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Motivating an Underachiever: Ask Noah

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Q: My son had been struggling in school. I offered to lease him a car if his grades improved. It worked!

Now, the new semester is underway and I'm worrying. I don't think he did his reading assignments over winter break. I've no more cars to give! So, how can I continue to keep him motivated at school?

A: I would start by allowing the new semester to commence without consulting your crystal ball. Maybe your son did the work over winter break, maybe he didn't. But wearing your fears too loudly is a poor motivational tool.

Offering to lease him the car was effective in the moment, but only as a short-term solution. Bribing him with goodies has a limited shelf life for mother and son,

You want to think long term by helping your son to develop his own self-motivational skills. At college or in a job, mommy won't be there to hand out presents.

Start this practice by reminding him that he has already been successful. Take the focus off the car and put it onto him. Your son invested the time, did the work and got the good grades. He needs to hear that; otherwise it trivializes his already significant accomplishments.

You must look at this clearly, because the truth is your son's successes or failures will inevitably be a matter of his own choosing.

Help him to see the significant connection between academic success and long-term professional achievements.

This is not to say a discussion shouldn't be had if his grades decline. But it should be centered less on him disappointing you and more on the consequences of poor grades and limiting his opportunities.

Please don't jump the gun-- this semester has just started! Focus on creating an environment where your son feels your confidence in his academic abilities, which of course is more empowering than your constant fear.

Thanks for taking the time to write, and keep me updated.

Questions and comments can be sent to ASK NOAH at

Have a profitable and peaceful week,


Noah Kass is a psychotherapist specializing in addiction, relationship issues and work stressors. He has been Clinical Director at The Dunes: East Hampton and Realization Center in Union Square. Mr. Kass was a frequent guest on MSNBC's "The Dylan Ratigan Show," featured in a segment called "Kass' Couch" and regularly blogs for The Huffington Post.

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