Supporting your Kid who Just Doesn’t Seem to Care

School is hard enough, and the last two years made it all the more challenging as students, teachers, and caregivers adapted to online learning, hybrid learning, and the transition back to in person education. It was overwhelming for everyone, and for the caregivers reading this, I imagine there was a lot of aggravation as you tried to navigate your new role as in-home educator. You might have also, firsthand, witnessed your kid’s lack of motivation or disinterest in certain topics, or school in general. Being a caregiver is exhausting at times and being a caregiver during a global pandemic is even more exhausting. Good news is you can support your kid to feel more motivated at school, regardless of how disinterested or apathetic they may seem.

People who are disinterested in school generally believe learning doesn’t have any kind of value, nor is it meaningful. Often, they’ve had experiences in their lives that shaped their beliefs and attitudes that learning, well doesn’t do anything for them. Learning becomes a demand that’s imposed on them, rather than opportunity for self-exploration and personal growth.

I’ve taken strategies, suggested to educators by Wentzel and Brophy (2014), and adapted them to use in your own lives so you can better support your kids who are struggling or just don’t seem to care about learning in school.

Focus on Setting Goals: Contracting and Incentive Systems

Generally, it’s suggested that rewards and punishment should be avoided in education because providing incentives can actually decrease motivation when someone already wants to learn or engage in an activity. But if your kid is already disinterested then there’s not much to lose. Creating a contract where you collaborate with your kid regarding their goals for themselves, or shared goals you have, can be helpful, especially when there’s some kind of contingent reward.

If your kid consistently doesn’t turn in assignments, then a possible solution could be if they only miss two-three assignments in the next week, two weeks, or month of school, then you’ll provide them with an opportunity to do something they really enjoy (go to movies, go on their favorite hike, get their favorite snack, etc.)

Foster Meaningful Connections with You and with Others

Wentzel and Brophy (2014) highlight how important it is for students to feel close to their teachers and their peers, and as their caregiver, you can also help with this process. Likewise, there’s ways for you to become more engaged in your kid’s learning experience. You can help support teacher’s by helping them get to know your kid, and you – not just as a student, but as a person. Help your kid to also see their teacher as a person first, and an educator second. For apathetic children and adolescents, the school system and grades can be the most intimidating part and as a loss of connection and closeness to their teachers can be the cost. Teachers have to work within grading systems, and grades aren’t everything.

I teach freshman undergraduate students and the students who receive Cs, Ds, and sometimes fail can still have a meaningful and transformational learning experience in my classroom because they know I care. I care about them as people, and I want them to be the best versions of themselves.

You also know your kids better than teachers do, so you probably have a good sense of what they value and their interests. Encourage your kid to share their values and interests with their teachers. Similarly, if you can tie their interests into what they’re learning, they’re more likely to be more engaged and motivated to learn. If they’re loving the new season of Stranger Things, then bring up that show often and connect it to what they learned in school today, shared experiences they’re having with characters in the show, or their homework.

There’s also a lot of value in students getting to know their peers or establishing some kind of mentorship with older students.

Support Positive Attitudes Toward School Work

A lot of pressure to do well in school can come from both parents and culture. School is just something you do or should do, rather than what is best for you. People need to be consistently reminded that learning as value for them and be reminded of why it’s important to them. Students need to know why what they’re doing is important, and if you’re not sure yourself, you can always ask the teacher their intention behind a certain assignment or practice.

Make Work More Enjoyable

Wentzel and Brophy (2014) include Cameron and Elusorr’s (1986) strategies for making work more satisfying and I felt compelled to include them all here, because you can help your kid realize and practice these on a daily basis, as well as modeling this yourself. If your kid witnesses you enjoying work, and employing these strategies to enjoy work, then it’s likely they’ll feel empowered to do the same.

Present focus: this can be really hard for children and adolescents, but not impossible. It’s also expected that attention will wander, and there’s no shame in that. Instead, it can be helpful to ask, where did your mind go? And how can we re-engage in the task at hand?

Rituals: creating a ritual can be helpful for staying in the present moment. This could include listening to a song before starting work, or after a long day of school. It could include coming up with some kind of ritual your kid can use when they get distracted in class.

Ride the waves: perfection shouldn’t be expected, because it’s not attainable and kids need to learn to be adaptable, too.

 A personalized approach: Creativity is your friend and finding new ways to approach challenges should be encouraged.

 Make a game of it: Play is such an important way to connect with learning and support your kids, who otherwise don’t care, get excited about learning.  

See your work as an art form: Sometimes even having some kind of visual representation of the work completed can be encouraging for students who don’t normally like to learn. Maybe you create a vision board with your kid about their goals for the semester.

See your work as a teacher: Help your kids get creative about how to decrease boredom and find something, anything, of value in what they’re learning.

 Find a rhythm to your work: Take time away when needed, and help your kid find a balance of work and relaxation that helps them engage with learning in a more meaningful way.

 Unwind: Find periods for relaxation and fun, away from the task at hand.

 Seek excellence: Excellent is not perfect, but rather finding satisfaction in what you’re doing.

I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on what the above strategies mean to you, and what they look like in your own life, then having a conversation with your kid about what these might mean to them. Maybe there’s one or two strategies you want to try together. Maybe there’s some your kid already feels like they’re doing.

Collaborate with your kids. Collaborate with their teachers. Maybe read this post together and see if there’s anything you could try, or any new ideas you come with.

Thanks for reading

– Bri