Praise child for his efforts, not grades

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 1, 2014

Much research has been done in the area of child motivation.

A leading expert on child motivation, Sydney University Professor Andrew Martin, points out: Motivation is multifaceted.

According to him, there are many aspects to it, from whether a child enjoys learning to how the child handles failure.

And the majority of children, even those seen to be lacking in motivation, do well in some ways and not in others.

In addition, motivation levels are changeable - which means that parents should never give up on their children.

They can always do something about it, figure out why the child is unmotivated and, if the issue is dealt with, the child will respond over time.

But he notes that these strategies will work better when a parent and child have a good relationship.

It is only when parents have a good relationship with their children that they can influence them.

Some of the latest research shows that academic resilience, which refers to a child's ability to deal with academic setbacks, plays a big part in whether a child remains motivated.

What parents can do

LECTURING children to be more motivated, or even telling them to improve their attitude or behaviour, is not really helpful.

Instead, it is vital to give children very specific information, advice, encouragement, direction and support.

Children who have positive self-belief tend to get better results, do difficult schoolwork confidently, feel optimistic, try hard and enjoy school.

To build up your child's self-confidence, Prof Martin suggests challenging negative thinking traps.

For example, a child who gets an "A" may think it was luck. Parents should encourage him to recognise and take credit for his success.

He also recommends "chunking" - where schoolwork is divided into bite-size pieces. The completion of each piece is seen as a success.

Not only does this strategy provide multiple success experiences, but it is also a very effective way of building motivation.

The student is being rewarded with success throughout the process, which sustains interest and persistence.

Parents should also avoid comparing their child's grades with those of his classmates.

Instead, they should focus on the child's personal best, in the same way that athletes try to better their own running times.

Praise is important but it should be tied to a child's effort, behaviour or attitude, rather than his results.

When a child comes back with an "A", instead of saying "You are a wonderful child to get an 'A'", the parent should say "I know you worked hard on this exam. Congrats".

This way, the child does not end up thinking that his worth is based on the marks he gets. If he does, he may start to fear failure because his parents' love is at stake.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 1, 2014

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to