Ideas & Activities to Help Motivate At-Risk Kids

By Erica Loop
An at-risk child can succeed with the right motivation.
An at-risk child can succeed with the right motivation.

The National Center for Children in Poverty notes that kids who live in low-income households -- at or below the poverty level -- and have parents with low education levels are often at risk for poor academic achievement, development delays and health problems. Whether your own child is in the at-risk category or you have a close friend or family member who is, activities to motivate children who have significant risk factors can help them to succeed and overcome obstacles.

Responsibility in Learning

At-risk children who take responsibility for organizing and evaluating their own educational activities may have a better chance of succeeding academically. While teachers can use this concept to the student's advantage in the educational setting, you can also use this idea at home. The at-risk child, at home, can create his own homework schedule, make a studying checklist to bring to mom or dad or evaluate his own learning by initiating school content-based discussions with other family members. For example, your child can provide you with an end-of-the-week wrapup that includes what he covered in a specific subject that he is struggling with or new concepts that he is learning.

Parental Involvement

Aside from poverty, parental neglect is a major risk factor for children. Regardless of economic status, race, educational background or religion, neglect is a negative child-parent situation that can occur in any family. Getting actively involved in your child's life can help to mediate this prime risk factor. This doesn't mean that you need to hover over your child at all times. Instead, motivate her with a few family activities each week. For example, take the time to sit and read a book with your young child before bedtime, or have family dinners where you discuss the day's events.

Setting Goals

At-risk children who are living in poverty may feel hopeless when it comes to rising above their present situations. Help your at-risk child to realize that he can succeed at school -- and at life in general -- by setting goals. Have a brainstorming session in which your child thinks about what his goals are. Create categories such as school, career, relationships or family. Write the category headings at the top of pieces of paper or posterboard. have him make a list of specific, actionable goals under each category. For example, under the school category, he might write "Get my biology grade up from a D to a B by the end of the semester." Post the goals in a prominent place, such as in his bedroom or by the front door, to motivate him every day.

Risk Role Play

Your child might not have the foresight to see how her current decisions affect her future. Motivate her to see how her lack of interest in school, poor choice in friends or tendencies toward unacceptable behaviors -- such as violence or drug use -- can impact her later in life with a role playing activity. Have her act as her later-life self in situations such as a job interview. This can help her to see how her poor grades or not graduating from high school will dim her chances for success. You can also do a reverse role play in which you play her, showing your child how her behaviors affect others.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.