Tips for Parents Working with a Reluctant Learner

7 min to read
Parent work with student

In an ideal world, children would be excited and motivated to learn, and they’d jump at the chance to go to school each day. However, that’s not reality for many children, and about five percent of American students refuse to go to school.  

Luckily, there are strategies to motivate disengaged students and reluctant learners, and there are strategies concerning how to deal with unresponsive students. To understand what strategy is best suited to a student, parents should first try to understand why their children have become reluctant learners. 

Here are a few of the common reasons why students may become reluctant learners and some strategies to motivate and engage students.

Strategies to Motivate Reluctant Learners

Address Bullying

Bullying is, unfortunately, not uncommon, and it can often result in feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression as well as low academic achievement. It can also cause students to become disengaged, skip school, and even refuse to go to school. Some signs of bullying include failing grades, the student consistently feeling sick (or feigning sickness to avoid school), a change in friendships, difficulty sleeping, the student withdrawing from friends and/or family, and unexplained injuries. If bullying is causing your student to refuse to go to school, try these possible strategies: 

  • Talk with School Officials
    Your child’s teacher and school administration may not know that the bullying is occurring, and they may be able to intervene on your child’s behalf.

  • Transfer Schools
    If the bullying situation is ongoing or even accelerating and you are not finding the support and interventions that your child needs, then it may be time to transfer to a new school, whether that’s another brick-and-mortar school or an online school such as Connections Academy®. Even just the change in environment can do wonders in motivating learners and bringing them hope that school can be a pleasant experience.

Help the Student Overcome Boredom

Some boredom in school is natural. However, excessive boredom may result in a student becoming disengaged, unmotivated, and unresponsive. It may also cause them not to want to go to school at all. This boredom may stem from the student not being challenged by the curriculum or not feeling that the material is meaningful. Unmotivated students suffering from boredom in school often find the love in learning when parents:

  • Highlight the Value of the Subject
    Explaining the importance of an assignment or lesson may help a reluctant learner become motivated to complete the necessary work. A parent or Learning Coach can explain how the lesson relates to the next step in a student’s journey, contributes to their desired career, or how it will give them a life skill. Providing examples of specific, real-world applications of lessons can also be an effective strategy to motivate and engage students.

  • Establish a Clear End Goal
    Although there is a fine balance between rewards and bribes, sometimes an extrinsic reward, such as an extra  or a fun activity, is needed to motivate reluctant learners to complete work. Sometimes just knowing that something will only last a short time can be enough motivation to press through. 

  • Up the Ante 
    Since material may be boring to a student because it is not viewed as challenging, then it makes sense to up the ante.  may consider skipping a grade or enrolling in an Early College High School Initiative (ECHSI) program. Some online schools, such as Connections Academy®, offer a wide variety of honors and Advanced Placement® (AP®) classes as well as Career Technical Education (CTE) courses so that parents can find a curriculum that is tailored to their child’s interests, needs, and pace of learning. 
A parent talks with her unmotivated student.

Feeling Academically Overwhelmed

Students learn at different speeds and in diverse ways. If students feel like they are not understanding material as quickly as they think they should, then they may feel academically overwhelmed and become unresponsive. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Talk with their Teacher about Options for Accommodations or Additional Support
    Discuss your child’s academic struggles with their teacher to discover why your child may be feeling overwhelmed. They may also be able to direct you to educational support services such as tutors or educational therapists if the teacher suspects that your child may have a learning disability or knowledge gap.

  • Create a Calm Environment
    Have a space for students where noises, , and other distractions are kept to a minimum. A dedicated space for studying that is  and their learning style can help them switch into learning mode and feel motivated to learn and complete their work.

Emotional and Mental Health Struggles

Emotional and mental health problems could cause a child to become an unresponsive student or even refuse to go to school. Indeed, mental health issues are not uncommon among students. In fact, a 2021 Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found that 42% of student participants “felt persistently sad or hopeless,” and 29% of student participants “experienced poor mental health.”

Reluctant learners and students who refuse to go to school may be experiencing social anxiety, separation anxiety, depression,. You can help motivate reluctant learners with these strategies:

  • Talk with a Mental Health Professional
    If you suspect that your child is experiencing emotional and mental health struggles, then talk with your student to better understand what they are experiencing. If they need to, consult a mental health professional to see what resources are available to help your student get back on track.

  • Try Online School
    Online school can be a good fit for students who are having trouble in school due to anxiety or a panic disorder, because they can focus on their education by  controling their environment while at home. 

These strategies to motivate disengaged students and reluctant learners can help you and your student to address the root of their lack of motivation and their disengagement with school and to find a path forward so that school can be a positive and rewarding experience.

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