What is a disengaged child really thinking?

lights on® learning mindset passion real-world learning Jul 09, 2021

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to enjoy school, feel passionate about learning and be driven to achieve their fullest potential.  

While all kids have the occasional bad day at school, seeing your child switch off from learning is understandably very worrying for parents. But what is your child really thinking when they’ve checked out?

One thing that rings true for disengaged children is that they’re all thinking: “what’s the point?” From dismissing the importance of learning their times tables, to challenging the point of themselves. 

Seeing your child in this state is overwhelming, upsetting and can leave you feeling completely lost. 

But, it’s never too late to do something about it.  

The process starts with taking a close look at a child’s choice and use of language, their behaviour and their overall identity. And, as a parent, your own engagement in their reconnection is vital too - learning about disengagement, its root causes and the potential solutions at play. 

What does it mean to be a ‘disengaged child’?

A disengaged child is lacking in motivation. They are sometimes bored or under-confident in their abilities. And most likely, have become scared of failure.

Some disengaged children may also hide learning difficulties or academic aptitude in order to fit in with their peer group.

When a child is disengaged, their academic ability and mental wellbeing can go downhill very rapidly. If problems aren’t addressed in a timely fashion, disengagement may become anxiety, school refusal and even self-loathing.

As a parent, you’ll know instinctively when your child has become switched off; you’ll see it in their eyes. It’s then important to act quickly to turn the situation around. 

Remember that it’s never a lost cause. It’s always possible to reengage your child with learning — no matter what you’ve been led to think already.

The inner thoughts of a disengaged child

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption to schooling. Children may have struggled to engage with remote learning and they may feel more despondent than ever before. 

2020’s events exacerbated existing learning engagement problems for children and created new ones too. And, for children who’ve become disengaged, it can be an inward battle of negative thoughts and self-esteem

A disengaged child will be thinking:

  • What’s the point?
  • My brain doesn’t ‘work’
  • I’m never going to be successful
  • I’m broken, stupid, rubbish, etc.
  • I can’t do it and it’s all pointless

For those children who may be hiding their disengagement, for example, a high achieving student trying to please their teacher and parents, these thoughts can manifest in the form of anger, frustration, fear and anxiety.

It’s this ongoing internal dialogue and emotion of a disengaged child that ultimately means they don’t care about what they’re learning. 

How to help your disengaged child

Deep down every child wants to learn. After all, learning is as natural and necessary for human beings as breathing. The key to helping your child re-engage with learning is discovering why they disengaged in the first place.

With Lights On®, we focus on learning from the inside out. Understanding the why of your child’s disengagement helps us to find the right solution.

While others see only the behaviour of a disengaged child, we understand that those behaviours are triggered by a child’s thoughts, emotions and beliefs about themselves.

A disengaged child has disconnected from learning and progress. Something has happened to influence their perception of what they can do and achieve.

This mental roadblock leads them to avoid learning. By identifying the root of your child’s disengagement you can help them to move forward.

This starts by discovering their learning identity.

Learning identities: who you are matters

We all have a learning identity. It’s not something we’re stuck with though — our learning identities can change over time and with the right internal rewiring. Understanding which learning identity your child has right now will help you to help them on their educational journey.

Entrenched in experience and theory, we’ve designed five key learning identities:

The Lost Learner

Lost Learners aren’t interested in self-discovery and haven’t developed many independent interests. It may be that these children are socially withdrawn or struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Parents of Lost Learners struggle to find any work examples that indicate engagement with learning. So what reignites that interest?

These children primarily need hope. They need a parent to take the lead, helping them to rediscover a love of learning, or perhaps find it for the very first time.

The Focused Consumer

Focused Consumers can often be found glued to the screen of a device.

These children don’t tend to engage in creative pursuits and don’t demonstrate much curiosity. When it comes to learning, they are passive and put in as little effort as they can get away with, so they can get back to their screens.

Parents of Focused Consumers can help their child by giving them a new perspective. Shifting their attention to the reward that can be gained from creating rather than consuming. 

The Idealistic Dreamer

This is where a lot of parents and kids are at when they join the Lights On® programme.

Idealistic Dreamers lack confidence. They are cautious and don’t like to take risks. These children are perfectionists who get hung up on minor details and tend to procrastinate when it comes to making progress.  

While Idealistic Dreamers are often high achieving, they’re unprepared for the real world beyond the school gates. They need to become more resilient if they’re to truly reach their potential.

The Inspiring Creator

Inspiring Creators have an incredible portfolio of evidence of their talents, skills, knowledge and mindset. But, they have reached a plateau in their educational growth. Parents say it feels like they’ve lost their passion for learning. And, parents can start to obsess over down time and panic that their child’s progress has slowed down or stopped altogether. 

These children will never have to rely on grades, as they have other criteria of success that is very real-world. The challenge is to keep them on a continual growth mindset that will set them on the right successful track. 

Parents need to support their Inspiring Creators in maintaining momentum and reaching that glass ceiling that can begin to hover over them. 

The Lights On® Changemaker

Once you’ve got a Lights On® Changemaker on your hands, it’s all about maintaining momentum and going all-in on their exponential growth potential.

These children are driven to learn. Now they need to align their learning with developing values and make the most of community support. 

A Lights On® Changemaker believes in their ability. They take an enthusiastic and independent approach to learning and they have the resilience and confidence to aim high. Plus, they’re already making a tangible difference to the world around them, however big or small. 

If you’re reading this blog post, then a Lights On® Changemaker is probably what you’re hoping to see — and not where your child is today. Take our free quiz to discover your child’s current learning identity. You can then read about their educational profile and the approach you can take to supporting them.

Let’s empower your child’s learning journey

Whatever the learning identity of your child, you can be confident that there is a way to help and empower them with their education.

Want to find out more? Continue your Lights On® journey with our eBook ‘The real reason why your child doesn’t want to learn’. Here you’ll get to grips with your child’s disengagement and find strategies you can use to switch them back on to learning — because you can.



The Real Reason Your Child Doesn't Want to Learn

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