How can I help my daughter knuckle down to study?

My daughter has just started the senior cycle but is finding it hard to knuckle down and do some work. She had a great transition year full of good experiences and was off at the Gaeltacht for a lot of the summer and now she seems to be completely out of the rhythm of study.

To be honest, she never was great at studying but I fear it has all got worse. She is also questioning the value of studying and education, and has loads of unrealistic ideas about what she wants to do with her life. I know you are going to say that I should give her some space and let her work it out herself, but I worry that she is really not applying herself.

Her close friends all seem to have a different attitude and are getting back into the study (from what their parents tell me). Her school reports through the years have always said she has lots of ability but does not do the work. I worry that if I don’t help her get motivated she will lose out.

One of the most common questions I get on my parenting teenagers courses is how to motivate a young person around study and exams. There are many well-meaning parents like yourself who are faced with a teenager who is not getting down to homework and is even questioning the value of study altogether.

As a parent, it is important to be thoughtful in how you respond, as over-pressurising your teen or employing negative strategies can lead to excessive conflict, be largely counterproductive and even damage your relationship with them.

In these situations, you have to maintain a delicate balance between applying parent pressure towards formal study, while also encouraging your teenager to make their own decisions and to discover their own goals.

Take time to understand where your daughter is coming from
It is worth taking time to try to understand what might be at the bottom of your daughter’s reluctance to study. Don’t just dismiss her as “lazy” or close the subject down. Instead, try to engage her in conversation about this in a sympathetic way.

Frequently, young people who are reluctant to study are actually struggling with the work and some of them may have a specific learning difficulty that has not been identified. Try to get a full picture of what might be hard for your daughter about study so you can take steps to support her. For example, if she did have a particular difficulty with learning, getting this assessed and setting up supports will make a big difference.

In addition, many children, whether they have specific learning problems or not, have poor study habits or find that the teaching methods in school aren’t working for them. There are lots of positive study skills methods that emphasise multisensory and creative approaches to learning that build on children’s strengths and special interests (such as NLP, and so on).

Have a search online for study skills courses that your daughter can attend. You might be able to attend with her so you can become a supportive coach as she studies.

Motivating your daughter
For some young people, a lack of motivation is at the heart of their lack of study. In simple terms they don’t see how doing exams will take them towards their life goals or they might not yet have identified their life goals (that’s normal enough as a teenager).

If this is the case, you want to help your daughter discover goals that she is passionate about and that match her talents and interests. Crucially, you then need to help her see how study and formal exams will take her towards these goals and dreams.

Once young people discover their own motivation and set their own goals, then parenting becomes much easier. Of course developing motivation in this way is a long-term project. One way to start is to encourage your daughter to talk about her “unrealistic plans” rather than dismissing them. Ask her What makes her interested in that? What would it take to do that career? What skills and talents would she need to learn to do this?

Use these interests as a channel for her motivation around formal study. Even the most esoteric careers require a young person to first get a Leaving Cert. Starting this conversation in a genuine way opens the possibility for compromise and agreement between you.

Agree a good study routine and use rewards
While the ideal is to have a self-motivated teenager, in practice much of the initial motivation comes from parental pressure. The key is to use your parental influence positively. Explain how important you think study should be and agree a reasonable routine about study during the week.

Rewarding effort and making privileges dependent on putting the hours in can all help. For example, you might agree some extra pocket money or support her doing an interesting activity with friends if she does the study and equally you might ban TV/ social media usage each day until homework is over, and so on.

Whatever strategies you employ, take an interest in her work and study, and develop a habit of talking daily with her about what she is planning to study at the beginning and what she has learnt at the end.

Put things into perspective/ encourage her self-esteem
Not everyone can excel at formal study and exams, and for many students they remain a challenge and a stress. In addition, many young people take their time to find their niche in the world and often this is not within a formal academic field. More important than your daughter excelling at exams is that you encourage her to discover her talents and abilities, whatever these are.

Practically, this might mean making sure she keeps up voluntary work or sports or other special interests and projects that match her talents so she can develop confidence and self-esteem as she grows up.

John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, September 2015. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday. Sunday 22nd October: ‘Parenting Pre-Teens & Teenagers’ course with John Sharry  (9am-1pm) Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan, Dublin, details here.