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How Can I Motivate My Child?

Allison Gardenswartz
Allison Gardenswartz

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


My first-grader was recently tested for the gifted program and she missed it by 1%. The main problem is her motivation and not her intelligence. How can I motivate her to achieve? She does have the potential, but she gets distracted too fast from the task at hand. She often leaves certain questions blank in her school tests even though she knows how to solve them. When I ask her why, she casually replies, "I don't know why I did that."


Perhaps you should start by discussing her performance with the classroom teacher to determine whether the teacher thinks that she does not always perform to her potential. If the teacher concurs, then the next step is to work on the motivation for academic success.

In the younger years, we often start this with external motivation - prizes and rewards for success. Challenge your daughter with specific academic tasks and see if she can meet the challenges. Then praise and reward the accomplishment. It is essential that you determine that she is capable of the challenge first. If she leaves questions blank because they perplex her, you will be setting her up to fail.

The other possible scenario is that she is very bright and finds the school work boring. If it is not challenging or stimulating enough, she may not give her work the focus and attention it deserves. If this is the case, you will want to work with the classroom teacher to take the content that is being studied in class and apply it at a higher, more conceptual level so your daughter has to ponder and challenge herself to complete the class work. Again, the classroom teacher is your best resource to solve the puzzle.

As far as the distraction component of your question, remember that attention span and focus are acquired skills and increase with maturity. Distraction for a first-grader is normal. You need to provide stimulating, age-appropriate tasks and then allow for breaks (both mental and physical) between them. Ask the classroom teacher how the school day is structured and in particular, how your daughter's day is set up, to determine if external distractions can be minimized. Is she seated near a window or the pencil sharpener (two of the most distracting things to first-graders)? Try to work with the teacher to minimize distractions and set your daughter up for 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.