What motivated them to have children

How can we encourage children's motivation to learn?

Daniel doesn't feel like it - what is achievement motivation?

“Daniel, come on now, we have to do our homework!” Ms. M. calls for her son almost every day. After lunch she gives him a longer break to digest and rest, but around two-thirty, she thinks, the boy should do his homework. There is also not a large amount of work to be done. Daniel is now in the sophomore year; Everything could be done in half an hour if he didn't dawdle like that.

"Daniel!" Ms. M. calls now more energetically. “If we don't start now, you won't be able to play any more! You still wanted to meet your friends, didn't you? ”Daniel's dawdling and mother's“ pulling and tugging ”regularly lead to the valley of tears. In the end, two to three hours have passed and the result in the magazine looks as sad as the mood of the two. It is like this every day in hundreds of thousands of families. What is behind this phenomenon?

(see Träbert 2016, p. 14 f.)

The term Achievement motivation comes from the Latin: motivum means motivation or drive. In the everyday language of the school, one often speaks of the willingness to make an effort.

Achievement motivation is a personality trait that children learn in their socio-cultural environment. The foundations for this are laid very early in the first years of life, which is why this property is relatively stable. It is expressed in activating or inhibiting attitudes and behaviors.

The achievement motivation of a child can only be observed when parents, kindergarten or school set performance requirements that also apply to others. In the situation-related individual examination of such normative performance requirements, it becomes clear whether a child reacts with hope of success or with fear of failure. Depending on these (positive or negative) expectations of oneself, it is more, less or not at all motivated to perform.

But how do positive or negative expectations arise? This depends to a large extent on the parenting style and practices in the family. Even in preschool age, different individual characteristics can be observed. If the little ones experience themselves as the cause of their behavior from the first year of life, this has a positive effect on the development of their motivation to perform. The experience of having achieved something through one's own effort strengthens the hope of success. Babies already have experiences like this, for example when grasping and moving. Children who are expected to act independently and make their own decisions by their parents from an early age are more likely to be motivated to perform later than children who are overly protected. Praising and encouraging additionally promote the confidence of success and thus the willingness to strive for a goal.

In school, the initial lessons for students with underdeveloped achievement motivation have an important compensatory (= equalizing) task. Pedagogical concepts in which all students have the chance to experience their own skills through factual and problem-related tasks (such as in project lessons), and individualized forms of teaching that allow learning at their own pace with different materials (such as free work or station learning), promote intrinsic motivation, i.e. learning for the sake of something. Learning conditions such as performance competition, pressure of grades and experiences of failure prove to be negative, because they additionally inhibit those who fear failure. That is why the grades-free grades in elementary school are particularly important for the development of achievement motivation.

Achievement motivation is changeable

Of course, the matter of achievement motivation in everyday life is not quite as simple as the model with the two poles of hope for success and fear of failure. And, above all, the following applies: Even if the personality trait motivation is relatively stable due to early shaping processes, it is not unchangeable.

There is always and at any age the legitimate hope of improvement when pupils are “not in the mood” for school, homework and learning obligations.

But such improvements do not occur on their own, because achievement motivation disorders do not just happen, nor can good teaching alone compensate for deficits in motivation without the active cooperation of parents. Sometimes, however, random influences lead to an increase in motivation, but of course you cannot rely on them. After all, they occasionally also mean an impairment, for example if you happen to get a new teacher who comments on every mistake in class with malicious remarks.


  • So far Karla has always done well in mathematics; at last she had a “3” on her report card. However, your new grade 7 teacher believes that girls can't be good at math. Accordingly, he expresses himself disheartening with oral contributions or efforts on the board that are not perfect right away. Since then, Karla has felt “paralyzed,” as she says, in mathematics. She hardly ever works in class, doesn't strain herself with homework and can hardly bring herself to study for class work.
  • With Bianca it was the other way around. She had a French teacher in grade 9 who said to her: “You will never pass the French Abitur!” Then she developed a defiant reaction because she wanted to show this teacher it. She changed schools and graduated from high school - with French, without having to sit down in between.
  • Timo always enjoyed going to school in the first two grades. The teacher was able to handle his lively and chaotic manner well, although he is exhausting as an ADHD child. But the new teacher in the third grade constantly admonishes, rebukes and punishes him because he often violates her rules. Now he doesn't want to go to school anymore.
  • Christina is convinced that her story “doesn't lie”. Since she got this subject, she has been fighting constantly against the "five", mostly with little success. She simply cannot memorize the dates, places, and events that are to be crammed. But in grade 9 that changes all of a sudden because her new history teacher knows how to inspire her. Since a project “Fashion Show in the Middle Ages” she has become a real expert for this era in a very short time.

Such examples can be added as required. They show that relationship influences are extremely important for the development of motives at any age. Friendly and accepting teachers, who start with the children's strengths and criticize them carefully and constructively on the basis of a trusting relationship, can considerably strengthen confidence in their own abilities and thus the confidence in success. But also very simple sympathies or antipathies influence the motivation. Interest in a subject can be aroused when a particularly personable teacher takes over the lesson; Falling in love with a classmate can lead to enthusiasm for a new area of ​​interest. Holidays in England are more motivating to learn vocabulary when you get to know people there with whom you want to stay in contact.

Personal as well as situational influences affect us and can thus change our motivation to achieve positively or negatively:

  • Sympathy and antipathy up to love or hate
  • Compare with others
  • permanent excessive or insufficient demands
  • Suggestions from the environment, interests
  • Violence and bullying
  • anxiety

In addition, there are factors in the child that influence his or her achievement motivation. The following have negative effects: lack of drive due to constitution, sleep disorders, vitamin and mineral deficiencies or illness, depression (have increased significantly in children and adolescents in the last few decades!), Psychosomatic disorders, drug abuse or drug consumption. In such cases, the lack of achievement motivation itself is only a symptom of a physical or mental disorder hidden behind it.

What Parents Can Do

At the end of the morning of the class, the teacher writes homework on the blackboard and explains it to the children. Horrified, Colin exclaims: “What - so much homework? Mom never manages that in life! "

Do you remember the example of Daniel at the beginning? It has become a matter of course for Daniel that his mother should be responsible for homework. Scientific studies have shown, however, that the performance development of those students who consider themselves responsible for their homework and whom no one helps with is more favorable. Parental interest in homework is important and useful, but parental responsibility for it is not. The well-known developmental psychologist Jean Piaget put it this way: "Anyone who tells a child the solution to a problem is cheating them out of their own experiences."

Confidence in success translates as: "I know that I will succeed if I make an effort". This conviction of the “LM + type” can only grow in the child when it has the opportunity to make an effort. Pampering or fearful protective upbringing deprives children of such opportunities to a detrimental extent - detrimental not only to the development of achievement motivation, but also to their overall development. Children need care for nutrition, good sleep, a rhythmic daily routine with rituals and suggestions for interests and activities, but no more help and protection than absolutely necessary.

a) Strengthening the achievement motive

In order to strengthen the child's or adolescent's motive for achievement, parents can consider the following points:


Working for school, i.e. doing homework, practicing and studying, is easier when it is done in a ritualized form. Fixed working hours, a fixed workplace, a fixed and well-planned sequence of work steps lead to habit formation. Not only can you get used to regular duties, you can even learn to appreciate them at some point, following the motto: "I don't just do what I like, I like what I do."


Pupils need parents who take their rights and duties towards school seriously. It helps children if they know about the good parent-teacher relationship. It supports students when parents contribute to the class atmosphere and school life. In the case of learning and performance problems, they need parents who think about the causes and possible help, hold the necessary discussions at school or, if necessary, seek advice. Less motivated students in particular need regular parental interest, encouragement and sometimes (agreed but consistent) control.

Personal and emotionally positive attention

A good parent-child relationship is one of the most precious and important things that parents can create. It also carries you through the sometimes difficult period of puberty. Precisely because school can so often put a strain on family peace, parents should strive to maintain commonalities with their children in the leisure area: a regular game evening during the week, going to the museum, the library together, joint sporting activities such as swimming or cycling, etc. Interest in everyday school life should also have its place.

Performance experiences in the group

Especially when pupils have performance problems in school, they need the experience of success in the group for their self-esteem. Leisure activities can be beneficial. That is why it would be fatal to cut the twelve-year-old from his beloved football training because the grades are currently not correct. In sport in particular, the experience is obvious: if I train and make an effort, I will succeed. Perhaps the trainer can then provide support when it comes to transferring this experience to school learning.

Participation in a homework group or the private organization of one or more homework partners can be helpful for the school.

Promotion of independence

Self-reliance education is the source of experiences for the child. It enables him to perceive what it can already do and what it cannot (yet) do. That is why it is also important to encourage independence with homework and learning from the first year of school. If it has so far been neglected, advice from a counseling teacher or school psychologist can be helpful.

Creating a sense of achievement

Every sports trainer knows: nothing is more motivating than success! Parents should try together with the teachers to create a sense of achievement. This includes consciously paying attention to it and reporting back to the child when it has been able to achieve success through exertion, even if the child is small and not graded. For example, show your child what they can do now compared to last week and try to consistently catch them doing the right things instead of the mistakes.

Praise and confirmation

A failure-oriented student cannot be praised too much if done right: without exaggeration and primarily for the effort rather than the result. “You have now spelled the word correctly because you have concentrated.” - “Your writing shows that you have made an effort.” - “It's great that you have done your homework, although you are not enjoying school at the moment . "

b) Start a conversation with the child

Taking responsibility for learning yourself - that is the attitude of achievement-motivated students and the aim of promoting motivation. But that is precisely what is difficult, as parents experience again and again. Simply speaking into your conscience is usually fruitless. However, children with motivation deficits are reluctant to engage in a real conversation, in a dialogue. The danger seems too great to them that they have to admit a deficiency in themselves. Your rejection of all worries (“Don't worry, I can do it”) or criticism (“That's my business, leave me alone!”) Serves to avoid embarrassment and loss of face. At the same time, they are well aware of the fear that they may not be able to meet the performance requirements of the school on their own. You are in a real dilemma. So parents should try to engage their children in conversation in a way that takes into account the fear of losing face.

A sheet of sentence completion tasks can be helpful for this. It says, for example (see Hennig / Keller 1993, p. 18):

  • When I think about school I get scared because ...
  • I would enjoy school a lot more if ...
  • I enjoy the subject ... / ... the most / least, because ...
  • Homework ...
  • If I were a teacher and wanted to encourage students to learn, then I would ...

You should design this sheet yourself, then it is closer to your real situation and you can highlight those aspects that are particularly important to you. There are various ways of using such sentence supplements, e.g .:

  • Let your child complete the sentences and then ask questions in order to start a conversation about their reasons and also to research the reasons why their motivation is currently poor.
  • Think of a (maybe weak?) Phase of your own school days and complete the sentences accordingly. Then you can ask your child to compare them with their point of view. You may be more understanding as you go back to your school days.
  • Ask your child to complete the sentence and at the same time tell them you will fill out the sheet as you think they would answer. During the comparison, you will then determine whether or how well you can empathize with it. This offers the chance to bring the point of view of parents and child closer together again.

The purpose of such parent-child conversations is primarily to recognize what the child is attributing his motivational problems to. What are the reasons for success or failure? What external circumstances does it name (teacher, classmate, class situation, ...)? You should also be prepared for the fact that you or family circumstances could be criticized (pressure to perform, "For you only counts ...", sibling competition, ...).

If, despite your willingness and efforts, such discussions do not take place or are unsatisfactory, you should not hesitate to seek advice from a school psychologist (addresses at www.schulpsychologie.de) or an educational counseling center (addresses at www.bke.de).The parent-child relationship is too important for personal development for parents to accept when they cannot (or can no longer) talk to their child.

c) Tips for motivation to learn

While the achievement motive describes the attitude or attitude to the will to perform, the motivation represents the current state of tension in relation to an activity and is more dependent on situational conditions.

  1. Pleasant working atmosphere: The Workplace Should be free of toys, factual and tidy, but you can still make it pleasant. Table top covered with foil in your favorite color, something to drink (ideally: water!) By your seat, candle or fragrance lamp, if you like that, and background music that promotes concentration is not only allowed, but helpful. If parents have doubts, the following principle applies: What has not led to a deterioration in the quality of homework and learning after a 14-day trial period should be allowed.
  2. The work itself should also be pleasant by doing it diversified designed and with movement connected. Oral tasks can also be done while walking, standing and lying down. One can write not only while sitting, but at least also at the standing desk; the temporary standing desk in every household is even height-adjustable: your ironing board! Some children also like to write while lying on the floor. If the Scriptures don't suffer, there's nothing against it. Exercise, for example reciting the multiplication tables while jumping rope or querying vocabulary while throwing a ball back and forth in a question-and-answer rhythm, is not only more fun, it also improves concentration. The same purpose is served by the regular one-minute mini-breaks, which - depending on your constitution - should be taken every 5 to 20 minutes (cf. Träbert 2012).
  3. Multi-channel learning is more fun than stubborn drumming because it is more varied and "More brain-friendly" and is therefore more successful at the same time. The experience with my "push" method for training spelling has shown numerous students and parents how motivating a form of exercise can be that is designed in a brain-friendly manner, even if the material to be practiced had previously provoked strong rejection (cf. Träbert 2017) . Therefore: vocabulary not just learning to read, but reading, writing, speaking loudly, writing in the air, practicing on the PC or using the old cassette recorder again; the Stuff in history, bio or geography Don't just read, but formulate questions about it, play a quiz, draw a mind map.
  4. Rewards: Self-rewards make more sense than third-party rewards because they make you independent. Pupils can use activity enhancers (going swimming, playing with friends, watching a TV show, playing a computer game, etc.) as well as material enhancers (sweets, etc.). Activity enhancers are generally preferable, especially if they involve contact with others. This also applies in the event that parents want to stimulate their child's hard work with rewards. Doing something together is always more valuable than (unhealthy) sweets or gifts of money. School psychologists or employees of an educational counseling center will be happy to explain how rewards can be used sensibly and systematically according to a reinforcement plan.
  5. Self-encouragement: If parents can motivate themselves to clean the bathroom with the help of the idea of ​​a blinking, twinkling bathroom, students can also benefit from the idea of ​​how it will feel when, for example, their math homework is done. To support you, you can think of a rhyme and attach it to the pin board or put it in the pencil case, for example: Once you have done the math, the day feels much better.
  6. Time planning: With time management, major advances can be made with even minor changes. Of course, it is much easier for children to adopt principles of time management when they experience them in everyday family life. Where a family diary is next to the phone and is used every day, the willingness to keep a "student timer" or a homework notebook is greater. Where a “schedule of duties” hangs on the pin board, on which the daily or weekly duties of all family members are noted and ticked off, a weekly schedule for homework and learning is also more likely to be accepted (cf. Träbert 2016, p. 48 ff.).

Closing word

If we want to strengthen the willingness of our children and young people to make an effort, we adults have to make an effort. This is often swimming against the current of the zeitgeist, which suggests that we should always achieve the greatest possible effect with the least possible effort. But please keep in mind that only dead fish will always go with the flow - living fish have a choice. Our children need lively, powerful adults. So please do something good for yourself every now and then, e.g. with this voucher:






  • Hennig / Keller 1993: Claudius Hennig / Gustav Keller, teachers solve school problems. Donauwörth (Auer)
  • Träbert 2017: Detlef Träbert, spelling training with the Schubs® method, Dreieich (MEDU-Verlag)
  • Träbert 2016: Detlef Träbert, More joy in learning !, Dreieich (MEDU-Verlag)

further reading

  • Gustav Keller: I don't want to study. Promotion of motivation in the home and school, 5th, revised. Ed., Bern (Hogrefe Verlag) 2016
  • Jochen Klein / Detlef Träbert: If learning doesn't work out. No more school problems and family stress, Weinheim (Beltz) 2009
  • Jutta Heckhausen / Heinz Heckhausen (eds.): Motivation and Action, 5th, revised. and exp. Ed., Berlin (Springer) 2018 (textbook in the media network with the Internet; a standard work in motivational psychology)

Note on materials

Copy templates for the book "Null Bock auf Lern?"

More contributions by the author here in our family handbook


Detlef Träbert has been working as a freelance teacher in Baden-Württemberg since 1996 after 18 years as a teacher. The qualified pedagogue runs his school advice service Schubs® in Cologne, from where he offers parenting lectures and workshops as well as advanced training for educators and teachers throughout Germany.

He is the author of numerous books in the educational field and has been honorary chairman of Aktion Humane Schule e.V. since 2016.


Dipl.-Päd. Detlef Träbert
Solinger Str. 21
51145 Cologne
Tel .: 0 22 03/9 24 55 44


Created on August 4th, 2015, last changed on June 27th, 2019