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How to Motivate Your High School Student

Do Something Great neon sign

Do Something Great neon sign

An important part of being the parent of a high school student is keeping your student motivated.  Yes, a teenager should be self-motivated, but in the real world, more often they’re not.  Self-motivated students are, in fact, extremely rare.  However, you can get your student moving with much less nagging.

Here are some ways to help your student get motivated and stay motivated.

  1. Understand how motivation works

Motivation is a skill many students need to learn, both how to get motivated and how to stay motivated. Engage your student and work with him or her on figuring out what keeps them on task, and what doesn’t.  It may take some effort, but find what works for your student.   Keep in mind, what motivates you may not work for your teenager.

  1. Teach a skill rather than solve a problem

Ultimately, as a parent, it’s your job to teach your children the life-long skill of figuring out how to get things done by themselves. So, if you’re nagging your student to get things done, you may not be teaching your child what they need to learn most — how to motivate themselves for success.  Instead of engaging in a power struggle, help your child set goals. First, determine the specific goal.  For example, raising a math grade. Then, help your child come up with a strategy to accomplish the goal.  Breaking the task up into small, manageable increments, or steps is invaluable.  For example, your student will study 20 extra minutes of math a night.  Then, discuss how you will measure your child’s progress, as well as the resulting consequence for not meeting the goal.  When the parent acts reasonably and calmly, there is hope a child will follow suit. You’re modelling strategies for your children, as well as teaching them.

  1. Provide encouraging and positive feedback

The right kind of encouragement is key to motivation.  Use positive feedback, instead of praise or rewards.

 The New York Times interviewed author Peter Sims about how Pixar gave feedback that motivated, rather than discouraged its employees.  The process at Pixar is called “plussing” and Sims said: “The point is to ‘build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.’ . . . An animator working on ‘Toy Story 3’ shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. ‘Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?’ Using words like ‘and’ or ‘what if’ rather than ‘but’ is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear.”

  1. Build on your student’s interests and strengths

Finding something that your student is genuinely interested in, compelled by, or excels at is at the core of motivation.   All students what to succeed, but if your student is constantly failing at something, it’s time to change course.  For one, focus on how to improve and celebrate improvement, rather than the results. Celebrate your child’s talents and achievements whether they are in music, dancing, math or athletics. High self-esteem makes a student want to take on more.  Once a student learns the basic strategies that help them improve and be more successful at one thing, they can then begin to apply them to similar situations.

  1. Talk to your child

Many tasks can be turned into learning opportunities.   When a student sees how learning can be meaningful or relevant to his or her own life, this can get them more motivated.  Discuss what is interesting about learning more information.  When your child learns something new, encourage your child to learn even more about the topic in depth. One new thing can open up a whole new world.  Also, talk to your child about the importance of doing well in school and staying motivated because this will be important for college admissions, including getting into the college of their dreams and getting scholarships.

With patience, collaboration and understanding, you can help your child stay motivated on the path to achievement.