It’s back-to-school time, and though seeing old friends and trips to the mall for some trendy clothes are probably high on the agenda, for many families more serious issues exist around the school year.
For some lucky kids, accepting the idea of homework and doing it in a timely manner come naturally. Perhaps there are older siblings who set a good example, or maybe they just love school and/or have excellent time management skills.
Where others are concerned, homework becomes a long list of excuses and justifications (“I’m tired”; “I did it at school”; “It’s optional”) and nightly battles that exact a big toll on you and your child, with the end result–arguing; threats; punishments–leaving you frustrated and her no closer to getting the task done. These ideas may change your child’s ideas about the process of doing homework, and change your life in the balance.
First, experts say if your son or daughter doesn’t take school as seriously as you do, it’s possible that no amount of convincing or cajoling will change that. Though this situation may resolve with maturity in some children, in others it’s important to convey that scheduling homework time–preferably the same time every day so it becomes priority and routine–and a maintaining a commitment to doing the work are not optional.
Circumstances and Consequences
Next, consequences and incentives are the key to good practices, at least until your child gets into the habit of doing homework so that it essentially becomes second nature. Some experts believe the act of taking things away (participating in fewer sports; less time with electronics; curtailing activities with friends) can backfire in that it may develop a negative association with homework, though may become necessary in extreme circumstances. If you do take things away, be sure to make them short-term and proportional. Grounding a child for a month will not empower or motivate him to do homework, and will probably do little more than foster mounting resentment.
On the other hand, offering moderate, age-appropriate incentives for a little while can motivate your child to tackle the task head-on, buoyed by the idea of a trip to the movies or pizza with a buddy, or for an older child perhaps receiving “points” that accumulate slowly over time, toward a coveted purchase from a favorite mall or electronics store, or a maybe a day off from household chores. However experts warn that this kind of reward-based incentive should be short-lived, just until the child gets into a routine and learns to accept what needs to be done each night. Replace material incentives with high praise, say some educators, focusing on the child’s progress in terms of organization, comprehension, ability to complete assignments, and whatever other personal achievements may begin to shine through in the quest to tackle homework.
Motivation and Mistakes
Child (and adolescent) therapists also maintain that to avoid ongoing power struggles, though you have an important agenda in mind for your child, allowing her to make her own choices and accept the consequences are integral to growth and accountability. Clearly you’re trying to help avoid failing grades, with consequences that may reverberate for the rest of a young person’s life in higher education possibilities, available employment options, etc. However the old saying about learning from our own mistakes, no matter what our age, is true. If your child’s life is played out purely in reaction to you, the concept of making his own choices–or acting vs. reacting–will be nonexistent or rare at best. The result may be an adolescent and later an adult who is incapable of making decisions and/or accepting responsibility for the consequences of choices he has made. Skills and motivation ensue from inspiring and empowering a child to identify and examine his options, and maybe helping to clarify them; then hard as it may be, letting go is usually the right path to follow.
Structure and Supervision
If getting through homework is an issue, experts advocate creating a structured, supervised environment–perhaps a spot in the dining room–that is on the quieter side but where you can monitor your child’s work habits and progress each night.
While constant hovering may cause tension and undermine your child’s self-confidence, being available and periodically asking if she needs some assistance may make the difference between getting it done–thereby establishing a good work ethic–and perpetuating old patterns. Also, resist the temptation to step in and do the work for your child, instead asking questions about an assignment that may prompt him to think things through and think for himself. Encourage him to break things down into more understandable components, for example, or ask what method he’d employ to ferret out an answer he doesn’t immediately know.
In this regard, you can also determine if the reason your child avoids her homework may be based on a real lack of understanding of the subject matter. Sometimes a tutor, often be arranged through a school or community center, is in order. In the words of one surprised parent, “After months of struggling, we were amazed at how quickly and willingly our son did his homework every night once he understood the subject matter, which had been holding him back. It was as though he couldn’t wait to show everyone what he knew and how much he continued to be able to learn.”
Language and Latitude
Finally, some educators believe that the key to getting your child to do her homework lies in changing the vernacular. Replacing the words “homework time” with “study time,” and allowing her to choose when, exactly, that study time will be (after school; after dinner; awakening two hours before school to do it–although that may present a problem if there is more time needed) can sometimes provide a needed fresh approach, much in the way people tend to stick to a flexible “healthy eating plan” rather than a strict “diet,” though the results may be the same.