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Motivating an Underachiever

From kindergarten through first grade, Allison Evenski of Rochester, NY, would get so frustrated with her homework that it sometimes would go undone. "She felt inadequate, and this left her unwilling to try," says her mom, Linda.

All kids struggle with schoolwork sometimes, but at least one out of ten are consistently unable to finish big tasks like homework and chores, says Peter A. Spevak, Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Motivation in Rockville, MD, and the co-author of Empowering Underachievers. The tendency is usually sparked during grade school, when children start facing stepped-up workloads and high teacher expectations.

Scared he won't do well, your child may give up quickly, or not try. To help:

[BOLD {? Lead by example.}] Share the good things about being responsible  -- say how happy you felt when your boss said, "Job well done." He'll see that reward of hard work.

[BOLD {? Show him how to follow through.}] Teach him that there's satisfaction in completing a job, even if it's not all that interesting. Have him set the dinner table every night. Then you both can sit back and admire the good work.

[BOLD {? Give him a say.}] He won't excel at everything he does, but your child can reach goals that he has a hand in setting, whether it's learning to count by tens or spelling words that end with "at."

[BOLD {? Don't push too hard.}] Encourage him to try making it through an early reader -- but let him know that getting most of the words right is great, too.

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