Four Strategies to Motivate an Unmotivated Gifted Child
On November 30, 2016, NSGT delivered a webinar entitled Family Relationships and the Gifted Child, Techniques for Staying Sane. As positive family relationships are so critical to the nurturance of gifted behaviors, the interest is this topic was widespread.
Many of the questions asked, that there was not time to answer, dealt with motivation. This topic is often a frustrating one for parents as they attempt to get their children to do things that aren’t currently happening that they think should be happening, like putting forth enough effort in school, caring about getting good grades, and so forth. When talking about characteristics of gifted children I always mention motivation as one of those common characteristics. Children, as well as most of us, are motivated to do things that interest them and that seem purposeful. So, when we believe a child is not motivated to do something, the first thing we should do is ask whether the thing is something we would expect the child to be motivated to do, based on her interest in the task and on her expectation that it is a worthwhile or useful endeavor.
If those two things are in place and the child is still reluctant to engage, then usually it is helpful to bring the student’s attention to the end goal to increase motivation and ensure that the task is accomplished. If you want to get to the college you desire, then you must write that essay or get a certain GPA. If you want to earn money for that piece of technology, then you have to complete the task for which you were hired. If you want to go to that concert tonight, then you have to complete assignments due tomorrow before leaving. And so on.
Beyond goal setting, here are four other areas where you can increase student motivation in general:
1. Internal Motivation
Gifted students generally are motivated internally. Problem solve about any obstacles that might be getting in the way of internal motivation. Is there a learning problem creating an obstacle to further development? Is there a personal obstacle such as perfectionism or fear of risk-taking that is keeping a child from pursuing a new area of study? Is there a family member’s disdain for a student’s preferred interest that is holding back that child’s motivation to engage in that interest?
2. External Motivation Analysis
Talk to the student about what motivates him and work together to get those ideas in place. How does the student like to learn and work? What obstacles exist currently that keep the student from being engaged and motivated in tasks that need to be accomplished? Identify the structures and characteristics in place in previous situations where the student has been intensely engaged and try to replicate them.
3. Zone of Proximal Development
Work with the school to ensure that the student is allowed to work at a level where she is working on tasks that have the right amount of difficulty, not too easy to be boring and demotivating, and not so hard as to demotivate by being too difficult to attempt. Providing challenge is important in stimulating motivation as well as management of those challenging tasks for successful completion. Good management includes providing clear expectations, teaching organizational strategies, and negotiating with the student regarding individualized outcomes and expectations.
4. Enrichment Opportunities
Be sure students have opportunity to pursue ideas and topics of interest that might be motivating to learn more about. If those topics are not obvious, check out interest inventories available on the web, attend online and beyond school enrichment programs, poll friends and family to see what interests they have that you might share, and read in a broad range of topics and genres to gather ideas. SIG is one great place to experience a wide variety of topics and ideas to get the juices flowing and the motivation rolling.
There are many additional ways to encourage motivation, of course. The best ways are individual to the person. Take some time to engage in problem solving, introspection, and analysis to know what makes each one of us tick. If you have experienced success with increasing motivation in your students, we encourage you to share you successes with others here so that we may all benefit.
All the best,