By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My daughter has no motivation to do well in school. She loves going to school and loves math and science. But when it comes to getting good grades or even completing homework, she couldn't care less.
Whenever I try to help her with her homework, she "plays dumb" and then I get frustrated and send her to her room. One example of this is when I spent an hour and a half trying to explain how to borrow for math problems. She couldn't even get the right answer for the simple subtraction parts. I finally got so mad that I sent her to her room. She came out five minutes later with all 30 problems done, with no help from me.
In first grade the school wanted to send her back to kindergarten because for the first three weeks she did not do a single assignment. I had to beg her to start doing her work. It seems like money is the only way to motivate her, but I want her to enjoy doing well and to want to do it for herself. Please help me!
Your concern is understandable. Because this seems to be a recurring problem, though, it's time to try a different approach. Start by talking with your daughter's teacher and find out if the same behaviors are showing up in the classroom. Does your daughter do her in-class work without problems, or is she failing to turn in assignments? Is she daydreaming, acting out or otherwise disengaged from learning? It's possible that your child is masking an undiagnosed learning disorder or attention disorder by simply not doing her work. If so, talk with the teacher about having her evaluated by the school psychologist, and check with your pediatrician about other possible health issues.
If your daughter is completing her work without difficulty at school, then the problem may simply be that your child has learned to manipulate you. You may have inadvertently reinforced your daughter's poor work habits by giving her too much attention. It may be that she "plays dumb" to keep you engaged. Create some firm rules for homework, review them with your daughter and stick to them. It is her homework, not yours. Work should come before pleasure, so no TV, video games or toys until homework is completed. Provide a quiet area free of distractions and set a timer for 20-minute work periods, if necessary, with breaks in between. You can provide help when absolutely necessary, but keep it brief and then walk away. Remember that homework usually involves material already learned in the classroom, not new concepts.
Finally, be careful about rewarding grades or work completion with tangibles, such as money. If the goal is for your daughter to develop intrinsic motivation, then paying her for work can backfire. If you absolutely need to use tangibles, make them harder to earn as the weeks go by. In other words, she will need to produce more to get the same reward.
Try praising her for effort, instead of outcome. Ask her what she likes about school, as well as what she dislikes. Ask about her peer relationships, and about extracurricular activities. Talk about things other than her grades, and you may gain some insight into her feelings and behaviors.
If these tactics don't help, you may want to consult the school counselor or a private therapist to explore your daughter's lack of interest in school.
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.
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