What Motivates Your Child To Learn?

By Dr Vincent Chian

“The revision questions didn’t come out in the exam!” As I respond to the student, encouraging him to appreciate that an examination is meant to be an assessment of his ability, not his ability to memorise my revision questions, another student poses a similar question and an equally puzzled look arrives on my face. Later that night, as I watch my three-year-old, experimenting with a transformers toy too advanced for his age, happy to create something that doesn’t quite look like a car, I realise that somewhere between the ages of three and 17, many children have lost their love of learning, instead turning into a nervous wreck terrified of not scoring in the top 5% of the class. It’s no wonder they don’t want to learn. Learning is terrifying!

There is a host of great advice about motivating our children but here’s a few we use at Fairview’s IB Diploma programme to ensure our children get an average of 37 out of 45 points in their exams (Medicine at King’s College London requires a 35).

First, help your kids learn to fail well. Of course not repeating mistakes but celebrating the failure, that there is more to learn in failure than in success. Many parents respond to failure by quickly placing judgement on the child, scolding or frowning upon the individual for his wasted effort. Focus instead on giving a warm smile and an open hand, helping your child up and showing concern for his well being. If we delay our judgement for just a little longer, we will often find that children are their own worst judges and often being quite harsh on themselves. At Fairview, our team found that creating a safe environment where students were not afraid to fail also resulted in the students not afraid to try harder! In essence, because they were not afraid to fail anymore, the students were happy to “give it their all” and “go down swinging”.

Once your kids are brave enough to fail well, encourage them to discover their goals. In the programme, it is important to first give our students the ‘permission’ to have their own goals, creating a sense of ownership by keeping a goal journal. We teach them about the different types of goals, short, medium and long. We share about the nature of goal setting, their fragile and fickle nature, that goals change with time. A great activity is to create and accomplish small, daily goals, nurturing a sense of confidence and empowerment that your children are able to achieve the goals they set. Once we have mastered a few short term goals, parents could transition to medium or long term goals. Finally, we share that the goals must follow the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely).

Getting our children to be motivated enough to drive their learning requires that we raise children confident enough to fail well, have faith in themselves and employ strong goal setting behaviour.

Dr Vincent Chian is currently the IB Diploma Director of Fairview International School. A former medical doctor working in psychiatry he now spends his time championing emotional and affective development in education. Dr Vincent will be in Ipoh to talk on this topic 4th December 2015 8:00pm at Fairview Ipoh campus.

Fairview International School’s Ipoh Campus is open for January enrolment. For more information, call 05 313 6888 or email to

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