How to motivate your child to learn

Happy children
Want to support your child’s education but at a loss as to where to start? Emily Organ spoke to educational psychologist Jeni Hooper to pick up some practical, easy-action tips.

1. Build happiness and confidence

“Happy people learn better. You can help your child feel happy by giving them optimism – the belief they can do things. The ability to learn is like a muscle, it develops from practice. Ability is not a fixed thing; half of what we do is innate ability and the other half comprises of soft skills such as energy, persistence, attention, motivation and personal application.

“Parents can help children develop these skills at home by playing family games that teach children about turn taking, engaging children in conversations, and by going to places and doing activities that get children into the habit of focusing. Having a say in what they do also helps children because they feel they can contribute."

2. Allow time for play

“Young children should have adequate time for free play. This gives them the opportunity to understand effort, creativity, and challenge and to learn things for themselves. The problem with organised activities is that children can end up with no time under their control. Children don’t need wall-to-wall entertainment – they need to develop the capacity to manage on their own, which can be a useful skill in a busy classroom."

3. Find your child’s strengths

“Parents need to be aware of what their child’s strengths and interests are. We all work best when we work to our strengths. You can tell your child is enjoying something because you see their eyes light up and they demonstrate enthusiasm and spontaneity."

4. Praise your child constructively

“Focus on praising effort rather than outcome. It makes more sense for your child to compete against themselves rather than others. So this means you’re looking at how they’re progressing at learning something rather than comparing their progress to other children’s.

“When you praise your child, give specific information about what was good about what they did. This can help build their enthusiasm. We can give what we think is positive praise but is actually quite general and low key – that can be disappointing for a child to hear. Add in the odd comment, such as, ‘what were you pleased about with that?’ Encourage your child to talk about what they've done and you’ll see greater satisfaction."

5. Manage challenges well

“When something isn’t going well, have a 'problem solving' conversation with your child where you explore what might help. Give your child a chance to make a contribution and come up with options. If they can make a contribution, they can feel they own it.”

Jeni Hooper is a parenting expert and educational psychologist for Greatvine.