Helping your child with motivation and confidence in school

Some disabled children struggle to stay motivated in school. This could be because your child:

  • is shy, unsure, lacking confidence or self-esteem 
  • has a condition that affects how they learn or what they find interesting 
  • is being teased or bullied by other students 
  • is frustrated with their own progress 
  • is finding it hard to make friends

Or it could be because their teacher is not:

  • engaging with them in the right way, like asking for eye contact, not giving breaks or using visual prompts
  • teaching in the way your child likes to learn 
  • familiar with their needs

These issues can affect all children. But sometimes disability can make it harder to feel included and have the confidence to engage with other students, teachers and learning.

There are a few things you can try to help your child engage with learning and feel more confident and motivated at school.

Positive learning

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:

  • the school
  • 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)
  • role playing a new situation or using social stories (National Autistic Society)
  • 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.

Life skills to help your disabled child become independent

Learning is a process

Sometimes children and young adults will lose motivation and confidence if they feel like they’re not as good at something pr 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.

Making mistakes

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 

To help with self-esteem, you could try using:

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.

Search online for tools and techniques to help.

Ways to teach kids about emotions in daily life (psychologytoday.com)

Talking about your feelings (KidsHealth)

10 stress busters (NHS)

It’s important to manage your own stress and help yourself. Looking after yourself will help you look after your child.

Managing your stress when caring for your disabled child

Ways to study

There are a few ways to get your child more engaged and motivated with learning.

Starting early

Engaging your child in learning from a young age can help them to be curious, think creatively and concentrate. It could help your child to learn with you in a fun and relaxed way.
You could try:

  • singing nursery rhymes and getting them to join in
  • talking about storybook pictures
  • reading a book together
  • asking questions about a story, TV programme, film or anything else they find interesting
  • talking about activities they like and asking why they like them
  • drawing and colouring 
  • writing a short story about what they did that day or their favourite thing this week (you could write for your child if they cannot or you could try voice recordings or dictation)

Find out how your child learns

Does your child learn best through seeing, hearing or doing? Once you know, you can support them to learn like this at home and at school. It can also help your child to remember things.

Visual learners can benefit from: 

Auditory learners can benefit from:

  • listening to information or reading aloud
  • verbal repetition or rhymes
  • audio recordings from classes or their own notes
  • lectures
  • talking with others about the topic
  • music

Kinaesthetic (physical) learners can benefit from moving around and doing things like:

  • interactive or physical activities 
  • model building or making things 
  • role playing
  • experiments or practising
  • memory games

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:

Set goals

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 this piece of homework, you cannot 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. Just 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 you 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.

Talking to school about adjustments for your child

If the school is not working with you

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. 

Complaining about a school (GOV.UK)

You can check the school and local authority responsibilities in the:

SEN code of practice (GOV.UK)

Government SEND guide for parents and carers 

Council for Disabled Children legal handbook (download Chapter 4 for education) 

Activities and friendships outside school

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. For example, FutureLearn courses cover topics like “What drives the body” or “Introduction to ecosystems” for children aged 13 and above.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 21/06/2019

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