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Awesome Apathy-Buster Strategies For Unmotivated, Misbehaved Students

by Ruth Herman Wells


Teachers, they don't give you motivation-makers when you are in college. It takes about 2 minutes in the classroom to realize that you could have really used courses on motivating the motionless. From our popular workshops, books and posters, here are just a few of our favorite motivation-makers that you will use everyday. Want more than just these few great ideas? Visit our web site and see hundreds more methods so good that they can awaken sleeping students.

** For kids who often complain about where they ended up, you can encourage them to "bloom where they are planted." This is a wonderful intervention for foster kids in particular.

** For kids who can't imagine ever having a positive future, or any future at all, ask them to write a letter to you as though it was the year 2045. In the letter, the youth can describe what happened to them since they last saw you. For non-writers, they can draw or make an audiotape instead of writing, or, you can write for them.

** For kids who are "wrapped in barbed wire," their apathy and harshness hiding a very gentle and vulnerable child, ask them to decide which they would rather have: "a bruised heart or a boxed heart?"

** When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, and you hear back, "I don't care," instead of confronting that, say back: "Well, if you did care..." This potent intervention detours beautifully around answers that normally would keep the child from even speculating about positive outcomes. The child gets to hang onto their discouragement while doing the work that you wanted them to do. This unusual intervention works with nearly any answer that a child gives you. For example, when the child says "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up," you can respond with "Well, if you did know..."

** For kids who can't imagine a future that is positive, have them make their "Future Homes and Gardens" using art supplies. They can draw floor plans or design rooms of their future dream home. You may be surprised at the results you get from the most sullen and resentful kids.

** For counselors, social workers and mental health workers only to use (carefully) to better "open up" very defensive, apathetic youth, this next intervention is very powerful. Ask the child to make a life line. They make the life line by writing their major life events on file cards. Next, they string the cards onto a piece of ribbon or string. This is their life line. If you doubt the effectiveness of this intervention, make your own life line. If you aren't moved by the experience, you must have had an easy life. Only clinicians should use this device as it must be used with extreme care as it can stir up much emotion in some children. Avoid this exercise with depressed kids.

** For kids that complain that school is boring, I'll just go on welfare, respond, "Yes, you are right. School is boring. Nothing like the excitement of the welfare office line." This intervention is not for every kid; use it only with youth who would respond to this type of humorous, edgy intervention.

** For kids who view school or job training as a waste of their time, have them list their current job skills, then have them determine where their skills will fit best: in the current or past century. Teach kids that 80% of the jobs that will exist for them are not even known yet. These jobs will require computer skills, math skills, writing skills etc. Do their skills fit that or jobs from the past?

** For kids who plan to use illegal activities as their source of future income, recap local, state and federal law. For example, depending on which laws they break, offenders can lose not only the money gained by illegal actions, but also their home, possessions and vehicles. Under some federal laws, the homes and possessions of relatives and friends may be seized even if these items weren't directly involved in the commission of the crime. Illegal activities are not as lucrative as your kids tell you. Auto theft generates about $18,000 per year, for example, far less than what a typical high school grad earns.

** For kids who insist crime is lucrative, have them guess the likely income from crime, then have them guess how much time in jail they will face, and the number of years they will have before being incarcerated. Then ask the youth to calculate how much they really earned. For example, if a youth earned $30,000 per year for 2 years before being incarcerated, then was jailed for 2 years, that works out to a just $15,000 per year, an amount that is vastly less than a high school grad earns. Plus, the grad's earnings cannot be confiscated but the offender's earnings can.

** For kids who plan to just rely on welfare, advise them to hurry and get on it fast before welfare goes away.

Information About The Author

Ruth Herman Wells MS is the director of Youth Change. See hundreds more of her innovative, problem-stopping interventions at the Youth Change web site Ruth is the author of dozens of books including the popular Temper and Tantrum Tamers, Turn On the Turned-Off Student, Last Chance School Success Guide and Maximum-Strength Motivation-Makers. She annually trains hundreds of teachers, counselors and youth professionals.

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