HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

Ask the Experts

How Can I Get My Child to Care?

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


My second-grader only tries hard when he knows he will be rewarded. When he does not get the reward because of misbehaving he just loses interest and no longer cares. How can I get him to care about his work?


I am not sure if you are talking about "trying hard" academically or behaviorally. It is important that children try hard in both areas and get rewarded in both.

But realistic expectations are necessary. Sometimes we dangle big rewards at children that are too difficult to attain. A good reward system has smaller rewards that can be achieved daily, culminating with a larger reward. So, if a child has a bad day, he might lose the small reward (the sticker for the day) but could still be in the running for the bigger weekend reward.

Sometimes the way to get children to invest in their work and their behavior is to involve them in the creation of the reward system. Let your son help establish what the daily and weekly rewards will be. Let him suggest the consequences as well. Then you are expecting him to live within a system that he has helped to create. Of course, he will need guidance at age 8, but it is a great learning experience for him.

It is important to enjoy and make note of the success achieved so that your son feels the excitement of achievement and thus builds the intrinsic motivation to want to succeed further. It is a cycle that feeds itself quite nicely, once the initial success is achieved. Talk with your son about how great it feels to succeed and reward him with your praise and pride in his success.

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

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

"Although rewards are an integral part of motivating young minds, ultimately many parents wish to encourage self-motivation. I found the book, 'Mindset', by Carol Dweck very interesting and informative. One key point is that we should move away from telling our kids 'how smart' they are, and praise their hard work and effort instead. Kids who feel they are doing well by putting forth effort know the praise will continue with more effort. Kids who are constantly told they are 'so smart' feel they must live up to this expectation and fear failure. "