School Problems:
“How do you motivate an unmotivated learner?”

Dear Annie,

My 12 year old daughter has for several years now demonstrated an extreme laziness, unwillingness, and hatred towards homework. We’ve had her tested for learning disabilities (none). We put her in professional counseling (no issues). She has weekly tutoring (no help). We’ve tried positive reinforcement, We’ve tried restrictions. Nothing works. But if she thinks she is going to get in real trouble or if there is something she really wants to do she suddenly knows how to do her work.

Fed Up Father

Dear Fed Up Father,

The most telling part of your email is this line: “If there is something she really wants to do she suddenly knows how to do her work.”

It shows that your daughter has what it takes when she chooses to do the work. She's obviously a kid who likes doing things according to her own timetable and set of priorities. When things are dictated to her, she spends all of her energy resisting them.

Talk to her, without any of the emotion or threats of restrictions. Tell her how her progress in school makes you feel. (Hopefully you can separate how you feel about her, your daughter, and how you feel about the choices she makes.) You love her unconditionally. And you're worried that if she doesn't learn to “play the game” (that is, go to class, participate in discussions, take notes, do the homework, study for the tests) -- she will have very limited choices for her future.

Find out what matters to her. Is it being able to go out with friends, or talking to them on the phone?

Whatever it is, she has to EARN the right to do it. If she does her work, she earns the right to do the things that she loves. If she chooses not to do the work, she loses that right.

One more thing, and this is important. She may need help with organizational skills including time management. These can severely impact a student's ability to succeed. Contact the school or the district office and talk to a learning resource specialist.

Part of this problem may be a maturity issue and part of it may be a power struggle. I strongly suggest that you get her the help she needs to succeed and try not to make it your battle. Engage your daughter in fun, non-school related discussions and activities. That will strengthen your relationship with her. She needs to hear much more from you than just “Did you finish your homework?”

In friendship,

Annie

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