A Counselor Speaks on Motivating Children

By: Bev S

I recently read an article by Dr. Jim Fay on motivating children to recognize their own achievements and it reminded of a time when I really messed up as a mom.  I thought I’d share that with you.

It was 1989 and my third grade son took the state mandated test.  At the time, I was a first grade teacher in a low socioeconomic school and he attended a school in a middle class/upper middle class neighborhood.  I knew how hard the teachers and students at our little school had worked to prepare for this test.  As a third grader my son was tested in Math, Reading and also had an essay to write for the Writing Sample.

A month after the test, he brought home his test scores on one piece of paper that he promptly handed me as I came in the door from work.  My experienced eyes scanned down the test, noting that out of all the reading and writing scores, he had only made one mistake.  But when I got to the writing score I was dismayed and the first thing out of my mouth was, “You got a two (out of a possible four points) on your writing sample.”

My son reached out and emphatically jerked that test report out of my hand and reproachfully remarked, “My teacher said I did good!

There was no way I could reach out and swallow the words I had spoken.  They were forever hanging out there between us.  I quietly and humbly replied, “Your teacher was right.”

“Catch them being good” was a cliché of the 1990’s.  In the classroom, if a teacher had an especially difficult student, we tried hard to focus on the good choices that student made.  Praises were not offered, but recognition of a good decision or hard work.  For example, if a student got a better grade on a spelling test, I might have said something like, “You studied hard this week, didn’t you?” instead of, “Good job.”

In his article for the Love and Logic Journal last fall, Dr. Fay suggested that when reviewing daily papers, parents focus on the 1-2 problems that the student answered correctly rather than giving attention immediately to incorrect problems (the opposite of what I did with my son’s test scores).  So, if a student gets a 70-80% on a paper, it’s important to first point out a problem that the child answered correctly, and say something like, “Wow.  That was a hard one and you got it right!  Tell me how you figured that one out.”  Dr. Fay believes that this technique helps the child think positively about his/her abilities and perhaps thinking through the procedure might help him/her remember how s/he could have done the incorrect problems correctly.

I sincerely wish I had read this article 20 years ago!!  What a great way to approach helping kids with their school work at home—especially one of those dreaded “REDO” papers!

1 Corinthians 13:7 Love always protects, always loves, always hopes, always perseveres.


2 thoughts on “A Counselor Speaks on Motivating Children

  1. Pingback: Dear Mom, I FAILED | The Education Cafe

  2. Pingback: Sharing Resources: Parenting (from The Education Cafe) « 3rdculturechildren

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