Where to find motivation to go to school?

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Some children do not want or even hate going to school simply because they are constantly being told what to do (e.g. to study a particular subject this particular hour) or are not allowed to do something that they would love (e.g. to leave school’s territory). They even feel like in a prison. Some parents accept their children’s whining as a norm and say that “I have to work. You have to study. It is your work”. It is your prison. For twelve years. Other parents worry and look for solutions.

One parent heard his son’s complaints about not liking his school and after serious considerations sent him to a so called Sudbury school where children literally do what they want all day. That parent happened to be a psychology professor. He later started the movement of Self-Directed Education with the main idea that children should direct their own learning. This is in the United States.

In Belgium, to my knowledge, Sudbury school opened twice and for some reason closed twice (although one still exists in Ghent). So there is no hope sending our children to the place where they literally do what they want. Alternative education or private schools do follow a child more and adapt to individual child’s needs although there are still many rules. These schools are usually expensive or impossible to get in because of their popularity.

So where to find motivation for a child when she does not want to go to school?

First of all, I am not discussing here serious obstacles causing social, emotional, behavioral or academic difficulties, which we should try to solve. Reluctance to go to school might mean your child being teased by other children. It might mean her wanting to be friends with a particular child, which does not work well. It might simply mean wanting more attention from her teacher. Or some difficulties with a particular academic subject. Or anxiety, when your child needs your support and professional help.

In the absence of serious obstacles, a child not liking her school shows lack of her inner motivation.

The huge difficulty for many parents is that inner motivation just cannot be found outside. As the illustration humorously shows you will not find your motivation under your bed or through the window. Similarly as you can lead a horse to a pond but you cannot make him drink, you can show a child how interesting the school is but you cannot make her like this school. So this is a difficult part – you cannot do much from outside if your child hates school. When you say that “school is fun, look at how other children enjoy the school, you learn at school a lot of interesting things”, it is trying to impose your view from outside. Your child most likely will not accept that and you will be disappointed. If you bribe your child by offering candies or screen time after the school – that’s also influence from outside. Stating that “I have to work, you have to go to school” does not change anything but states the fact: it is true that your child does have to go to school and still she does not like it. All those attempts to influence from outside can help a child develop resistance rather than motivation.

Inner child’s motivation could be found where it resides – in the child, from the child. What does she like at school? What exactly she does not like? Trying to understand who your child really is might start a long journey in finding what is there for her in school and what she really cannot accept. You might try asking your child: “So how much do you like your school, from 1 to 100?” If the child answers, for instance, 15 percent, you can ask: why is that 15 percent, but not 0 percent?” Then your child has an opportunity to explore why is that, what she actually likes about her school. Importantly, she does this exploration herself. This is very different just from you stating that “school is fun”. Or another question that gives power to a child: “What would you like to change in your school?” This approach to a child as a capable human being who is worth listening to, is able to reflect on her situation and to find solutions opens all sorts of new opportunities to see how your child actually approaches school. This self-exploration gives power to a child, and when people, including children, are in control they are more motivated.

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