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Nagging Your Child Won't Motivate Him to Excel in School: 5 Tactics to Use Instead
  • Every parent wants a bright future for their child. It's why we highly value education and do everything to get our kids to do well in school. But, there is a difference between motivating your child to learn and pressuring him to get perfect scores. 

    Too much pressure can backfire, according to pediatrician and child psychologist Dr. Joseph Regalado and school guidance counselor Marivic Racho. An over-emphasis on being the top in class, winning, and getting perfect scores may cause your child to measure his self-worth on achievements.

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    Moreover, a child who feels too pressured to excel may become fearful of failure and disappointment, which leads to an unwillingness to explore and try new things. So, from experts, here are tips on how to best encourage your child without pushing him over the edge: 

    1. Set the right kind of expectations
    Jim Taylor, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in parenting, explains in an article for Psychology Today, “Expectations communicate messages to your children about what’s important to you and establish a standard toward which your children can strive.”  
    However, you have to set the right kind of expectations, Taylor adds. Telling your child that you expect him to be at the top of his class or get perfect scores can easily backfire. Instead, make it clear that you expect him to do his best in whatever he does. Focus on the process (e.g. working hard), not on the outcome (e.g. being on the honors list). 

    “By focusing on the process rather than the outcome, your children will more likely perform better and, if they perform better, they’re more likely to achieve the outcome you wanted in the first place,” said Taylor. 

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    2. Praise your child, not his grades
    Tell your child when you’re happy with her performance. “Kids want to please their parents,” psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., tells Parents. “That sense of connection is powerfully motivating.” 

    When you do praise your kiddo, remember to praise her efforts, not her grades. This will let him know that success comes, not just with relying on natural ability, but also with hard work and determination. So, avoid phrases like, “Wow, I’m so happy you got a perfect score. You’re so smart.” Instead, try “You must have studied well and worked hard. I'm proud of you.” 

    3. Look for solutions, not explanations
    “The worst scenario is when explanations are sought from the children, who may not always know why they performed below expectation,” said Dr. Regalado. Instead of putting your child down, be supportive and look for solutions together. If he’s having difficulty with math, maybe you can go through his homework with him. 

    But don’t give all the answers. “I think it gives them a sense of confidence to know that if there is a challenging moment, as a parent you’re helping them to problem solve it through as opposed to completely removing it or taking the problem away,” said Dr. Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist at Child Mind Institute. “A child really does feel accomplished and good about the fact that they were able to get through it.” 

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    4. Know what your child is interested in and good at
    Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the founding president of the Child Mind Institute, advised parents to ask themselves: “Are we encouraging or pushing our kids because it’s in their best interest, or is it something we’re doing for ourselves?”

    Take time to evaluate why you’re pushing your child in a certain direction. You may be putting so much emphasis on math because you want him to grow up to be an accountant when it’s in the arts that your child most excels in. You could be forcing him to play basketball (to his many protests) because you were in your school varsity team when you were his age.  

    “I always tell parents the things that motivate us might not necessarily motivate them,” said Dr. Domingues. Find what motivates your child. It’s where he’ll most likely excel and find happiness — and therefore, so will you. 

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    5. Stop nagging and lead by example
    You're tired of nagging your child to do better in school, and she's tired of listening to the same things over and over again. Change your strategy and lead by example. “If you are a parent who is hard-working, has a good career, and a good income, it doesn’t help to push your child,” said Suniya Luthar, Ph.D., foundation professor of psychology at Arizona State University and professor emerita of Columbia University's Teachers College, to VeryWell

    Model resilience, said Dr. Koplewicz. Show him that you, too, do your best and work hard to reach your goals. Voice it out when you can. Say things like, “This recipe isn’t easy to cook, but I want our family to eat yummy food. so I'll try to see if I can make it” or “Mom also thinks that it’s hard to wake up so early in the morning. But I have an obligation to go to work, and I take my obligations seriously.”

    Your child knows you only want the best for him. But he also needs to know that you love him whether or not he gets awards and medals. 

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