There comes a time in most parents’ lives when they are concerned that their child is simply not putting enough effort into their studies. They may have gotten a bad mark on a test, or negative comments on their report, or received detention for incomplete homework. This can be a difficult time for a parent; you know that you have to be firm but, at the same time, you are worried that if you approach it the wrong way, if you nag, threaten, bribe, or embarrass your child, they are unlikely to respond positively. So, how do you talk to a child about their academic attitude in a way that will leave them feeling supported and motivated? Here are my 5 top tips.

1. Set A Positive Tone

Children are excellent at detecting tone. From the beginning of the conversation, they will instantly detect any anger or negativity in your voice. This is likely to make your child defensive, leading them to make up excuses, deflect responsibility and try to change the subject as quickly as possible. As hard as it may be, you need to establish a positive tone to the discussion. Try starting by stating their strengths. Here are some examples…

“You got really amazing marks in English this year. Imagine if you could do that well in Maths as well!”

“You’re a really smart kid. We think you’re capable of performing well on your exams. What can we do to help you with this?”

“I know you want to get in to a Science degree after VCE. I want to make sure you have the best possible chance of being successful. You deserve it.”

2. Focus On Their Goals

As you surely know, it’s very hard to motivate your child to do something unless it is linked to something that they personally care about. Any discussion on academic improvement should start with a discussion of your child’s personal academic goals. Ask them what they want to achieve this year, what new skills they want to learn and what marks they want to achieve on their exams. Try to make this an enjoyable process, in which your child can imagine how proud and satisfied they will be if they achieve these goals. The more positive emotions you can connect to goal setting, the more successful it is likely to be. If your child aspires to be a doctor or a physician, for example, tell them how in a few years they could be curing people’s illnesses and saving lives. However, in order to become one, the youngster must excel academically in order to gain admission to a prestigious college such as Chatham University (for more information, click or similar institutions. You could show them photos of these colleges and tell them how successful they might be if they study hard. All of these things could assist the child to develop a goal that will aid them in their education.

3. Formalise An Action Plan

The goal of any productive discussion should be the formulation of a clear action plan. Once you have discussed your child’s goals, talk about what they (and you) can do to make sure they achieve the goals. This could involve formulating a study plan, organising extra tutoring, setting aside time each day to revise skills or organising resources. The more specific this plan can be, the better. For example, a good, specific action plan might look like this…

Goal: Improve my spelling by the end of the term

Things I have to do:

1. Practice my spelling words for 10 minutes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday night.

2. After each spelling test on Monday, write out the words I got wrong 10 times each.

3. Read for 20 minutes every Monday and Thursday night to improve my vocabulary.

4. Create a progress chart to monitor my improvement over the term.

4. Follow Up Regularly

There’s no point in having a productive discussion and formulating a clear action plan if it’s all forgotten by the next week. Once you have set goals with your child, make sure that you sit down with them every week or two and discuss how their progress is going. Has the action plan improved their performance, or are they falling back into old habits? Is there anything that you need to modify to improve the plan? Academic improvement is not something that happens overnight. It requires a constant process of trial, error, reflection and improvement.

5. Don’t Revert To Threats Or Bribes

As difficult as it might be, it is important not to revert to threats (such as taking away their video games or not allowing them to see friends) or bribes (such as a present or money) to motivate your child to improve. While this may motivate them in the short term, encouraging your child to focus on the consequences of their performance, rather than the feeling of pride and satisfaction they will get from working hard, will ultimately fail as a long term motivational technique. The second that the threat or bribe is taken away, their motivation will disappear as well.

If you would like any more information on how you can help your child improve their attitude towards education, please feel free to contact us at We’re always happy to help!