed ready for kindergarten, but the problem is his desire to work.

Since preschool his teacher said that he was perfectly capable of doing the work, and when he did it, he did it well, but that it was very difficult to make him want to do any work.

She thought that he was intelligent, but very lazy. What can I do about laziness?

His kindergarten teacher now says the same thing. He speaks three languages fluently, and loves to play, have friends, and is a happy child. But it takes us all a lot of effort to make him pay attention and do his work well. Usually he just wants to do it fast so he can go and play, and then it does not come out well.

His teacher has him repeat the work if he does not do it well the first time and then he realizes he might as well do it correctly and the work is done perfectly.

What can I do to encourage him more? I tell him to do his work well every day, but the teacher said she does not know what to do with his laziness. My son does not want to repeat kindergarten. He is doing "so so," but I am afraid that maybe he is just not ready to go on to more advanced work. I do not want him to always feel behind. Any advice would be much appreciated.


It sounds like your kindergartner has a wonderful teacher who wants to set your child on the right track by not accepting work that is not meeting his full potential.

It is never too early to set high standards and good school work habits. It seems like he has the capabilities, but just isn't motivated enough to sit and do work just yet. He would rather play. Why not start a reward chart – one for school and one for home as a motivational tool?

Set the goals, rewards and consequences at a conference with your son and teacher. When you go into the conference talk about specific strategies that you find work for you at home. For example, using a "kitchen timer" to measure leisure and homework times works at home. Maybe the teacher can use one in the classroom stating if the work is complete and correct before the timer rings, your child can then go and pick an activity he likes to do in the classroom.

Your main concern is that your son is not completing work correctly and that his intrinsic motivation to do his best just isn't there yet. The teacher may simply sign the planner, send you a weekly update or merely fill out a checklist like the one below.

Remember she has many other students to keep up with. You can follow the same format for homework and chores at home. Just change the subject column to three things you want accomplished.

Remember to set realistic goals for your child to meet. For example: three acceptable "completes" without reminders will get him an outing with you. If the goal is not met, set a consequence, such as less television time.

An important thing to remember is that children can learn through play. When you take a walk or in a store shopping, have your child find items for you. Have him find a stop sign or a certain brand of cereal. You may want to have him pay for two items. Give him a certain amount of money and ask him to identify the coins and the value of each.

Another learning time can be a lesson in "time." Tell you child that he has an hour to play and then he has to do his homework. Help him draw a clock showing the time now and what it will look like in an hour. Remember to praise the correct responses. You will be surprised at how much learning can take place outside of a workbook and classroom. Family time can be educational, loving and fun.


Sample School Chart
Student's name:
Week of:
Subject Completed Not completed Succeeded Needed to redo Comments

Dr. Ruth Jacoby has been involved in education for more than 30 years as an educator, principal and currently as an educational consultant in Florida. She is the co-author of the School Talk! Success Series including Parent Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication With the School and Your Child, Homework Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication About Your Child's Homework and Test Talk!: Understanding the Stakes and Helping Your Children Do Their Best.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Hi I'm a second grade teacher and i am struggling to get my students to complete work at home. I've talked to parents and explained the situation but it seems that only 2 or 3 students bring in their daily homework. What can I do? Please I need help!"