Positive parent-child relationships form an important background for academic motivation. Letting the children know that their parents think school is important and providing recognition for their effort and successes can motivate learning.

Brown (2009), Martin (2003), Rimm (2007), and Siegle (2013) offer the following advice for instilling academic motivation among children:

Encourage positive family relationships and responsibility

  • Provide reasonable structure to help children become independent and responsible.
  • Teach the child to be responsible at home by assigning chores and maintaining expectations for proper behaviour. Self-discipline at home can transfer to school-related learning. Take time to engage in fun-filled activities with the child individually and as a family.
  • Have regular conversations with your child and provide time to listen to his or her interests and concerns.
  • Praise the child for both trying hard and for being successful (Brown, 2009).

Model the importance of learning

  • Plan family activities that encourage learning, such as visits to the library, museums and parks.
  • Let the child know that learning is important and is one of the key purposes of school.
  • Let the child see that the parents read books, newspapers, and magazines. Talk about what they read.
  • Talk with the child about school and show an interest in what goes on at school (Brown, 2009).

Teach habits that encourage learning

  • Have a set routine for schoolwork. The child should know when he or she is expected to work on schoolwork each day.
  • Set up a place to study when the child has the needed supplies and as much quiet as necessary.
  • Help the child learn to manage time.
  • Make sure the child finishes schoolwork at home before doing things that could distract the child from doing school work.
  • Encourage the child to try new things by providing opportunities for success.
  • Give the child effort-based feedback which puts focus on effort and not on ability. The good thing about putting a focus on effort is that students believe effort is within their control and as a result feel more empowered in their studies (Martin, 2003).

Work with the child’s teacher to enhance academic motivation

  • Waiting until report comes out is often too late to make changes.
  • Communicate regularly with the child’s teacher or Year Advisor so that the parents and the teacher know what is going on in school and at home.
  • Develop a system to give reinforcements at home for working hard at school (Brown, 2009).

Help the child build self-efficacy

  • Document the child’s growth by saving their schoolwork or videotaping them perform various tasks, and sharing these moments with them later.
  • Help them understand that challenging situations are opportunities to acquire or enhance skills
  • Recognise accomplishments, improvements, and change.
  • Discuss the importance of effort.
  • Avoid “est-itis”, i.e., words such as best, greatest, finest, prettiest, fastest, strongest, and so on. Students who hear such superlative words may begin to believe that there are ceilings to achievement (Adapted from Siegle, 2013).

If the child is already having problems

  • Let the child know that the parents are willing to help him or her do better. Speak with school counsellor for help and advice.
  • Help the child identify things that he or she does well and not focus just on what the child does poorly.
  • Help the child identify things he or she likes that could be used to motivate learning.
  • Increase the amount of time the child studies by a small amount each day until he or she is spending the amount of time needed to learn well. However, the parents need to teach the child to keep balance and perspective.

Create motivational ALLIANCE with the child

  • Ally with the child privately about motivations and pressures.
  • Listen to what the child has to say.
  • Learn what the child is thinking.
  • Invite opportunities for recognition of child’s strengths.
  • Add challenging and interesting activities at home.
  • Nurture relationships with respectful and appropriate role models.
  • Celebrate their accomplishments and build on their strengths.
  • Emphasise effort, independence and realistic expectations, and ways their strengths can be used to deal with obstacles (Adapted from Rimm, 2007).

Parents have a significant role to play in the lives of their children. They can use the above mentioned strategies to build their children’s self-efficacy, help them see that their school is meaningful, and nurture caring relationships to build motivation – the inner candle – which is central to learning.

“There is not enough darkness in the world
to extinguish the light of one small candle.”
– Spanish proverb


Brown, M. R. (2009). Academic motivation: strategies for parents. National Association of School Psychologists, 38 (1), 28-29.

Martin, A. J. (2003). How to motivate your child for school and beyond. Sydney: Bantam.

Rimm, S. (2007). When overempowerment yields underachievement – strategies to adjust. Parenting for High Potential, 1, 6-11.

Siegle, D. (2013). The underachieving gifted child: Recognizing, understanding, & reversing underachievement. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press Inc.  

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