How can two children growing up in the same house with the same parents be so different when it comes to motivation and self-discipline? This was the mantra in our home when my husband and I were called to Cherokee Middle School to have a meeting with ALL of our son’s 7th grade teachers (in one room) to discuss his unwillingness to turn in assigned work – even when that work could be completed during regular class time. His older sister (by five years) never had to be told to do her homework, had great attendance, and excellent grades. Both children were tested for the Springfield Public School’s Wings program prior to second grade, and both qualified with the exact same IQ score. So what was the problem? Simple—high IQ doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with high motivation.
When we met with Jake’s counselor in middle school, we were told that sometimes adolescent boys can never be motivated, we were in denial. Surely there was another reason—not our son. Maybe we needed to be stricter and use more punishment.
After no luck in finding any consequences or punishment that would change Jake’s actions, the next few years were a struggle. The key to keeping him from getting failing grades was lots of involvement and staying the course. The push back was relentless and many times wore us down, but we knew that deep inside the teenage boy who said he didn’t care about getting good grades was a very smart young man. We celebrated the victories no matter how small. Many times we had to set the bar lower and work our way up, and then there were the times when a new semester began and we reminded Jake he had an opportunity to start fresh and at the top.
I wish I could tell you that loving your children and giving them the attention they need will conquer any problem. It certainly does help, but with Jake it took us until he was 15 to finally uncover the motivation he needed. When we informed him he could only take his drivers’ test if he had a “B” average, he turned the corner. After his grades improved, he was given more opportunities to show what he could do if given more responsibility and he flourished. It was like a light bulb went off in his head and he discovered how much better everything could be if he followed the rules.
Many of you reading this are dads (and moms) of young children and want your children to be successful in school and in life. You may already know parenting can be one of the most challenging and most rewarding things you will ever do. We are now the parents of two adult children, ages 32 and 27, who both turned out to have an amazing work ethic and a “never give up” attitude. Though the path they each took to get to school and life success looked different, our children turned out to be more than we could have hoped for.
Have you figured out what motivates your child to be successful in school? It could take some time and experimentation to identify what works, but don’t give up. Remember, success doesn’t always look the same for all children. Finding out what makes them tick can be exciting, challenging and rewarding for you and them.
Celeste Skidmore is a member of the Good Dads board. She can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.