As the dust begins to settle on results season and all the emotions that come with it, the new school year looms larger and larger on the horizon.
Your child may have been happy with their results and full of motivation for the coming year. However, more often than not we find that students find it difficult to muster up the energy for the new school year, especially when they’re feeling down about the one that has just been.
Disheartened, demotivated, and unsure of how to go forward was how I remember entering my final years of high school, and there are many students out there who share that sentiment.
However dismal that may sound, it does not mean there is nothing to be done to combat the beginning-of-the-year blues. In this article, we’ll be going through ways to break down some of these negative attitudes and work on building up habits and strategies to help your child succeed throughout the entire school year.
Reflection is a step often missed when trying to make changes. However, it is incredibly important in being able to label the things you want to change and thinking about the way in which they could be implemented.
Remember, a reflection is only as useful as the strategies and thoughts created to combat challenges. Without this, we’re merely pointing out everything we feel we’re not good at which is not a good start to motivating your child (or anyone, really).
Here are a few common challenges students face and some ideas for combating them. Every person is different, and different things will work for them compared to others. Finding strategies that work for your child may be a bit of trial and error, but it is incredibly powerful once you and your child have identified them.
- Procrastination: Consider the why of procrastination: boredom? Confusion? Perfectionism? When you and your child feel you know why this happens, look into how it can be combated (e.g. ensuring your child understands their assignments when they first have them issued so they know what they have to do).
- Organisation: Does your child have a planner? Do they use it? Consider using different formats if the paper is to difficult to keep track of (e.g. Google calendar so they can access on their phone and computer)
- Timing: Is your child late to school/in a rush a lot? How are they getting to school? What time are they getting up in the morning? Do they need a bucket of water above their bed attached to a timer in the morning? Maybe.
- Study: This is a large area where there are a few different things that could be contributing to your child’s study ethic. Consider things like how regularly they’re studying, their study methods, and the time of the day they’re working. How well does it suit them?
By coming up with strategies to combat their challenges, your child can then turn these into actionable goals they can then get a solid grasp on. By turning these abstract ideas into concrete actions that your child can take, they can feel that they’re actually working on their goals and have an appreciation of why they’re doing it.
Another important part of reflecting and strategizing is returning to it later. This becomes really important for motivation and being able to track progress later on. Much of the time, students dislike goal-setting and reflection because it serves them no benefit later down the line. By checking in on it all after a term or so can be a great way of staying on track and adjusting any goals along the way!
Finding a reason to take action.
Regardless of how motivated your child is, school is something they have to do. Because of this, schooling and education are lumped into a category of mandatory tasks, like cleaning their room or taking out their rubbish.
When we see a task as something we have no choice in, or we just have to do it because somebody else tells us, we can have a lot of trouble finding the motivation to give it a good go.
To see education as something more than mandatory, your child needs to find a larger value in what they’re doing. This kind of reason taps into intrinsic motivation – internal motivation to complete something. Intrinsic motivation is something that can push people into action not because they have to, but because they see a value in the task that supersedes their dislike of it.
For some students, it may be to get their UE to pursue an area that interests them at uni, it may be because they can find a natural interest in a subject that makes them want to learn more, it may even be to pass the year so they have a qualification to go into the workplace.
The important thing here is that it has to appeal to the person. We cannot motivate someone with someone else’s goals and vice versa. Having a discussion with your child about what interests them, and how you can incorporate these interests with their schooling goals is a good way to tap into this.
Further, it can be useful to discuss with your child the idea of finding that good pain. What we mean, is that most of the things we do that we love we find frustrating and challenging at times. An artist isn’t just able to create a landscape, an athlete can’t just walk onto the field on game day, and a writer isn’t born with a full vocabulary in their heads.
Being bad at something is like taking the first step of being good at something. We all have to start from somewhere, but the idea that it comes without pain or challenges is a farce. Struggles are an indicator of progress, and only with this can we figure out how to get better at something.
The satisfaction that comes from being able to do something you weren’t able to previously is what spurs people to continuously improve. Unfortunately, we have to do a bit of struggling before we can see this progress. Remind your child of this, and guide them through the tough first stages, because the pay-off is worth it.
By finding a reason to take action, you will be better able to remind your child of why they’re doing it in the first place. This will help act as a source of motivation when your child gets caught up in the business of the new school year ahead, working from task-to-task and less inclined to look at the larger picture.
In establishing and maintaining a solid routine with your child for their year ahead, it may also be useful to encourage the idea of discipline. Motivation is a finicky thing, and we often lump it into an abstract realm like creativity, where it comes and goes as it pleases and we don’t really have any control over it.
Instead, discipline encourages routine and the value of sticking to regular commitments. It is also something that we understand that we have full control over. It is up to us to be as disciplined or undisciplined as we want. The same does ring true for motivation, but it can have wistful connotations that let us get away with being lazier than we may be otherwise.
Track success and progress.
As we mentioned in reflecting and making goals – they’re only as useful as the strategies implemented and by returning to your goals.
By helping your child track their success and progress, you’re helping them recognise and celebrate their achievements. Often, we feel the sting of failure much more acutely than the high of success and as a result, we notice the negatives more than the positives.
Some ways to help your child track their achievements are:
- Helping them create and maintain a log of their results
- Having a reflection at the end of every term
- Help create strategies for new challenges they face
- Create motivating rewards for improvement and success
It’s important to also remember that many of the goals we have do not have a fixed endpoint. For example, if your child is wanting to reduce the amount they procrastinate, it’s unrealistic to think it has been achieved when you no longer procrastinate ever. Instead, it would be more worthwhile to celebrate concrete things such as handing in assignments on time for a month or term which better reflects improvement.
Having appropriate rewards for different goals (and the different expectations that everyone has for themselves) will help to keep your child working on their aims and keep them focussed for the year ahead.
By being able to not only tell your child that they’ve made progress but show them the gains that they have made, they will find what they’re doing more worthwhile and (hopefully) feel like they want to continue improving and even look towards new challenges!
Get (and stay) organised.
Everyone knows the best offence is a good defence. Organisation is exactly the same. Having a good plan is one of the best ways to ensure your child’s year stays on track. It can also help bring your child’s focus back if they fall off the wagon.
There are a few different methods that could be used, and again it can just come down to personal preference:
- Keeping a personal diary (could be paper or digital)
- Creating a journal to track goal progress and check-ins
- Creating reminders in advance of when to have reflections/check-ins
- Create a (realistic) study schedule
- Help create some “if…then” obstacle planning
Depending on your child’s goals and lifestyle, different methods may suit them better. However, doing things like creating reminders in advance ensures that the goals aren’t forgotten by the end of term 1.
For many of us, the things we want to achieve are dependent on regular, steady, work. A solid plan is a great tool for this and can help to create habits that will carry your child throughout the entire year.
Staying organised also means to set manageable tasks and goals on both the micro and macro scale. Overwhelming yourself with huge tasks, or thousands of tasks, can be crippling and stop you from starting in the first place. Encourage your child to consider how long a task would take them before committing, and space this out over an appropriate amount of sessions to best ensure that work is sustainable and manageable.
Goals and strategies may change throughout the year, but keeping a plan can act as a solid resource to return to and guide future action and aims.
Allow for error and cultivating resilience.
For many, a huge barrier to getting started is being wrong, or not good at something. However, as we have discussed above, it is an unavoidable step in making progress. Therefore, what is most helpful is normalising error and creating a system where failure is a platform for improvement, rather than a condemnation.
Accepting that we cannot be perfect and that there is always room for improvement can be a difficult pill to swallow. Once done though, it is a mantra that will encourage your child to take action, not because they will fail, but that they will learn more by doing something than nothing.
One way to ease the stress of potential failure is “if…then” planning. Essentially, this is a mental troubleshooting exercise, where someone is asked to consider what action they will take in the face of a challenge. For example, “if I am unable to complete my assignment in the time I’ve allocated myself, then I will spend some time this weekend or during lunchtimes to complete it.”
Much of the time when faced with a challenge, we let it happen knowing what the outcome will be but without doing anything to potentially ease or stop it. “If…then” planning encourages your child to think about the actions they can take before it happens. This way, a plan b is already in place and so your child will be better able to tackle whatever barrier they may face.
Life will never go perfectly to plan and we cannot have full control over everything that happens to us. Therefore, finding the best ways to combat potential challenges is one of the most effective things we can do.
Within this is also the idea of cultivating resilience, defined within psychological literature as the ability to adapt and bounce back from adverse situations. Resilience can be an undervalued skill in your child’s educational toolkit but can be a gamechanger in their ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going.
A classic example for a student would be a disappointing grade, especially if they felt they put a lot of effort and time into their work. This can be very disheartening and make students feel that they’re doomed to fail or get a certain grade no matter what they do.
Instead of going into hermit-like isolation, we want to encourage students to face their challenges, find where they can improve, and take that into the next situation they encounter. Because whether they like it or not, there is going to be something else they have to do later that uses the same skills.
Essentially, we can use failure as a learning experience, or something to batter our self-esteem. Utilising every situation to our absolute best can be a tough skill. However, with a touch of ruthless honesty and optimism, your child can find the positives in even the toughest situations.
Make use of resources.
Knowing where to go to find helpful resources can be a huge challenge to students throughout the year. Whether this is finding the right achievement standard, definition, or a full walkthrough guide, having the right resource can be a gamechanger for students.
Making full use of the resources available to your child may even be as simple as encouraging them to ask their teacher questions, or helping them write an email with their qualms. Small questions and concerns can snowball and become a huge mental challenge for students, especially if they do not know where to go to clarify these.
By encouraging your child to actively seek out answers, and guiding them to places that they will find helpful, they will become more confident in their research abilities. By extension, it is encouraging them to become more independent in their learning and comfortable with the idea of not knowing something (because they know how to go about it!)
StudyTime has walkthrough guides, checklists, and articles are created for this very reason, to be easily understood and utilised by students. Our articles are geared towards providing concrete, actionable steps towards common student challenges such as organisation and motivation in study while resources are designed to walk students through an entire standard from beginning to end and our checklists also let students know what they need to know for game day.
There are heaps of resources out there, some more helpful than others. The key is to encourage your child to seek out the answers to their questions, whether that be through teachers, friends, resources and the wider web. The ability to answer your own questions is invaluable, and the sooner we can cultivate this, the better.
Practice patience for the slow burn.
Planning for an entire year ahead can be exciting at first, but the novelty can quickly fizzle out when we consider the year is quite a long time. Therefore, when creating a game plan the entire year, we should be mindful of this.
2020 will burn on, and the motivation your child had at the beginning of the year will begin to wear away, especially if their goals are a slow-burn and there is no clear ‘endpoint’. It’s important here that your child has an appropriate timeline for what they want to achieve. For example, it is probably unrealistic to think someone is able to stick to a labour-intensive study plan throughout the entire year just because they were excited about it in the planning stages.
In creating any habit, or achieving a goal, we have to have an appreciation for the process because most of the time, that’s the stage we’re actually at. To sit an exam takes about 3 hours, but the time put into study beforehand is completely up to the individual. Therefore, we need to be happy with (or at least tolerate) the process, as well as the endpoint, to be able to see our goals through.
For example, if you hate working out but have told yourself you want to become fitter, you’re probably better off easing yourself into a routine, and keeping it light until your body is able to do more. Try going to the gym 6 days in a row in the first week is a quick way to be burned out and grow a dislike for what you’re doing, no matter how much you want to be fit.
We cannot see progress in a day, a week, or even sometimes a month. However, having an appreciation for the journey will help ensure your child can stick to the promises they made themselves right at the beginning of the year and reap the rewards at the end.
Every year, students tell themselves that this will be their year, and they’ll get their stuff together. But this won’t happen without effort, dedication, and good strategies to help keep your child on track.
Whatever goals your child has, keeping them aware and chipping away at it is the key to ensuring they achieve what they want, challenge themselves, and make 2020 their best year yet.