The power of motivation for kids who learn and think differently

Kids who learn and think differently need motivation to keep trying. But it’s not always easy to find. Learn what keeps kids motivated despite challenges and setbacks.

Imagine getting constant feedback that you’re not doing something right. Or that even when you try your hardest, it’s still not enough. What would that do to your self-esteem? And how would you find the motivation to keep working on challenges?

For many kids who learn and think differently, it’s hard to do. They may have negative experiences on a regular basis that make them feel defeated. And without motivation, they may see no point in trying.

But for some kids, that’s not the case, even if they struggle. They’re able to push ahead to improve skills and discover strengths.

Learn what can motivate kids to keep trying even when things are difficult or don’t go well.

What is motivation?

Motivation is the drive behind doing something. It usually involves some type of a reward. For kids who face challenges, the biggest rewards are often positive feedback or a good outcome.

That might be having teachers and peers praise their project. Or having a parent notice they did their homework without a reminder. Maybe they made the team after trying out twice. These feel-good boosts make the hard work seem worth it.

The more kids feel good at a task, the more likely they are to enjoy it and want to do better. And the more willing they’ll be to stick with a difficult project or task over the long run.

How to help your child find motivation

Your child may not always be able to go back and try again and again. But there are things you can do to increase motivation.

Give support at the start of a task. For example, you might help your child create a schedule and break down assignments. That extra help at the beginning can create positive moments and feelings of success along the way.

Focus on effort, not outcomes. If your child does well on a test, don’t just share your excitement over the grade. Ask what your child did to prepare. Do the same when it doesn’t go well. Reflecting on the process may reveal new ways of studying for next time.

Look forward and talk about “next time.” If your child tries but doesn’t succeed, avoid saying what’s done is done and leaving it at that. Frame the discussion around the next steps to take. This can help develop a growth mindset — the belief that things can improve.

Encourage leaving comfort zones. Negative outcomes can keep kids from trying new things. But new experiences can help kids to uncover new strengths and passions. Stress the upside of trying hobbies or projects that are tricky at first.

Recognize success. No matter how your child does at something, find at least one positive thing you can say. “You were a great team player today.” Or “It’s great that you asked the teacher for help.”

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