My College:
Dear Adina

How Do I Motivate My Student?

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

When you know your child is under-performing in college what do you recommend to do? In other words, can you motivate a kid to do well and if so how?


Dear Parent,

Many students arrive at college somewhat burned out on school. They have been entirely focused on getting into college, and having poured the bulk of their energies into academic achievement for as long as they can remember, find themselves now free to do things like make friends and have fun. It’s their first time at the candy story and they’re gobbling it all up, not realizing the belly ache they’re going to have down the line.

And some students, whether or not they were all about academics in high school, simply arrive at college and take some time to re-calibrate their priorities and acclimate to the comparatively unstructured environment. Finding their feet, while a struggle to watch (and certainly a struggle to be in), is the process that helps them build the muscle they need to walk through life as independent adults.

Adjusting to college isn’t just about learning how to tackle harder academics, it’s a lot about learning how to be an adult. And one of the greatest challenges of becoming an adult is shifting the “who’s in charge of my life” from parents to self. With that shift, young people begin to ask themselves what matters to them, what they want for themselves, and what motivates them.

You can help that process by asking good questions and listening to the answers. Think of yourself as a facilitator of a process rather than an escort towards a destination. Your task is to help your student articulate and hear themselves — this is powerful fuel in their efforts to become adults.

You may want to urge them towards a particular path, and a different kind of academic achievement may reflect that, but the best motivators are the ones that come from inside ourselves. Helping your student hear their own voice is one of the best gifts you can give them!

And speaking of gifts, another one at the top of the list is the fantastic way you are believing in your child and seeing their greatest capacity even when they’re not manifesting it. That belief is the torch of parenting that lights their gnarly path towards adulthood!

But it’s not so easy to give that gift without stowaway expectations. Communicating our confidence, but inadvertently also sending the message that we’re disappointed in them when they do less than we know they can, becomes their burden and can drown out the sound of their own inner voice.

Because our kids are invested in our approval, it’s easy for their journey of learning and growing to be overshadowed by the baggage of our unmet expectations. My grandmother used to whisper to my mother (a talented but ambivalent pianist) when she was a girl and they were in the audience at piano recitals, “You should be up there — you’re much more talented than she is.” Ouch? Yay me? Is that a compliment or a criticism? I imagine my mother’s head spinning while she tried to untangle her simultaneous pride and shame.

To motivate, communicate your deep, positive regard for your student. Consider the different reactions they might have to these two questions:

“Wow, I have seen you do some tremendous things as a student. What made that possible?”
vs.
“I don’t see you doing as much in school as I know you’re capable of. What’s going on?”

The first one will allow your child to swell up and remember their best self. The second will likely leave them feeling broken and accused. I suspect you’re going for the first one.

Finally, a word about learning vs. performing. Learning is a process, and a college education is the formal and structured mechanism by which most young people engage with learning. I encourage you to keep “learning” in your viewfinder.

Performing, on the other hand, is a piano recital, singing and dancing on stage, walking the runway, or acting in a play. There is an audience, and the performer has an awareness of that audience. But students are not performers and teachers are not an audience, and if we see school as performative, too much of the student’s attention will be on whether the audience is applauding, and not whether there is good learning going on.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at affinitycoachinggroup.com.
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    2 days ago
    CollegiateParent

    Summer is the perfect time for college kids to catch up on medical and dental appointments.

    And it’s also an opportunity to launch a discussion about their sexual health.

    Is this a topic that your student is open about with you?

    Some of our kids tell us everything, some of them edit out things that make them – or us - uncomfortable, and some of them rarely talk about anything more personal than what they’re laughing at on Tik Tok.

    Here’s a tip if you have a kid who never talks about anything related to relationships or sex. Use any number of current events to broach the subject. Rising monkeypox cases, reproductive rights, and Pride month have all been in the news and are “tip of the iceberg” topics that can get your college student to open up and start talking.

    Whether you know they are or are not sexually active, it’s always a good idea to let our college kids know that we are continuously there to answer any questions, provide resources, and support them in making healthy decisions about things like intimate relationships, consent, contraception, and STD testing.

    Coming at these issues with a judgment free attitude is key, because let’s face it – when our kids are away at school, we have no way of knowing what they are doing, and they are legal adults who don’t need our permission to engage in any type of relationship. If we want to be able to have honest discussions about all aspects of health with them, we need them to know we love and care for them above all else, even if what they are doing has not been our lived experience or we don’t endorse some of their decisions.

    If you or your college student are looking for information on any health-related topic, a great place to start is the Resource page at the American College Health Association site, www.acha.org

    For a Situation Summary of the current monkeypox outbreak, you can consult the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

    And consider passing along this excellent resource from www.healthline.com on “Where to Get Free or
    Lower-Cost STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) Testing in Each State.”

    - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
    ... See MoreSee Less

    Summer is the perfect time for college kids to catch up on medical and dental appointments.  And it’s also an opportunity to launch a discussion about their sexual health.  Is this a topic that your student is open about with you?  Some of our kids tell us everything, some of them edit out things that make them – or us - uncomfortable, and some of them rarely talk about anything more personal than what they’re laughing at on Tik Tok.  Here’s a tip if you have a kid who never talks about anything related to relationships or sex. Use any number of current events to broach the subject. Rising monkeypox cases, reproductive rights, and Pride month have all been in the news and are “tip of the iceberg” topics that can get your college student to open up and start talking.  Whether you know they are or are not sexually active, it’s always a good idea to let our college kids know that we are continuously there to answer any questions, provide resources, and support them in making healthy decisions about things like intimate relationships, consent, contraception, and STD testing.  Coming at these issues with a judgment free attitude is key, because let’s face it – when our kids are away at school, we have no way of knowing what they are doing, and they are legal adults who don’t need our permission to engage in any type of relationship. If we want to be able to have honest discussions about all aspects of health with them, we need them to know we love and care for them above all else, even if what they are doing has not been our lived experience or we don’t endorse some of their decisions.  If you or your college student are looking for information on any health-related topic, a great place to start is the Resource page at the American College Health Association site, www.acha.org  For a Situation Summary of the current monkeypox outbreak, you can consult the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)  And consider passing along this excellent resource from www.healthline.com on “Where to Get Free or
Lower-Cost STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) Testing in Each State.”  - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
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