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How to Rekindle Your Kid’s Love of Learning When Motivation Wanes

Does your child love to learn?

Or has he stopped caring?


Most young children possess an intrinsic love of learning. They dive into their play, eager to challenge themselves, driven by the joy of discovery. But when they enter school, expectations and rules increase, and their interests and curiosity may take a back seat. Success becomes entangled in grades and test scores rather than creativity and new adventures.

Their love of learning may seem to vanish overnight.

As a psychologist, I have witnessed the apathy and hopelessness children feel when they have lost their creative spark – and how this can linger beyond high school. Researcher Beth Hennessey has identified intrinsic motivation as an essential component in creative expression. She has commented on how traditional schools often abandon creativity in the service of expedience and formal instruction:

“In their present form, the majority of American classrooms, from preschools through high schools and colleges, are fraught with killers of intrinsic interest and creativity.”

Once motivation wanes, parents and teachers sometimes resort to praise and extrinsic rewards in an effort to rekindle enthusiasm. Yet, self-esteem-building initiatives – such as trophies distributed for essentially just showing up – tend to backfire. Many children (and adults) require an inordinate amount of praise, refuse to take risks, and never learn that failure can be a character- and skills-building experience. They expect praise for minimal effort, and lose their drive to excel.

Our society often focuses on outward markers of success, and especially on the stand-outs – famous athletes, America’s Got Talent winners, the Bill Gates’ and Mark Zuckerbergs. In a culture that glamorizes achievement, it is easy to forget that many of these successful folks reached their goals through passion and dedication. Not from star charts, trophies, and assembly awards. Intrinsic motivation (coupled with a generous sprinkling of raw talent) drove their focus – not rote praise or striving to please others.

A meta-analysis of studies comparing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation found that rewards can actually hamper intrinsic motivation. One study even highlighted the undermining effect of extrinsic rewards on brain functioning as well as behavior. An interview with growth mindset advocate Carol Dweck also cautions that too much praise can sap a child’s motivation and instill feelings of insecurity.

So, how do you rekindle your child’s love of learning?

1 | Encourage autonomy

Even at a young age, children benefit from learning to trust their own instincts and reasoning ability. They can master this further by understanding how they make decisions. Encourage your child to weigh the pros and cons of a situation, outline strategies, and ask herself meaningful questions. If she makes a mistake, ask her to review what happened and to brainstorm alternative solutions. Carefully and compassionately helping her to understand what went right and what went wrong in any endeavor is key to mastering future challenges.

2 | Help your child set realistic, fun, and challenging goals

Helping your child identify and set a meaningful, challenging goal that he can work toward and eventually achieve will build resilience and true confidence. It is also a lot easier when the goal is both challenging and fun. Help him “find the fun” in any task – even rote and boring assignments. This might involve finding creative, innovative solutions, attempting to complete a task more quickly each time, composing a song about the assignment, or drawing pictures that describe it. Direct him toward “realistic” goals, though, and help him regroup and devise new strategies when he encounters setbacks.

3 | Encourage activities that provide optimal stimulation and control

In one study, Middleton and colleagues found that intrinsically motivated students showed interest in a task if they felt a sense of personal control and if it seemed stimulating and challenging. If either of these conditions were not present, intrinsic motivation waned. Creativity and challenge are critical components to keeping your child invested in learning. School can be boring for everyone – at least some of the time. But the more we encourage challenging and stimulating outlets for our children, the more they will discover what ignites their passion for learning – regardless of what may unfold in the classroom.

Expensive extracurricular activities are nice, but not always necessary. Any activity – cooking, chess, gardening, bug collecting, finger painting – can be a learning adventure. And encourage your child to seek out what is challenging within the classroom. Asserting her interests, when appropriate, may offer her some sense of personal control at school.

4 | Praise your child’s efforts – not just accomplishments

Support any attempts to work hard, try something new, and take risks. Dweck suggests complimenting the “process” your child uses to get results rather than innate abilities. This can include working hard, trying out various strategies, learning from mistakes, staying focused, and showing improvement. Yet, it is important to focus on what is truly praise-worthy. Most children know when their efforts deserve recognition. Many feel uncomfortable when praised for something that comes too easily. So let him know when you are truly proud of his efforts, but hold the praise when it seems forced and unnecessary.

5 | Create a “no-shame” zone where mistakes are welcome

Creativity and passion for learning come to a screeching halt when children believe that their efforts will be criticized or belittled. Everyone struggles the first time they learn something new. Some children are very self-critical and feel shame over even the slightest misstep – and your reactions to your child’s efforts have an impact. Even well-meaning laughter over her “adorable” attempts at a new task can evoke feelings of embarrassment. For some children, academic problems are not due to learning difficulties, but self-doubt, fear of failure, and a refusal to take risks. Role model graciously handling your own errors, encourage learning from mistakes, and help your child problem-solve how to grow and learn from new experiences.

Many children lose their intrinsic love of learning once they start school. The spark of joy that energized their play seems to disappear as they adapt to classroom structure and rote homework assignments. As a parent, you can advocate for changes at school. However, your child will gain the most from you as you role model enthusiasm for learning, and offer encouragement and support for his curiosity, academic risk-taking, and creativity.

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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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