As the first quarter draws to an end, many of you will be assessing your children’s progress and will want to establish new goals with them.  The Motivation for Accomplishment website has a link to a good, brief paper on goal-setting that was prepared by the National Association of School Psychologists.  Below is a review of the highlights of the article, though you can check out the full article at any time by going directly to the
webpage Goal Setting and Hope.
Goals fall into three main types: achievement, process, and strength.  When planning with your child to meet a goal, first, make sure you are specific enough to know if the goal has been attained.   

An achievement goal like, “I will get better grades,” can be measured but does not focus on learning.  A  goal that focuses on the skills or knowledge achieved is more direct (“I will elaborate in my sentences more when writing compositions””.  For goals such as being more elaborative, it is important to keep pre- and
post- work samples.  This will allow for a discussion about the quality and types of elaboration being used as your child’s skills progress.  If possible, have a conversation with your child’s teacher about good ways to talk to your child about writing. 
A process goal like, “I am going to work harder,” cannot be easily assessed.  A goal that focusses on a change in work habits can be specific, such as “I will do my homework before playing video games.”

Strength goals focus on character assets we want to develop.  A strength goal such as, “I will be nicer to people,” is broad.  A goal such as, “I will not assume I know what someone is trying to say before the person has a chance to explain himself,” can be tied to specific situations as they arise.

Another important factor to remember about goals is that they should not be too hard—or, too easy.  Our children need to be challenged to achieve goals that are a little demanding.  Then, we need to provide the resources and support they need to reach those goals.

After goals are established, consider the obstacles you and your child may face.  Obstacles can be real-world, emotional, mental, physical, or some combination.  For each one, discuss how to get around, over, or through the obstacle in order to reach the goal.

Then, it is important to plan for the goal.  The Motivation Planning Tool webpage provides one way for you to organize your planning.  The website Study Guides and Strategies provides a number of tools you can use to help implement your plans.

We hope you find this information useful as you create goals and strategies with your children.  And, of course, we encourage you to take time to share your ideas, observations, and insights about goal-setting by contributing to this blog. 
Students will have difficulty remaining motivated if they do not have the skills or habits for success.  One of the recurring concerns about underachieving students is whether they have study skills.  Consider some of the following issues before imposing a study skills plan on your child.
Strong students often start to develop study skills in elementary school.  However, if a gifted or bright student is able to get good grades in elementary school without studying, she may have trouble developing positive study habits in secondary school.  Work with your school to assure your elementary school child is being adequately challenged.  The school has tools and options for differentiating the instruction to ensure that there is adequate challenge.  Students experiencing a little stress and stretched to succeed is essential to their preparedness for the challenges ahead.
Teaching a child study skills before he needs those skills to succeed appears to have little effect.  That is, if a
child is taught really good study skills in fourth grade but does not actually need to use them until sixth grade, there is little chance he will draw on the lessons he learned two years earlier even though those lessons would be helpful at this time.  Study skills need to be taught when a child actually needs
them so that when he employs them he can see the positive impact of using the skills.
There are many, many study skills methods.  A website with a number of tools to support study skills is  You and your child can look over the site to consider which study skill strategies will be most helpful for you.  Using this site, or others like it, offers a great opportunity for you to have a conversation with your child about study skills, options, and personal preferences.  Use this opportunity for you and your child to focus on developing the study skills most pertinent to her in her present situation.  If the timing is right, the long-term benefits will be significant.

Preparing your child for school goes beyond buying clothes, meeting teachers, and getting supplies.  As busy as you may be with these chores, helping your child mentally and emotionally prepare for the upcoming  academic challenges may be more important.  Consider the following tips for supporting your child’s confidence and positive attitude toward school.

First, talk to you child to determine if there are strong fears and anxieties.  Sometimes, our children talk themselves into a level of stress out of proportion to the difficulties they will face.   These concerns can spring from many sources but are often tied to perfectionism, hypersensitivity, insecurity, social problems, fear of failure, or fear of the unknown.

Even though we understand the child’s concerns may seem minimal to an adult mind, we cannot simply tell our children that their concerns are unfounded.   If your child is feeling resistant to school for any of the reasons discussed, start by first acknowledging her concern.  It is important to build a child’s confidence that she can overcome problems through her own resilience and hard work, though it may be necessary to draw on support from others from time to time.  She needs to be assured that the support needed to overcome
obstacles will be there when she seeks it.   Remind her that even though help is available, she must also draw on her own skills and strength when faced with a challenge.   Gently challenge her irrational beliefs and strive to replace them with realistic and positive beliefs.  The best way to help a child reduce the stress she feels is to calmly negotiate a strategy with her for overcoming perceived obstacles.

At a level appropriate to your child’s age, discuss a plan for becoming more capable of managing his concerns.  After all, if we truly want our kids to become resilient, capable, and caring adults, then learning
better skills for self-management is as much a part of his education as learning academic skills.

Talk to your child about goals.  Do not frame goals in terms of grades but in terms of skills to be acquired.  These can be broad goals at present—becoming a more effective writer, establishing a good organizational
system, developing more proficiency in mathematics, or studying more effectively.  As the school year progresses these goals should become more defined.   Ongoing discussions about skill development throughout the school year can help your child recognize the value of working hard to accomplish goals.

More than anything else, education is an opportunity that opens doors both practical and personally gratifying.  When seized, it can broaden interests, add depth to understanding, and enrich how the world is experienced.   The beginning of a new school year is a great time to discuss the value of an education.

If you would like a more detailed set of ideas for preparing your child’s attitude and motivation for school you can use the motivation planning tool on our website and apply it specifically to starting school.  You can
find this tool at:

We hope that each of your children has a happy, productive, and academically challenging school year.

Students sometimes have trouble thinking of education as worthwhile.  It simply is not cool to be good in academics.  School is boring.  Good grades are for nerds.

On the other hand, strong students are often proud of their “geek” status.  It is a mark of distinction for them.  They even break their geekness into categories—a math geek, a video game geek, an engineering geek.  But, many of these students have a side to their lives that does not fit neatly into a geek category.  A website I ran across recently named The Secret Life of Scientists ( explores the cool side of a number of scientists.

This site has short vignettes about real scientists who have a pretty cool “secret” side, such as the primatologist who was a cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins, the evolutionary anthropologist who is also a stand-up comedian, and the neuroscientist who is also an actress.  Okay, you probably know the actress as
Amy Farrah Fowler so her cool side is not so secret, but most of the others are not as well known outside of their area of scientific study.  The point is; people are living exciting lives who find scientific investigation to be the most exciting part of their lives. 

There is a thrill to learning, investigating, discovering, and problem-solving that some of our children want to deny, suppress, or devalue.  Unfortunately, our conversations with our children sometimes reinforce that devaluation.  Our conversations with our kids need to include more than grades, getting chores done, and how tired or frustrated we are with work, school, bosses, or the politics of the day.
There is so much of our world that is worthy of awe.  Do our conversations with our children help them to see, to discuss, to reflect on that awe?  If not, maybe we need to rediscover that awe for ourselves and then share it with our kids.

In 2001, the Lutheran Brotherhood and the Search Institute sponsored a Gallup Poll of 1,425 adults on their beliefs about what is important for kids and what their interactions with children and teenagers outside of their own families were actually like.  The Search Institute had already identified research findings on what is important in adult-child relationships.  The good news is that most American adults, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic level, agree that these interactions are important.  Based on the survey, though, the average adult only participates in two of the nineteen actions: encouraging school success and expecting respect for adults.  The full report on this research can be found at 

If you have not yet had a chance to review the Search Institute’s list of developmental assets, take this opportunity to determine which assets your own child has.  The lists are broken down into four overlapping age groups (3-5, 5-9, 8-12, and 12-18).  You can go to the following site and download the list that is appropriate for your child:
On one of its web pages, the Search Institute reports:

     Across the past two decades, Search Institute and others have shown 
     that the number and intensity of high quality relationships in young people’s 
     lives is linked to a broad range of positive outcomes, including increased 
     student engagement, improved academic motivation, better grades, higher 
     aspirations for the future, civic engagement, more frequent participation in 
     college-preparatory classes and activities, and a variety of other individual 
     outcomes. We also know that high-quality relationships are characterized as 
     caring, supportive, meaningful, reciprocal, and resulting in young people’s 
     sense of agency, belonging, and competence.

Since the Gallup Poll suggests that the personal connections our children need are not generally available in the community, it is particularly incumbent on families and schools to provide opportunities for those connections.  To learn more you can also go to the Research tab at the top of the Search Institute website to review their work on Developmental Relationships.  Although useful to everyone, the relationship research may be especially informative to those of you whose children want a personal connection before they feel motivated to achieve.  
A review of the Search Institute website may help you determine how to add to your own child’s cache of developmental assets.  Just as important, the information on the site provides the opportunity to open a number of important conversations with your child.  We invite you to share your experiences exploring developmental assets with your child by adding a comment on this post.  After all, your experience may provide an important insight to another parent. 
The most commonly reported types of motivation sources in our quick survey are intrinsic, attainment, personal connection, and perfectionism.  As parents, you can use summer opportunities to maintain and hone your child’s motivation.

Encourage your intrinsically motivated child to pursue an area of interest, or several.  Hold discussions on what he finds in his research or what he discovers on vacation trips, museum visits, or nature walks. Discuss what fascinates him most, what he has learned, what questions he has, and what he believes the future direction will be for his area of interest.   

Find ways to challenge your attainment motivated child.  Make sure there are opportunities for competitive games that involve thinking and strategy.  Include competitions that involve academics if she is interested, but don’t push this over the summer.  Comment on her use of strategy and problem-solving when playing the games, not just on winning and losing.

Give your perfectionistic child opportunities to be less than perfect.  Ask him to try things at which he may not be successful.  As he progresses toward mastery, comment on his ability to overcome obstacles, to persist in his efforts, and to learn from his mistakes.  Summertime is a great time to practice being less than perfect.  For example, learning to cook a new recipe can often be messy and full of opportunities for mistakes.  Even if something gets burned it is not a disaster, merely a mistake to correct the next time.

Later in the summer talk to your child who wants a personal connection.  Let her know that the overwhelming majority of teachers want to foster good relationships with their students.  Especially for older students who will have several teachers, talk about being able to work with different personalities.  Also, discuss how different people make connections in different ways.  While expecting the year to start off well, discuss options for not letting a personality conflict get in the way of achievement if she feels a teacher does not like her or want a personal connection with her.

To explore how your child is motivated and investigate options for supporting motivation try out our Motivation Panning Tool at
Del Siegle (2013), a professor of gifted and talented education at UCONN and a past-president of NAGC, recently released a book on underachievement.  In it, he described an incident when his wife told him that she did not want to be academically challenged by a doctoral program, she wanted to be intellectually stimulated.  He noted that academic challenge is a part of intellectual stimulation.  However, intellectual stimulation also involves a quest for meaning, not just mastery.  He made the following observations about the relationship between the two:

* Too little academic challenge and too little intellectual stimulation produce bored students.
* Too much academic challenge and too little intellectual stimulation produce “turned-off” students.

* Too much academic challenge with adequate intellectual stimulation produce frustrated students.  

* Optimal challenge combined with intellectual stimulation produce students who are motivated and

Siegle recommends that teachers use authentic tasks, products and audiences to increase intellectual stimulation.  He also noted that higher order thinking and questions promote intellectual stimulation.

Siegle cited the work of Sandra Kaplan (2006) when discussing the oft-heard complaint from students, “Why do I have to learn this stuff?”  Kaplan suggests first asking the higher order question, “How will your life be different if don’t learn it?”  And, then, ask the more important question, “How might your life be different if you do learn this?”

As educators and as parents, we need to try to connect students to the joy and purpose of learning.  We must endeavor to go beyond just explaining that learning is  important.  We need to help our kids sense the power from the opportunity of learning down in their bones.  We must ask the higher order questions about purpose and meaning and stand prepared, not to have all the answers, but to be fully engaged in the ensuing flow of conversation.  As a parent, take time to reflect on Kaplan’s two questions and apply them to your own education.  Then, start the conversation with your child.  You will probably find it to be intellectually stimulating.

Remember, you are welcome to post any parts of the conversations you found to be insightful. 


Siegle, D. (2013). The underachieving gifted child: Recognizing, understanding and reversing underachievement. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press, Inc. 
Kaplan, S. (2006, July). Gifted students in a contemporary society: Implications for curriculum.  Keynote at the 29th annual University of Connecticut Confratute, Storrs, CT.
As parents of students in Virginia Beach schools, you either have an adolescent at home or you will soon.  This complex stage of life has been researched extensively from many perspectives.  In April, the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science dedicated an entire issue to the latest findings in neurological and cognitive research on adolescence.  Many of their findings support what we have learned intuitively, adding results of brain scans that show how the brain operates to our depth of understanding.

When adolescents focus to perform cognitive tasks or inhibit impulses they seem to engage similar brain
circuitry as adults.  However, that circuitry is strongly affected by the addition of rewarding and aversive
stimuli, resulting in differences in their brain activity and, therefore, their behavior.  Some of the findings
from the research articles include the following.

*Adolescents appear to have heightened sensitivity to rewards that use different brain circuitry than children or adults.

*Cognitive research has shown that adolescents are particularly receptive to gustatory, thrill-seeking, and monetary rewards.

*To a much greater extent than adults, adolescent neural responses to rewards and aversive stimuli are heightened by the mere awareness that they are being watched by someone else.

*Brain processes for supporting a single controlled response may be well developed even before adolescence, but the ability to engage that control is still developing.

*The ability of brain circuitry to monitor performance, identify errors, and then adjust subsequent performance to maintain control over time is still maturing in adolescence.

*Adolescents have heightened social sensitivity that results in intensified investment of attention, salience, and emotion when evaluating social situations.

*Cognitive research suggests that adolescents have  a heightened awareness of social cues and  heightened sensitivity to social exclusion.

*Cognitive research also suggests that adolescents are more sensitive to real or imagined social evaluations of them by others, assigning those evaluations greater elaboration and emotional import than adults or children.

*Parts of the brain that are highly sensitive to pubertal hormones include those most critical for detecting salient social information; assigning hedonic, aversive, or emotional value; social cognition; and using that
information to guide learning and behavior.

*Adolescents have much more difficulty than adults interpreting other people’s responses when their thoughts and intentions are relatively complex. 

Of course, their motivation and behavioral responses in reaction to all of these differences in how their brains are wired is influenced by their personalities, their values, and environmental factors such as
the kinds of support they get from parents,  teachers and peers.  If you would like to see the hard science behind these findings, check out the website at  

As a note, we are considering the addition of a page page on our motivation website that is dedicated to   adolescence.  Be sure to share your suggestions and insights about what you would like to see on this
page.  You can do so by adding your comment to this blog or by emailing Dr. Goff directly at

Overall, 58 people have responded to the Motivation Source Quick Survey as of May 15, 2013.  Most  parents noted that their children were motivated in more than one way.  Based on the parents who responded, 16  reported one source of motivation, another 16 reported 2 sources of motivation,  and 19 reported 3 sources of motivation. 

Intrinsic and attainment were the most commonly reported sources of motivation (22 parents each) followed closely by perfectionism (19 parents), and then extrinsic and personal connection (18 parents each).

Most parents reported that there were only one or two major sources of distraction for their children.  Social distraction was the most common (33 parents) followed closely by video games or time-consuming hobbies (32 parents).

The comments from the parents covered a wide range of topics.  A concern that was frequently mentioned is that a child did not feel challenged by the school work.  This could be an excuse or it can be quite real.  It is important to talk to your child’s teacher if this is the case.  It is a disservice if students do not need to push themselves to learn the material from school.  If your child is identified as gifted, be sure to include his or her teacher of the gifted in your discussions.
Other concerns raised by parents suggest that they would do well to collaborate with a counselor.  The links to the Motivation for Accomplishment website for the following topics may be helpful to some parents
based on the issues they raised:


Personal Cost Decisions (for managing distracting habits)


Let us know how the parent survey responses relate to your own experience.  We consider all of the information parents share with us as we update and revise the website.
We want to hear from parents. We really want to hear from parents.  Share your comments and suggestions for this website. Below are a few questions that represent how your collaboration with us is critical to the success of this effort.

·        How can you as a parent, teacher, or counselor use this site?

·        What parts of the site have proven to be useful?

·        Where do you recommend that we improve the value and quality of the site?

·        What personal successes or struggles have you had with motivation of your own children that could be instructive to other parents or educators?