Overview: Motivating teens can be a challenge, especially when they’re homeschooled. These ten tried-and-true tips can transform your homeschool day!
I had one who would fill the margins of her math page with her own pencil artwork.
The math? A big blank spot in the middle.
Her: I am an artist, not a STEM-head, Mom!
Me: Yea, well, tough darts; Algebra still has to get done. (I was all about the compassion, um, NOT. LOL)
It can be super hard to keep our teens motivated day after day, am I right? And we hate nagging all the time. It’s easy to get frustrated and decide yelling might help — been there, done that — but over the years of dealing with five homeschooled teens, I’ve come up with a grab bag of strategies that can help give kids the pick-me-up(s) they need to decide that doing their work would be a worthwhile thing to do.
Pick and choose from these ten ideas when you are facing that wall of procrastination that teens are so good at erecting!
10 positive pointers for motivating teens to be more productive in their homeschool day:
1) Mini food rewards.
I’ve found that some m&m’s or other small candies can be just as effective with the teens as they were with the littles. Especially for math, lol. When they finish a problem, they get an m&m. It’s silly, but it works. :-)
P.S. I really don’t think this counts as “bribery” at this age. It’s too small to be the difference between working and not working. It just helps the medicine go down a little easier, ya know?
2) Frequent breaks.
The Pomodoro system, which I discuss in the post Homeschooling Teens Who Are Easily Distracted, has a five-minute break built-in after every 25 minutes of work. Kids feel less overwhelmed when they know they won’t have to work continuously for hours on end. Their brains need a chance to stop concentrating and be refreshed. Afterwards they are more motivated to get back at it and are able to work more efficiently.
3) Let them plan their day and/or their week.
Teens, especially, hate being told what to do. LOL. It’s not that they aren’t obedient; they just want some say in how they go about things. Letting them decide what subjects to do when and how long to spend on each one gives them a sense of ownership, which motivates them to prove that their plan is a good one.
This may take some getting used to on the part of mom, who may wish to see things done
not last minute differently… (who, me? Naaahhh…. ;-) ) But a trial period to see if the child will actually accomplish the work as they have planned it with no nagging input from mom is worth a try. You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was.
Related Reading: 5 Ways to Guide Your Teen in the Art of Time Management
Related Listening: Episode 61 – How to Involve Your Teen in the High School Planning Process
4) Give them a change of venue.
In other words, get out of the house. Take the books to the coffee shop or the library for a few hours. Sometimes all it takes is a different set of walls to look at. And a warm, stimulating beverage doesn’t hurt! :-)
5) Affirm them.
This has been BIG for my kids, and I don’t do it enough. I am good at giving instruction and orders, not so good at telling them what they have done (or are doing) well. “Wow, dude, that is a really great essay! You have a way with words, did you know that?” and right in front of your eyes their countenance lifts and their eyes brighten. Why am I so stingy to give them what I crave for myself? Sigh.
Related Reading: 100 Proven Ways to Encourage Teens
6) Reduce their workload.
Yep, you read that right. We get so bogged down with having to complete every problem or answer every question or read every book. Meanwhile our teens are dying on the vine from the weight of it all.
If math is a consistent issue, have them do only odds for awhile, with the contingency that if their test grades go down they’ll have to go back to doing them all. If the reading is taking forever, take a book off the list or let them use the cliff notes just this once. If the essay is proving difficult to write, have them submit just the outline for a grade.
It’s not giving in to their lack of diligence, it’s helping them over a rough spot. It’s remembering that the big picture is not how much they accomplish but how well they accomplish it.
Related to this is to change things up a bit and get creative, maybe even find educational opportunities from things they already enjoy doing. I love this post from Joan Concilio at Unschool Rules about how much our kids can learn from screen time (gasp): The Ultimate Guide to Learning from Movies and TV Shows.
Motivating teens can be accomplished even from things we might have otherwise decried!
7) Let them listen to music.
Sometimes they need help to tune out the distracting world around them. I know I am much more motivated to clean the house when I’ve got some snappy music playing; why wouldn’t my homeschooled teens feel the same when faced with pages and pages of math? The caveat can be that if they are not productive while listening, they must forgo the headphones for awhile.
8) Let them work in their room for a limited time each day.
I would be the first one to say that letting your kid stay in his room ad infinitum all day every day is a silly idea and probably bad parenting. But everyone needs alone time once in awhile. If your teen is easily distracted in the common areas, it can be helpful for them to work in the peace and quiet of their bedroom. Mom may have to be more diligent about checking in with them, but it might just be worth it.
9) Work beside them.
I am all for independent learning. But who doesn’t work better when they have a friend working with them? It can be lonely doing all the hard high school coursework, especially when all the younger kids are done so much earlier in the day. Sitting beside your homeschooled teen, doing some of your own paperwork while they do their school, can boost their motivation enough to get at least one subject done — and possibly more.
10) Negative consequences.
I save this for last because I hate putting it into practice. But sometimes all of the positive strategies in the world won’t do the trick, and our child is characterized by procrastination, laziness, not being diligent, etc. This is a drag, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s necessary to bring out the bigger guns, such as taking away screen time or other privileges.
“Wait, Ann. You said 10 POSITIVE pointers! This is a negative one!”
Well, I guess that’s a matter of semantics. Sometimes negative consequences can bring about a positive result. Sometimes as parents we need to make the tough calls, but that is a positive thing because it means we are doing our job.
(Did I sell that well enough? LOL. I mean, OK, maybe calling negative consequences a positive pointer is a little bit of a stretch. But I still think there’s room for it on the positive side of the sliding scale. We might have to agree to disagree on that one, mkay?)
My own experience has been that negative consequences can bring about repentance and changed behavior (that positive result I mentioned earlier), or they can produce anger and frustration for a time. Which is a signal that there is more work to be done… sigh. But once again, we need to realize that homeschooling is not just about school but about the character development of our children — so we need to be willing to continue to do the hard work of parenting over the long haul. The task of motivating teens is not for the faint of heart, LOL!
I have truly loved homeschooling high school. The relationships I have enjoyed with my homeschooled teens have been worth all the time, effort, and yes, even frustration sometimes. When my kids have not been motivated to work, these strategies have helped — and they can help your homeschooled teens, too. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. :-)
- Episode 91: Unschooling Teens — My Experience and Advice (with Julie Polanco) - November 18, 2022
- Episode 90: Are You Giving Grace to Your Teen? - November 4, 2022
- Episode 89: Kristin Moon’s Homeschool Experience — Do’s and Don’ts for High School - October 21, 2022