Motivation Makes Work Happen….but how during Covid-19?

We’ve been inside for a few weeks now due to the stay at home measures. Easter holidays came and went nearly going unnoticed by most of us who have been staying home. Some students vacation did end as some schools have rolled out their online schooling. As the novelty has worn off of getting the extra screen time to chat with friends, watch television or play video games a new battle has begun – getting bored, frustrated, confused children to sit down and complete homework or school work (for those who’s schools haven’t started online). There is no longer the use of the weapon of fear to instil to the child refusing to do homework, because the reality is they do not have to go to school the next day physically and face the teacher, and receive whatever embarrassing consequence the teacher may rain down on them. There is honestly no consequence other than a possible buff through a screen from a teacher or an empty threat of being told you will fall behind the rest of your peers from a parent. Now, you may be that lucky parent whose child has intrinsic motivation – where their drive comes from within to complete an activity and they sit diligently and get some work done – and thus this topic should not be a major worry for you. However, most of us have extrinsic motivation – where the drive to complete or perform an activity is to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. With no solid dates for physical school restarting, and news changing everyday during these stay at home measures, it is extremely difficult to keep your children motivated to do academics.   

Now please don’t think that I am recommending that students should be home sitting at a desk reviewing and doing work for hours and hours. By no means during these traumatic, uncertain times do I think it is mentally healthy for a student to be trapped at a desk and can only be allowed to have their relaxation or play time when the schoolwork is done. These students and us adults are as many have jokingly said, in “timeout”. Students especially have lost their social outlets, their extra curricular, their exercise, their opportunities to continue to develop their individuality and personality outside of the home. It’s tough for them, so no way should their opportunity to go outside in the yard, or hang out on the balcony/porch, or sit on the stairs taking in some breeze be taken from them.

What could be used as a bargaining tool, is to give them extra rewards for spending time on work, for example: Fifteen minutes on practising their multiplication = Fifteen minutes of ADDITIONAL relaxation time. Let’s be honest the more relaxed/calm your children are, the less chance of your house being blown up by a major temper tantrum, a sibling wrestling match, or a parent shouting at the top of their lungs to get their point across. An even better option would be to take that learning outside, while kicking a ball have your child practise their tables. If you aren’t a parent that is academically inclined, grab that back of the copy book and use the multiplication tables printed there to help you review while you kick or throw that ball back and forth.

I also think now is the time to use the children’s grandparent’s, favourite aunt or uncle or family friend or anyone who you know they absolutely adore to your advantage. Lean on them for support. Ask them to call at the end of the day or request a picture of the work your child has completed. Have them positively reinforce your child and also hold your child accountable if they are not meeting the demands that you have asked of them. It’s already difficult for you as a parent to be teacher, tech-support/management, scheduling supervisor, cook, cleaner, emotional regulator. Let someone be the accountability coach for your child. We have always said it takes a village to raise a child, so do not  hesitate to build your virtual village. Ask them to help you motivate your child to be eager to say, “I did two fifteen minutes of work with Dad for the day” or “I completed all the online work that was sent today”.

If you want to get especially creative, and you somehow find the time, host an awards ceremony on a Sunday night. Have homemade certificates with coupons that could be cashed-in in the future. For example, a child can win The Child Who Completed the Most Worksheets and they earn a ‘Sleep-In As Late As You Want Coupon’ or an ‘In Control of the Television Remote For a Day’. What can make it even more impactful and fun is record the ceremony and share it with your virtual village, have those accountability coaches become involved, encourage some healthy competition amongst the coaches if you are using different folks. Maybe they can even get a certificate as well!

Just a small hint before I end, a child is more likely to be motivated to do some work for shorter broken sessions than a full hour of torture, that is IF schoolwork and homework completion is a priority in your household at this time. Every home situation as well as child is different. You as a parent know your child best, if your child is struggling to get out of bed, or is extremely clingy to you and having night terrors, pushing your child to do work may not be the best priority for your child at this moment. They may more need to talk about what they are afraid of and may need more therapeutic activities, like talking to their friends and getting some time outdoors.  If your child can manage fifteen minutes in day of homework/academic work that should be celebrated. If the older teenage students can manage an hour or two, more or less of academic work in a day that should be celebrated. If you can encourage your child to continue to read books, magazines, recipes, the newspaper, comics every day they are still learning and practising their reading and comprehension skills and that should be celebrated as well. Celebrate the positive moments, reward rather than take away if they are getting what you asked done. A positive household is easier to manage than a household that already is in a worldwide “timeout” in further punishment.