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Don't give up on motivating kids to study: Expert

First thing that parents should do: Find out why child is uninterested
The Straits Times - April 11, 2014
By: Sandra Davie Senior Education Correspondent
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Don't give up on motivating kids to study: Expert Prof Martin says it is vital to give children very specific information, advice, encouragement, direction and support. -- PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES

ACADEMIC motivation is the key to how well a student does in school, but increasingly parents find it difficult to get their children away from their mobile phones to take an interest in what they are learning.

However despite the distraction from the likes of Facebook and YouTube, child motivation expert Andrew Martin says parents can still win.

The University of New South Wales academic, who will speak at the inaugural Straits Times Education Forum on May 4, believes it is just a matter of having the right understanding of how motivation works.

He says motivation is "a student's energy and drive to learn, work effectively and achieve", adding: "There are many aspects to it, from whether a child enjoys learning to how the child handles failure."

Levels of motivation are changeable - which means that parents should never give up on their children as they can always do something about it.

"My advice to parents is to first figure out why the child is unmotivated and, if the issue is dealt with, over time the child will respond," he advises.

Latest research shows that academic resilience - a child's ability to deal with academic setbacks - plays a big part in whether they remain motivated.

Lecturing children to be more motivated, or even telling them to improve their attitude, is not really helpful. Instead, it is vital to give children very specific information, advice, encouragement, direction and support.

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

To build up a child's self-confidence, Professor Martin says parents should challenge negative thinking.

For example, if a child who gets an A thinks it was due to luck, then the parent 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.

"When children do this, they immediately build more success into their life, which in turn leads them to think more positively about themselves."

He also advises parents to avoid comparing their child's grades with those of their classmates. Instead, they should focus on the child's personal best, in the same way that athletes try to better their running times.

"Instead of looking around at everyone else's marks, they are focused on their own game and try and improve for personal rather than competitive reasons."

Last but not least, he says, praise is important - but it should be tied to a child's effort or attitude rather than the 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: "Congrats. I know you worked hard on this exam."

Parents can learn more about academic motivation at The Straits Times Education Forum, which will be held at the Singapore Management University, the event's venue partner.

They will also get to hear from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on how they can work with schools to support their children.

National University of Singapore undergraduate David Hoe, 26, will share what spurred him on as a Normal (Technical) stream student to aim for university and a teaching career.

Parents can pose questions on choosing a primary school to Ms Genevieve Chye, who heads Montfort Junior School.

Those who want advice on saving up for their children's education can pose their questions to Mr Stanz Tan, POSB expert, who is vice-president of Bancassurance.

Parents can sign up for the event at


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