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4 Sep 2019
Tom, a 10-year-old pupil, is a quiet child. He does not have many friends in school. He seldom participates in class activities; he is often in a world of his own. His academic results are poor and he sometimes throws temper tantrums when forced to join in. He is not rebellious and does not misbehave. He is just indifferent.

Such a child may be said to have no motivation for school. He seems unconcerned with the need to work hard or the need to even try. It is very hard to help such a child as he is unmotivated.

He was placed in a program which is run by a volunteer group of seniors aged above 50 years-old. The aim of the program is for the seniors to bond with the children through games and discussions of values like honesty, caring for each other and being kind to each other. The intention was to help the children enjoy school, and deal with any emotional issues they might have, in a way that did not focus on academic results. The children in the program either have behavior problems or are latch-key kids with no adult supervision at home.

In the first few weeks of the program, Tom was reserved and distant. He did not talk much but he listened. The other children were often boisterous and sometimes Tom joined in the mischief. The turning point for him came when the volunteers implemented a rewards system.

The names of all the children were written on the whiteboard in the front of the class. Children who were working hard and putting in effort to behave positively were given reward points. Everyone could see who were gaining points. This motivated some to work harder while others did not care. To encourage him, Tom was given as many points as possible. He was soon leading the class in the number of points earned.

For the final activity, the children were given a blank piece of paper and told to write down as many examples of positive behaviors as possible. Each example would earn them a reward point. Alternatively, they could just write the sentence "Take positive actions, have a positive attitude" as many times as possible. The unexpected result was that out of a class of 20 pupils, Tom was the only one who went all out to carry out the assignment. The others took the easy way out and wrote the sentence as many times as possible just to earn reward points.

Tom worked for almost 90 minutes straight on the task, longer than he had ever worked. He wrote and wrote many examples on his own without asking for any help. Even when the volunteers told him he could rest, he still carried on. From being an unmotivated child, Tom had suddenly found self-motivation. The process was so subtle that it caught the volunteers by surprise. Although he did not speak out, Tom was actually observing all that was going on. He was retaining the ideas and values being taught.

We can learn several important lessons from this incident.

  • Just because children are quiet and do not speak out or participate in class, it does not mean that they are not learning. Some children just need to process the information internally in their own time, at their own pace.
  • Some children need to be acknowledged or praised in a low-key way. They may not like to be singled out by the teacher to answer questions but they still crave the teacher's approval.
  • Self-motivation cannot be taught but it is a natural consequence when children feel valued by the adults in their life. Even though Tom saw the volunteers only once a week, he found a way to show them that he appreciated them. It was a gratifying moment indeed for the volunteers.
  • Give children the time they need to flourish. We should never give up on them. It is up to us, the adults who care for them, to try all ways to reach out to them.

According to Helene Goldnadel self-motivation, the motivation that comes from wanting to do well instead of doing well to please someone else is the only kind of motivation that is in the best interest of your child. It is the kind of motivation that will stay with your child a lifetime.

Raising kids is the most important job in the world. All caring adults, not just parents and teachers, should help raise the kids in our community. Children learn to be patient or impatient, caring or indifferent, helpful or heartless from the adults around them.

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