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Loss Of Motivation To Do Homework

As a child therapist, I am often told, “He’s not motivated. All he wants to do is watch television or play video games.” Parents urgently ask, “Why doesn’t he put more effort into his schoolwork? Why doesn’t he care?” Many parents believe that their child is “lazy.”

The answer to these questions is almost always, “Because he is discouraged.” He may also be anxious or angry, and he is stuck in this bad mood. He feels that putting effort into his schoolwork is not “worth it” and it is easier for him to pretend that he doesn’t care.

He may mask his discouragement with defiance or blame others (especially his teachers) for his lack of effort. Often, he will seek relief in activities that require little sustained effort and that offer, instead, some immediate feeling of success.

The problem of “lack of motivation” is the problem of demoralization, whether overt or disguised.

To solve the problem of a child’s lack of motivation, we need to return to first principles: Children, when they are not angry or discouraged, want to do well. They want to feel good about themselves - and about others. They want to earn our praise and approval, and they want us to be proud of them. Children say that they don’t care, but they do care.

Sustained effort is a different matter. Our ability to work hard, to sustain effort at any task, requires a feeling of accomplishment or progress along the way, and some confidence in our eventual success. All constructive activity involves moments of anxiety, frustration, and discouragement. Children who are “not motivated” too readily give in to these feelings; they do not bounce back. 

Children often hide their anxiety and discouragement behind defiant and rebellious attitudes. “What is the point of studying history or math anyway, I’m never going to use it.” “Who cares who the King of England was in 1850?” Good teachers - teachers who encourage and inspire children, and then demonstrate the relevance of learning - can help us here. But a demoralized child is unlikely to find any relevance in what we want to teach him. He will then be criticized, repeatedly, for his lack of effort, and he will become more rebellious. And he will look elsewhere for a feeling of acceptance and a feeling of pride.

How often do we understand the problem of our children’s motivation in this way? How often do we see a child’s lack of effort not as a problem of demoralization but as a “behavior” problem? How often do we blame the influence of peers, or television and other media distractions? How often do we become frustrated and angry, and then, in our frustration, tell him that he just has to work harder?

Children are not lazy. They may be frustrated and discouraged, anxious or angry; they may have become disillusioned or defiant, self-critical or pessimistic, and they may lack confidence in their ability. But this is not laziness. The misconception that kids are lazy is one of the most common, and most destructive, misunderstandings of children. It is one of the most important misunderstandings that I (and others) hope to correct.

When you understand your child’s lack of motivation as a problem of demoralization, you will be able to look for the real causes of her lack of enthusiasm and effort, and you will be more likely to find helpful solutions.

Undiagnosed (or under-appreciated) attention and learning disorders are the most common source of discouragement and lack of sustained effort (“motivation”) in children. For these children, doing schoolwork or homework is like running with a sprained ankle - it is possible, although painful - and they will look for ways to avoid or postpone this painful and discouraging task. Or they may run ten steps and then find a reason to stop.

What Really Motivates Children?

Motivation begins with interest. Interest leads to exploration and learning, and to the development of projects. Projects then become ambitions and goals. Like all of us, children want to do what they are “good at.” They want to shine and feel proud. And, again, they want us to be proud of them.

A child’s motivation is also sustained by ideals. Children want to become like, to learn from, and to earn the respect of the people they admire. Too often, we overlook this fundamental aspect of children’s motivation and emotional development. We do not stop often enough, I believe, to consider our idealization in the eyes of our children - how children look to us and look up to us - and how we remain for our children, throughout life, sources of affirmation and emotional support.

Rewards and punishments have some short-term effect on children’s effort. We are all motivated, to some extent, to earn rewards and avoid punishment. But rewards and punishments cannot create interests or goals.

I sometimes think of children’s motivation in the form of equations:

Motivation = interest + a sense of one’s competence + relevance + ideals

Motivation = interest + confidence (the anticipation of success) + the anticipation of recognition (praise or appreciation) for our effort

Motivation = having a goal + feeling that we can achieve it

In my next post, I will offer solutions to this common problem, ways that we can strengthen our children’s motivation and effort.

Copyright Ken Barish, Ph.D. 

Ken Barish, Ph.D., is a the author of Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child's Emotions and Solving Family Problems.

If you’re in desperate need of some motivation, we’re going to fix that problem, right here, right now.

Prepare yourself.

WARNING: I’m going to swear and yell a little in this post.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

You said you needed motivation. I’m going to do what needs to be done to get your ass in gear. NO EXCUSES.

If this isn’t the kind of motivation you need, leave now. You’ve been warned.

Alright.

Here goes.

Do you want to get off your ass and start producing instead of wallowing in despair, depression, self pity, fear, doubt or whatever is holding you back?

Let’s DO THIS.

The point of this exercise is to give you motivation to do something right now. Don’t just absorb this and continue sitting around procrastinating.

TAKE ACTION.

Follow the steps below carefully.

The world doesn’t care.

And if you’re feeling depressed or down, stop feeling sorry for yourself while you’re at it. It doesn’t matter.

We all face obstacles. How you deal with those obstacles defines who you are and determines how successful you are in life.

Did you catch that? It was the secret to life. Seriously.

Let me say it again.

We all face obstacles. How you deal with those obstacles defines who you are and determines how successful you are in life.

Period. End of story.

3. If the motivation you need is to work on building your own business, watch this video.

I don’t care if you’ve seen it before. Watch it again.

Be warned, if you’re not working towards being self employed, this video might push you in that direction.

4. Put a pot of coffee on or get some tea brewing.

Try a bulletproof coffee if you need an extra kick.

5. If you haven’t eaten something, eat a little snack now.

For god’s sake don’t eat a fucking twinkie or some other junk food.

Eat something healthy. Eat some nuts or fruit. Take your vitamins.

6. Do one of the following three things:

A) Take a shower, OR

B) Go for a brisk walk, OR

C) Call the friend who most lifts you up and makes you feel great after every conversation. Tell him or her that you need a little pep talk. Put a 10 minute limit on the conversation.

7. If you’re around people right now, go tell one of them how much you appreciate him or her.

Just say, “hey, I wanted to tell you that I appreciate you because…”

If you’re not around people, think about something or someone you’re grateful for. Go over the reasons you’re grateful in your mind.

Gratitude is happiness. Happiness is motivating. Be grateful more often by thinking about who and what you’re happy for, or by telling someone.

8. If you normally sit down to work, stand up.

Standing up to work is motivating. It gets the blood flowing.

9. Turn off email, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and whatever other social procrastination network you’re part of.

Turn off the TV if it’s on.

Seriously, TURN THEM OFF.

10. Now, put on your favorite music playlist.

Play something that gets you jacked.

Hint: try the playlist you use at the gym.

(If you don’t regularly go to the gym or workout otherwise, start doing that tomorrow. You have to be healthy to stay motivated.)

11. List the top 3 positive outcomes of achieving your task.

Think about what you’re planning to accomplish today.

Don’t worry about everything that’s holding you back from accomplishing it. Instead, focus on the positive things that will happen once you get it done.

For example, if you have homework to do, your list might look like this:

1) I’ll learn something useful.
2) I’ll make myself and my teacher proud of what I accomplished.
3) I’ll get closer to achieving a good grade in the class so I can graduate and move on to doing what I’m really meant to do in life.

Write down the three things. Don’t skip this part. Make sure you focus on the 3 most important outcomes.

12. Think about the part of doing this task that you enjoy.

Most tasks have some enjoyable component to them.

Focus on what you like about what you have to do, no matter how simple or how small. Enjoy the very act of doing your task for what it’s worth.

13. Listen to this podcast episode

We’ve just recorded an episode of our podcast about THIS VERY ISSUE.

If you want to listen to some motivation (and learn some tricks for staying motivated) you won’t want to miss it.

How To Stay Motivated (The Fizzle Show #10) »

14. Now here’s the most important part.

Lock yourself in a room with the thing you need to be doing.

Don’t leave until you make some progress.

Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or axe to the grindstone.

Stop looking for external motivation. Stop letting yourself procrastinate.

Start going through the motions of making progress. At first it might feel forced, but eventually you’ll get in the groove.

What to do if this doesn’t work.

We all have things to do that we really just don’t want to do, but have to for some reason. These are the toughest to find motivation for.

For these especially difficult situations, I recommend two things.

First, question whether or not this thing really needs to be done.

What are the consequences of not doing it? Can you live with the consequences? Is there any way to not do this thing?

Then, if you still conclude that this thing absolutely has to get done, focus on simply getting past it.

Imagine the relief of not having this thing on your plate anymore.

How will that make you feel?

Dig deep. See how quickly you can possibly do this thing.

Do it now and move on to stuff you really want to do.

Bonus tip for creative entrepreneurs and online business builders

If you need an ongoing kick in the pants to focus your energy on building a business or becoming a successful freelancer, we have a brand new podcast just for you called The Fizzle Show.

Check out our new podcast for creative entrepreneurs and online business builders »

Thanks for reading. Now go out and get something important done.

Please share this with someone else who needs motivation.

In the comments below, share your other favorite motivation hacks and tell me what this post helped you achieve.

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One topic that comes up over and over again with both groups is mistakes made in starting businesses. Newbies love to learn about mistakes so they can avoid them. Veterans love to talk about what they wish they had known when starting out.

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