Practical Tips for Motivating Kids This School Year


As we send our kids off to school this year, it’s our natural inclination to say, “Do your best!”, but what do these three words really mean? And is this phrase motivating kids or not? In working with hundreds of families over the years, I’ve found that “do your best” is ambiguous and has different meanings to kids and parents. Perhaps a better way to encourage students to work to their potential is to strike the phrase and instead, set a simple, tangible goal.

To Improve Motivation, Be Specific

Let’s say that your fifth has chronically struggled to stay organized. Saying, “Do your best to stay organized this year” will not work. But what if you replaced that phrase with a question such as, “Jimmy, what’s one easy way you might stay organized this year?” Open it up to a discussion. It could be that if Jimmy simply packed his backpack up the night before and put it by the door, he would be more organized. And often, when kids are more organized, they feel more confident and in control. This simple step can result in greater motivation.

Motivating Kids When Technology is a Distraction

You could be the parent of a teen who is up late at night on her laptop or phone, snuggled in bed with her gadgets. Lack of sleep and an over-reliance on technology can zap any student’s motivation to some degree. It could be that this is not just a problem with the children in your household but also the adults. Perhaps you have a family goal in this case, not just an individual one, that everyone puts their phones, tablets, and laptops on a charging station each night by 9:30 pm. Often, turning off a switch results in magical things happening, like reading for pleasure.

Small Changes Can Have Large Impacts

Last week, I met with a family looking to find a private school for their eighth grade daughter, Samantha. Sam is a solid student and always diligent about doing her homework, but she often puts studying off until the last minute. We discussed ways she could troubleshoot this obstacle and she came up with the idea that she would review the notes she took in class that day for just 20 minutes before starting her homework. Sam feels confident that this easy strategy will pay off in the form of higher test scores this school year.

Sometimes, it’s little changes like these that have a bigger impact than carrots and sticks. Time and time again, research has shown that rewarding children and teens to “do their best” with tangibles such as clothes, video games, and money do not work out. Instead, try setting just one individual or family goal this year. Let me know how it goes!