Feeling positive about learning can make a big difference to how children behave at school. Children and young adults tend to work better when they’re interested or engaged.
Leading by example
Your child is more likely to be positive about school if you are. Showing your child a positive attitude towards learning can improve their approach to education and give them the confidence to get involved.
You could also try showing them:
how you interact with other people
the ways you developed confidence, such as focusing on the things you’re good at and ignoring doubts about failing or what others might think
how you keep going even when things are hard
examples of how to overcome social and emotional challenges
Being negative around your child could discourage them, especially if it’s about:
Special Educational Needs (SEN) support
your child’s education or progress
Talking about success
Focus on your child’s progress towards goals, not just grades or reports. Talk about how success means different things to different people, regardless of disability. Celebrate successes even if they seem small.
Ask your child about what they enjoy. Ask how they feel when they carry on and finish something they find difficult. Praise them for trying hard and being resilient, both in and out of school. Show your child that they have skills and abilities already.
Talk about what you want your child to do, but make sure it’s achievable. You could also ask your child what they want to achieve and see if they have the same expectations as you.
Positive role models
It can help to show your child that other people with the same condition are doing well and finding ways around barriers. It can encourage them to work hard and tackle challenges because others have succeeded too.
If you find someone that could be a role model, you could ask if they would talk to your child about how they managed challenges.
Confidence and self-esteem
Your child’s confidence can grow when they start to feel more independent and can see that their opinions count.
You could try:
challenging them to do things that they can do but will find hard (you can support if needed)
encouraging them to make their own decisions (starting with smaller decisions can help)
getting your child to communicate for themselves, like asking where the bathroom is or answering a question from a waiter
Doing activities around the home can also help show them they are capable and competent. This could be things like laying the table, riding a bike or cooking. This will give them confidence that they can take to school.
Sometimes children and young adults will lose motivation and confidence if they feel like they’re not as good at something or are falling behind others. It can help to tell your child that they:
are still learning and might get it wrong sometimes
are not always good at the beginning and will need to practise to get better
should keep trying until they reach their goal
might need to try learning in a different way
should not measure themselves against others
It can help to keep your child’s focus on their own progress and what they want to do or understand.
Learning from mistakes and trying again is good. It can help your child build confidence. Tell your child that everyone learns what to do and what not to do by trying, getting it wrong and trying again. It could help to talk about your own mistakes or things you have got wrong.
You might say:
how you handled your mistakes
how they affected you
that failing or making mistakes is a part of life and learning
If your child feels that they have failed, talk about:
what they can do next to move forward
how every challenge is something to find a way around and not something that will stop you from achieving your goal
Strengths and weaknesses
Your child might focus on what they cannot do, particularly around disability. Talk to your child about their strengths and weaknesses. You could look at:
what they can do and the things they’re good at
what they struggle with
the skills they already have and what they would like to do, for example getting to know classmates or typing faster
what motivates or interests them, like activities or topics
Use these answers to find activities that will develop your child’s strengths. You can also look for ways to help them with the things they find hard or want to get better at.
Do not always focus on disability. Talk about your child’s interests and abilities. You might want to add that:
seeing or doing things differently gives you different skills
having strengths in different areas is important for a varied and inclusive school, work and social environment
If your child struggles with reading and writing, you could write for them. Try computer software, like voice dictation, or use icons, drawings or images instead.
Encourage your child to ask for help
Show that asking for help is good too. You could give examples of when and how to ask for help in a confident but calm way. Explain that teachers are there to help.
How to handle stress
Other people at school might do things that make your child unhappy or feel stressed. This could be other students being unkind or a teacher not understanding their needs, like needing breaks to move around.
Help your child learn to:
describe their feelings
use activities to reduce stress, like reading a book or listening to music in their free time
manage their own wellbeing and health, like sleep, exercise and healthy eating
calm themselves and deal with agitation or anger
manage behaviour or difficulties with other people, like rudeness or getting in fights
Your support can help your child have confidence in themselves to handle difficult situations. You might want to share your own techniques for managing stress and negative behaviour from others.
Kinaesthetic (physical) learners can benefit from moving around and doing things like:
interactive or physical activities
model building or making things
experiments or practising
Use the things they like doing
Your child might become demotivated if they’re not sure why they’re learning something. It could help to:
find things your child likes to help them learn, for example if they like cake, using portion sizes to help with fractions
use activities your child likes to help them engage with new topics, like a memory exercise to help with a new language
connect what they’re doing to what they want to do in the future
Doing these things with your child can help them to feel more confident and positive about learning.
Turn learning into a game
When children are having fun they tend to respond and learn more quickly. You can find lots of game ideas online. There are also educational board games like:
Who knows where? geography game
Didax Social Skills for children with autism
Articulate description games
Write goals down and help your child make small steps towards them. You could use a reward chart if it helps motivate your child. It can also help to show their progress.
If they’re struggling with a goal, try to find a different way for them to have another go.
Using praise and consequences
Praise and consequences usually work better than punishments. They often help children to develop self-control and become more motivated. Tell your child before they start what will happen if a task is not done.
For example, you might say:
“If you do not finish your homework, there will be no time to watch TV before dinner."
Make sure your child knows they can ask for help if they get stuck. Praise them if they do something well or try hard too. Remember to only praise for something they’ve earned. Too much praise can lose its meaning.
Talk to teachers and the SENCO
Your child’s teachers and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) should talk to you about what they can do to help your child. This should be part of SEN policy. If your child has not had help yet, meet the SENCO to talk about your child’s support.
Depending on your child’s needs and what the school can offer, it can be helpful to take an active role in your child’s education and work with the school as much as possible.
You know your child best and can help the school to support their needs. This could be sharing:
what they like
do not like
what they need help with
how they learn
what helps them engage
any techniques, tools or activities that helped at home
Try to keep communication open and friendly as much as you can. This could be through regular meetings, email or phone calls.
Talking to your child’s teachers and the SENCO regularly can also help you keep track of your child’s progress.
Talk to someone from the senior management team, such as the headteacher or assistant headteacher. If you still do not have support from the school, you can follow the school’s formal complaints procedure.
Doing activities outside school encourages fun learning, creativity, problem solving and decision making, as well as other skills.
Activities can also help your child:
engage in a more relaxed environment
try something new
play and learn with children of different ages
make friends outside school
You could try doing activities with other disabled children too. This can help your child make friends with other children who understand disability and share similar experiences. Having a strong network of friends can help build your child’s confidence.
If doing an activity is difficult, you could look into online activities or games that your child will enjoy at their own pace in a safe environment.
You can also look at free courses for topics they enjoy but might not be able to do in school.
FutureLearn courses cover topics like “What drives the body” or “Introduction to ecosystems” for children aged 13 and above.