Helping our Children with Motivation and Success at School

“I thought of how we need to teach ourselves to hold ourselves accountable and learn through moments of our failings but also not to let it stop us from moving forward” –  George Couros, reflecting on this article:

Quoting from this article:

“Of course, we want to do all that we can for our [children] to help them succeed–keep an eye on them, [stop] them from being perfectionists, monitor their unproductive habits.

But what’s the best way to help them help themselves when it comes to doing well in school?

Many would jump to the conclusion that academic excellence is bolstered by self-esteem, which can certainly help. But there’s a dark side to focusing solely on helping your child boost his or her self-esteem.

The better way forward? Focus on teaching your child self-compassion.

University of Texas psychology professor Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself[says] that self-esteem is about value:

Self-esteem is a judgement about how valuable I am: very valuable, not so good, not valuable at all. In contrast, self-compassion isn’t about self-evaluation at all. It’s about being kind to oneself. Self-compassion is a healthy source of self-worth because it’s not contingent on outcomes and it’s unconditional. It’s much more stable over time because it’s not dependent on external markers of success such as grades.

So am I saying we should teach children to not care about grades? Not at all. It’s a matter of whether your child sees grades as the ultimate end goal or a positive side effect of embracing the learning process.

Neff says most of us motivate ourselves through self-criticism. Your child is aware of the consequences of failing that test. But the side effects of this approach are perfectionism, a fear of failure, and even procrastination because the fear of not measuring up can be paralysing.

Neff’s research shows that focusing instead on self-compassion shifts how your child self-motivates. Since the direct end-goal is not as much about achievement (getting high grades, becoming School Captain), it encourages students to experiment, take risks, try new approaches, and to keep going after making a mistake (rather than feeling defeated by it). In this way, behaviour is motivated by the pursuit of a learning and growing, not avoidance of a negative (fear).

In the end, a healthier source of academic motivation can lead to better end goals on many fronts–yes, even grades.”

Ms Linda Shardlow
Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching