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Raise a Motivated Learner

One of the biggest frustrations parents face is getting their child motivated to learn. Whether it’s mastering multiplication, learning a language, or sticking with the soccer team despite riding the bench most of the season, it can be difficult to get your kid to embrace learning. A child’s reluctance to venture into unfamiliar territory is understandable - learning something new can be frustrating and failure can be discouraging or, worse, embarrassing. However, you can take steps to boost your child’s eagerness to face new challenges.

Here are five strategies you can start using today to help your child become a motivated learner:

Encourage your child to see learning as an opportunity to get smarter, go farther. Extensive research has shown a direct link between what a child thinks of their abilities and their willingness to face obstacles. Specifically, when a child sees their abilities as fixed and not subject to improvement, they worry their intelligence will be questioned whenever they fail or exert too much effort in learning a new task. As a result of this ‘fixed mindset,’ the child views challenges as potential sources of ‘looking dumb,’ and loses motivation when the work stops being easy.

In contrast, a child who believes the harder they work at something the better they’ll get at it and sees obstacles as opportunities to add to their skill set, not as potential blows to their self-confidence, has a ‘growth mindset.’ They understand that continuous effort is necessary to succeed and shows an increased motivation to keep learning - even in the face of mistakes or failure.

You can encourage your child to adopt a growth mindset by emphasizing the strategies the child uses in pursuing a goal, rather than focusing on their ability. For example, use words that praise your child’s efforts in achieving a goal (“You studied hard and did great!”) versus words that praise your child’s intelligence (“You got an A on that test because you’re so smart!”).  

This emphasis on process boosts your child’s enthusiasm to learn by teaching them that good results often come from persistent effort, not necessarily innate ability.

2. Make learning fun. To further foster motivated learning, you can turn lessons into fun activities by encouraging your child to explore their interests. If your child is interested in music, sign them up to play an instrument of their choosing or take them to children’s music concerts.

If your child is interested in history or dinosaurs, take them to a museum or head to your local library to peruse through books on the subject. For a younger learner, use colorful puzzles and board games to help your little one excel at concepts that pique their interest.

3. Respect your childs frustrations and need for downtime. It’s unreasonable to expect a child to be motivated all of the time. When you don’t acknowledge a child’s frustration with learning new skills, they are more likely to disengage from the learning process. However, exploring your child’s hesitation to learn can give them the reassurance they need to keep striving.

Likewise, be respectful of your child’s need for downtime. Giving your kid unstructured time to play or hang around the house lets them recharge and process what they learned during the structured part of their day. This boosts creativity as your child dreams up ways to fill their free time, and also builds character as your child plays with - and resolves conflicts with - other children their age. 

4. Allow your child to fail. Although it seems counterintuitive at first, part of helping your child learn how not to become discouraged when faced with a challenge is to let them fail and learn how to bounce back from that failure. Letting your kid fail teaches them resilience and how to take responsibility for the natural consequences of their actions. Importantly, when your child experiences how their poor effort leads to a poor result, they may be incentivized to refocus their efforts at succeeding.

5. Lead by example. One of the most effective ways you can teach a child to embrace learning is to immerse them in a household where you are enthusiastic about learning, too. Show your child your commitment to learning by reading avidly, taking a class, or engaging enthusiastically in a hobby of your interest.

Not only will your child see that working hard doesn’t have to be a solitary undertaking, but they will witness firsthand the personal satisfaction that comes from relishing a challenge.

Dolores draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Her work has appeared in Motherly, Moms of Tweens and Teens, Savvy Mom, and Busted Halo, among others. A perfect day for her includes running, reading, and spending time with her husband and three kids. Connect with her @LolaWordSmyth


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