How do you motivate good grades from a smart-but-lazy child?

Filed under: Development/Milestones: Babies, Toys

My sister's stepson J. is 11, and he has recently begun living with Hannah and his dad. Hannah's a teacher at a local private school, so part of the appeal was getting more attention than he was at the public school (the biggest benefit of her job: free tuition for children).

Problem is, although he's getting good grades in most of his classes, he doesn't enjoy Bible class and failed to turn in a few assignments. He'll be lucky to pass. His grandmother got him a brand-new handheld game player for Christmas, and his mom and dad agreed: he shouldn't be allowed to play with the new toy until he got good grades.

He was over at my house today and complained that it wasn't fair, that he should be allowed to play with his present now. Amazingly enough, I agreed that it actually was fair, and Hannah and I went on to discuss why. "It's your job to do well at school, just like it's my job to teach," she explained. "Even if we don't like our jobs sometimes, we still have to do them."

J.'s a bright kid, but he's a bit of a whiner. When Hannah told him that, not only would he have to get a C in his class this semester, but also to keep his grade up, he almost cried. "But even if I get to play with it, I'll just have to start worrying about losing my privileges as soon as I get them!" he pouted. "That's not fair!"

It was all I could do to keep from laughing, and I explained that it was fair, actually, and completely reasonable. "When you're older, you'll look back and realize that it is fair," I said, not helping the situation at all.

So how do you motivate a child like this, who feels unfairly put upon that he should have to get universally good grades - when he's completely capable of good performance? How do you make him understand that studying is not a punishment, and special toys are not a right? And how can I prevent my own children from starting down the spiral slide of spoilt?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.