Fill Me In
It’s the start of a brand new school year. But for young children, this January doesn’t feel very different from the December holidays. Schools all over the world are still relying on distance learning to teach their students, with some adopting a hybrid system, with children learning online half the time, and attending physical lessons in school during the other half.
This mixture of distance learning and physical lessons, however, makes it difficult for children to differentiate between their work and playtime. And even harder to get young children to focus on their schoolwork, or simply to sit down in front of the computer long enough to endure their online lessons.
We may have had the whole of 2020 to adjust to the work from home situation, but children don’t seem to get accustomed to things the same way we do. Like it or not, children need social interaction, and they have yet to develop the discipline to do things that don’t interest them. While short term solutions like reward and punishment may put sit your child in front of the computer for online lessons, parents have to dig a little deeper to ensure their children listen to lessons and develop an independent aptitude for learning in the long run.
How motivation works
No matter our age, motivation has to stem from our own will and agency, and that only happens when we find an activity rewarding.
The early years are especially crucial, as they are formative years that shape the way the brain perceives motivation. Young children require a supportive caregiver to encourage them to try new things and explore new interests; to experience a sense of satisfaction from novel experiences and little accomplishments.
Overcoming challenges and indulging a child’s sense of curiosity pique their interest, reinforcing their desire to partake in an activity over and over again, and creating a routine of practising specific skills. Children will also be able to discern between activities they like and dislike, developing talents based on their interests.
Less is more
Diligence is a virtue. But nowadays, it’s increasingly important to emphasise working smart as well. After all, every invention ever created by humanity has always operated on the idea of efficiency — getting more by doing less. With children having to attend lessons under such stressful conditions, it is only right to reevaluate the way we conduct lessons.
Wendy Ostroff, associate professor of cognitive and developmental science at Sonoma State University in California, found that her 11-year-old son was having a hard time coping with distance learning earlier last year. While she was initially reluctant to ask for special treatment, the increasing amount of anxiety her son was under eventually prompted Ostroff to request that her son’s teachers to cut back on art and music classes that were difficult for her kid.
Through sharing about this experience, Ostroff hopes that other parents learn from her lessons, and come to understand that sometimes, motivating your child can become easier when you reduce their workload. Some children find it easier to grasp concepts from doing a single question than stressing about having to complete 10 practices of similar questions.
Overwhelmed children are more prone to developing low self-esteem, making it difficult for them to see potential in their work, or feel good about themselves. With the support of their parents, it is more likely that children develop more confidence and believe in themselves, which frankly, sets the tone for the formation of their personalities in the future.
Work hard, play hard
While most of us prefer working from home, bringing the office into the domestic space also means that there’s no longer a boundary separating the two. Your workload never ends when you work from home.
Well, the same goes for your kids. Without having to go to school, children are lacking the divide between work and play. While coming home from school automatically meant playtime had begun, their playtime now depends on you, since they only get to stop doing work when you say it’s okay to play.
Their reluctance to extend academic learning to the home is also understandable. After all, home used to be their fun place, and now that safe zone has been polluted with rules and lessons as well.
The best form of motivation would thus, to put inject the fun back into learning. Associate Professor Ostroff told CNN that no matter how obedient or how engaging their teacher is, children are not meant to learn virtually. Kids learn the best through play and social interactions, all of which cannot be achieved on screen.
Ostroff recommends that parents listen to their children, and support them in following their curiosities. By paying attention to the quirks in their personalities and encouraging the ideas they develop along the way, while worrying less about assignments and grades, it is more likely that children will grow into independent thinkers, who will find their sense of agency and navigate their fights through boredom, developing better focus.
While many parents are feeling the anxiety of having to raise a child during such uncertain times, it is always good to take a step back and reevaluate the pace at which we are pushing our children. A balance of work and play is necessary, to let our kids grow up healthily and happily, and happier children are often more likely to motivate themselves in the learning process, making their parents’ jobs much easier.
Dream big, but start small
On days where your kids are especially restless, it’s good to redirect their attention to how learning today will impact their future.
Dreams are what keep us going, but kids are less able to fathom big concepts like success and money. Instead, they are more likely to gravitate towards a projected sense of satisfaction they can picture themselves gaining in the short run. David Yeager, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin suggests that it is more effective to motivate children with the notion that they will be able to contribute to something bigger than themselves. “This taps into our instinct to help others, and the wash of feel-good hormones we tend to get from acts of empathy and altruism,” said Yeager.
Yeager suggests that teens, who are naturally in a more rebellious phase of life, can be motivated by their hunger for meaning, and their desire to make a change. Younger kids, on the other hand, are more likely to try hard for the sake of someone they care for, such as a favourite teacher.
By indulging their sense of self-satisfaction, we inspire children with the notion that they can make a difference, which imbues their lives with meaning during emotionally sparse times such as these.
It’s the baby steps that count
Reward and punishment are effective, say experts. But it should not be based on results or productivity. Instead, the routines and habits that make productivity possible are areas worthy of praise. Rather than promising them a reward after a task is completed, use the reward for smaller things, like getting up early to show up for online classes on time.
In other words, giving your child an “A” for their efforts is the best way to let them know just how much you like their good attitude.
With everything simultaneously slow-paced, yet ever-changing during COVID-19, it’s a weird time for generation alpha to be going through school. Growing pains are tough enough without having to be isolated from your friends during the global pandemic. With parents being their main sources of human interaction, we owe it to our children to listen to their needs. After all, listening to them is the only way we can figure out the best way to strike the right balance between work and play and make their childhood an enjoyable time for them, regardless of the ongoing pandemic.