Motivation Matters: 3 Things Getting in Your Child’s Way

It’s December, which means there’s only one thing standing between your child and winter break: homework – and lot’s of it.

Whether they have a big project due before break or a slew of final exams (or both), the big workload is a tough pill to swallow this time of year. Who wants to study when they can instead dream of vacation, sleeping in, and holiday presents?

So, if your child is having a hard time with the final push before break, it’s not hard to understand why.

The real question is how to overcome this slump. Afterall, we parents are also dreaming of the slower days and long holiday weekends ahead but we have to first help our kids finish out the semester.

Here are three sources of low motivation and what we as parents can do about them.

Executive Function Dysfunction

Kids need solid executive function skills to manage their school work. These skills include the ability to plan and organize assignments, and manage time effectively.

If your child’s executive function skills are lagging, this time of year is particularly tough. This short quiz can help you get an idea of whether executive function skills are to blame.

A student who does not have the skills to break projects down into smaller parts or create a study plan for their various finals is going to look at their December workload and find it insurmountable.

To make matters worse, students in this situation may already be contending with a backlog of past due assignments.

If it doesn’t feel doable, why even try, right?

Our goal as parents is to coach our child on how to make the work doable. This may involve asking them questions that help them break their work into smaller parts they can tackle on a nightly basis and encouraging them to write the plan down. It may involve coaching them on how to communicate with a teacher about extensions, if needed, or how to ask for clarification about what the assignment(s) entail. 

The level of support you need to provide, will depend on how strong or weak your child’s EF skills are. (Our EF skills quiz can help you figure that out.)

Sometimes, it’s easier to take yourself out of the equation. Let’s be honest, how many middle and high school students will think any idea their parent has is a good one? It’s ok, and often very helpful, to let someone else encourage your child to write things down. That’s where our Executive Function Coaches come in.

Burn Out

Our kids have a lot on their plates and twenty years of teaching has taught us here at Applerouth that all kids want to do well. This is true whether they show it with anxious overexertion or by pretending like they don’t care at all.

If your child tends to the anxious overexertion side of things, they may reach a point of burn out before the semester is out.

These kids may need extra support and encouragement to allow time for a reset. Are there things they can take off their plate or put on a temporary hiatus until finals are over? And are there ways they can reassess their anticipated workload and commitments for next semester? Regardless of the workload, do they have regular time for rest and recharging build into their schedule.

Some parents are surprised to learn that a child who is overdoing it on work, might stand to benefit from Executive Function Coaching (either from a parent or a professional), just as much as kids who aren’t getting the work done at all.

The Work is Too Challenging (or Not Challenging Enough)

One of the trickiest things in education is differentiation – delivering the content to each child in a way that challenges them to grow without overwhelming them or leaving them behind. If your child is in any classes that are missing the mark by either extreme – either not providing any challenge at all or providing content that’s way too difficult, your child is likely to disengage.

The long-term solution, if you suspect this is the case in any class, is to meet with the school and see where you can recalibrate. Is some type of enrichment available for your child who excels in math? Would the learning curve be more manageable in honors physics rather than AP?

In the short-term, before finals are over, you can support your child by helping them at home with a more challenging subject (or by getting an Academic Tutor). For classes where they’re not very challenged and seem disengaged, it can’t hurt to offer some positive reinforcement that helps them slog through whatever assignments or studying they have left for the semester. 

Ask your child what might make a really fun study break and then help them schedule it in over the next few weeks. Maybe they’ll want to allow themselves 30 minutes of Netflix time after a solid two-hour study session each evening. Let them lead the way and they’ll be more excited about the idea.

Give these strategies a try and, if you’re looking for more support, schedule a call with an Applerouth Advisor to discuss Executive Function Coaching or Academic Tutoring. We’re offering a holiday deal on both programs – how’s that for some motivation?


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or info@applerouth.com.