"Ankit! Why have you still not completed your science homework? Have you prepared for your maths test?
"I know Ma...I'll do it in a while"
"I've been hearing this for several hours. Do it now or I'll have to pay a visit to your school"
Ankit, who's been playing a video game, pushes off from the couch and slams the door to his room. He then proceeds to sit there with his textbook but is not really learning anything. Ankit's mom is aware that while she can make her child sit with a book by threatening him, she can’t make him learn. His lack of interest in studies has been a constant source of worry for her.
This scenario is fairly common in many households. Often pre-teens and teens show a sudden lack of interest toward academic and school work. Usually, the first signs of disinterest start to appear during the middle school years.
Here are some reasons why children lose interest in studies:
- Bullying: Many children, especially pre-teens, can be subjected to bullying and teasing, which can lead to low self-esteem and anxiety. They tend to lose focus in their academics and are more worried about avoiding these bullies. Some children may even resort to absenting themselves from classes and school.
- Difficult syllabus: Several schools have a rigid curriculum and students are subjected to repeated tests or heavy assignments. Some children find it difficult to cope with increasing demands of school work and tend to give up instead of pushing for more.
- Fear of failure: Students, who enter middle school or higher grades, are given frequent tests to help them prepare for class 10 or 12 board examinations. Such high intensity exam-based preparation over a period of time, instils a fear of failure and many students start experiencing an overall disinterest in studies.
- Poor instruction: When schools employ ‘lecture’ as their primary method of instruction, the learning sessions become static. Children then, especially pre-teens and teens, lose focus and daydream without learning anything in class.
- Focus on studying and not learning: Many schools prepare students to write exams and score marks while failing to teach them how to apply their learning to real life situations. When students fail to make this connection, they find studies boring and redundant.
- Learning difficulties: Learning difficulties like dyslexia can prove to a big barrier to learning and education. Often several schools, teachers and even parents fail to recognise the symptoms and start labelling their children as 'dull', 'slow' or 'lazy'. Although children with dyslexia put in their best efforts, poor results put them at a huge disadvantage. Many children avoid studying or learning altogether for the fear of being criticised or judged.
- Lack of a suitable environment: A good learning ambience is crucial to learning. Marital and family problems, alcoholism, a stressful household or constant distractions like a blaring TV, create an environment that is not conducive to learning. Having a strained parent-child relationship also contributes to a poor learning environment.
- Increased distractions: Excessive screen time, gadget addiction and unrestricted financial freedom at an early age prove to be definitive distractions for children.
- A hostile classroom: It is not uncommon for students to develop an aversion to a subject, when they dislike a certain teacher. When the classroom becomes a place of harsh criticism and hostility, children tend to develop a hatred toward that subject or even school.
- Unattractive rewards: While primary school children find joy in a ‘star’ or a ‘happy face’ stamp or sticker, growing teens find such rewards childish and unattractive. Enticing them with such physical rewards or gifts fails to help them develop an interest in school work.
10 Ways to help your child fall in love with learning again
- Communicate: Have a talk with your child and try to understand his daily life at school. Ask him about his friends, who he likes talking to and the things that irk him. Good interpersonal relationship among friends and peers is a vital step to improving his learning environment.
- Focus on learning and not studying: Children need to understand that learning is a life-long process and that a good learning outcome is more important than marks they score. If a child learns how to apply the concepts she’s learnt in real life, the learning objective is met.
- Do not ‘take over’: Children should be challenged in classrooms to think of new ideas and concepts and apply them in real life through projects and role plays. It is important that parents do not ‘take over’ the school projects to make their children ‘look good’. Buying ready-made projects is also a sure way to curb the learning process.
- Remove barriers to learning: Learning difficulties like dyslexia, developmental delays, behavioural and attention problems can affect a child’s academic performance. Early identification and intervention, like psychological assessment and occupational therapy are crucial to removing such barriers. Students also need periodical eye or ENT check up to determine problems in vision or hearing.
- Improve home environment: Parents need to be mindful about sorting their marital and family conflicts through healthy ways like counselling and not resort to arguing and shouting in front of their children.
- Remove distractions: Wean your children from electronic gadgets and TV and reduce their screen time. Encourage them to play outdoors as it will increase their self-esteem, self-awareness and social skills. These three qualities are very important for a child to learn and excel, utilising his full potential. Encourage your child to find happiness in simpler pursuits and not by buying toys and gadgets to make him happy.
- Choose the right school: Classrooms should be a space for healthy discussions, debates and constructive learning. Teachers should be receptive to different ideas and encourage critical thinking in their students. Ensure you choose such a learning environment for your child rather than chasing after a school that advertises top scores.
- Give them the right kind of motivation: Think beyond giving ‘gifts’ or ‘rewards’ to your children if they study well. Many children have an innate fondness for a subject based on their aptitude and have the intrinsic motivation to learn. For other subjects, parents and teachers should learn to motivate their children. For example, even if a child has no desire to learn the laws of the Indian Constitution, they can still be motivated to learn by helping them understand its need and importance and how being aware of such laws will make them an empowered citizen.
- Have clear learning objectives: When children feel overwhelmed with lack of comprehension, having clear learning objectives and goals will help them relax and feel more focussed.
- Teach them relevance: Many pre-teens and teens tend to ask “Why do I need to learn this?” Provide them clarity and tell them why it’s important for them to learn. If possible, teach them how thy could apply the lesson in real life to motivate them to learn more.
Things you shouldn’t say or do:
Don’t resort to rewards or punishments: Let your child learn how to excel without basing her performance on rewards or punishments. Such methods work only for a short time.
Don’t use labels: Don’t label your child as ‘stupid’, ‘dull’ or ‘lazy’. This will damage his self-esteem and can prove to be more dangerous than poor academic performance.
Don’t compare your child with other children: Several parents tend to compare the progress of their children with others. Comparing your children to others instils a fear of failure and feelings of inferiority in them and spoils their ability to have healthy interpersonal relationships.
Don’t advertise your child’s shortcomings: If your child is unable to learn or perform well academically, seek help from teachers and other experts. Never humiliate your child in front of everyone. This is counterproductive to her growth.
Don’t be obsessed with marks: Don’t give your child targets like ‘score a century’ or ‘get first rank’. Instead, tell them to focus on learning and applying that knowledge in real life.
Don’t undermine bullying and emotional difficulties: As children grow, they form bonds and friendships that are special to them. They also may face emotional hardships in school. Don’t discount or dismiss their feelings. Instead, help them to develop effective social skills and form nurturing friendships.
Learning is a lifelong process and not restricted to a classroom. Parents must understand that good learning is not synonymous to getting a great score and that they play an equal and important part in nurturing their child’s love for learning.
Suchitra Seethapathy is a psychologist, public speaker and special needs consultant.
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