Underachievement: How to Motivate Kids

Underachievement: How to Motivate Kids

Underachievement is always a concern for parents and educators, and it is even more important now as kids face many additional challenges that can affect how well they do in school and their desire for learning. This blog is the first in a series of three blogs about underachievement that I hope will give some insight into how to motivate your kids and students using the time-tested principles of the Love and Logic approach.

In this first blog of the series, I will give you practical and proven strategies that are designed to give you the tools for rebuilding the foundation of your child’s emotional needs and give them the freedom to learn. Always remember that the first step in helping underachievers is to demonstrate a sincere desire to help, not to punish.

The Foundation of Success
Something ironic often happens when we place our focus on character instead of grades: Our children’s academic achievement slowly begins to improve. Why? Because successful students know how to:

  • Delay gratification
  • Persevere when a task becomes boring or tedious
  • Maintain a positive attitude when they make mistakes or experience failure
  • Accept corrective feedback without becoming angry, sullen, or depressed
  • Cooperate and compromise

Focusing on character teaches our children the core competencies required for success with academic learning. Although their grades might not be as high as those “earned” by children whose parents are micromanaging every aspect of the academic education, or by children whose parents are doing more homework than their kids are, they will be far better prepared for life.

What can we do with our underachiever? Listed below are just a few things we can do daily to dramatically up the odds for success.

  • Recognize and celebrate their gifts
  • Expect politeness and respect
  • Expect them to complete their fair share of family chores
  • Allow them to do without some of the things they want
  • Create a duller home so that school seems more exciting
  • Let them struggle
  • Help them develop a sense of purpose
  • Love them for who they are, not for the grades they get

Chores and School Success
Chores represent a key portion of the foundation required for lifelong success! Are your children completing them without reminders and without pay? If not, they’re missing out on vital opportunities to learn responsibility and to feel like loved and needed members of the family.

When they learn how to do chores without a battle, the odds go way up that they’ll also learn to complete their schoolwork without a battle. When we treat our children like guests in a five-star, all-inclusive resort, their true self-esteem plummets and they develop attitudes of entitlement.

Low self-esteem and entitlement go hand in hand; either equals low or no motivation.
To prevent this from happening, follow Love and Logic’s ABCs for getting children to do chores:

A: Assign every member of your family some meaningful contributions.
Ask yourself, “What am I doing that my children could do on a regular basis?” Many parents find it helpful to post this list on the refrigerator, complete with names next to each contribution.
Caution: Don’t be tempted to say, “Do it now.” This just creates power struggles. Instead, allow them to have a deadline for each contribution.

B: Be quiet.
Avoid reminding or nagging. Remember: Children who are nagged into doing their chores will become children who need to be nagged into doing their schoolwork and homework.

C: Consequences preceded by sincere empathy will do the teaching.
When children refuse to do their chores, forget, or do them haphazardly, many parents find it helpful to complete the chore for their child, and then expect their child to repay the time and energy expended to accomplish those contributions.

Sometimes this means doing extra chores for the parent. Sometimes this means staying home or doing without some privilege so that the parent has time to rest and relax; other times this means paying the parent or a professional to do the job. A memorable example involved a teen who had to pay a maid service to complete her housework contributions.

Hard-Earned Success
One of the most common questions I’m asked by parents and educators is, “How do we handle bad grades?” Here are some ideas to keep in mind that will help handle bad grades.

We can’t learn for kids.

The first thing to remember is that a child’s report card is the child’s, not ours. Even though it’s easy to get down on ourselves when kids perform poorly, it’s very important for our mental health, and theirs, to remember that we can’t control every action they take or decision they make. As educators and parents, the most important thing we can do is up the odds of high achievement by modeling responsibility, establishing a safe and calm environment, providing excellent instruction, and demonstrating excitement for learning.

Many highly successful people struggled with grades as children.

It’s comforting to remember that some of the world’s most successful people have struggled with grades. Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Jim Fay, and Dr. Foster Cline are some notable examples. What’s most important is that our children develop good character, curiosity, and problem-solving skills.

Remember to respond with sincere love and concern.

Finally, if we can consistently demonstrate empathy rather than anger or frustration, the odds of kids overcoming their difficulties dramatically increase. Is empathy really that powerful? Yes indeed! In fact, a growing body of research is demonstrating that warmth (i.e., empathy) is strongly correlated with higher achievement and better behavior.

When your child brings home a disappointing report card, remember to express something like the following example of love and concern:

"Oh man. I bet these grades are really disappointing for you.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
The good news is that this doesn’t change the way I feel about you."

Remember: The key to success hinges on sincere empathy! Anger and frustration create resentment, while sincere empathy creates responsibility.

There is nothing more motivating than success, particularly when that success is hard-earned. When we build relationships that make it safe for children to take healthy risks, encourage and guide them along the way, and allow them to see themselves being successful, the foundation for academic achievement motivation is strengthened.

Learn more ways you can build a foundation of success in our webinar, Success with Underachievers: Creating Self-Motivated Learners.


Thanks for reading!

Dr. Charles Fay

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