Amazing Tips to Make Children Do Homework
Parents often feel it’s their job to get their kids to do well in school. Naturally, you might get anxious about this responsibility as a parent. You might also get nervous about your kids succeeding in life—and homework often becomes the focus of that concern.
But when parents feel it’s their responsibility to get their kids to achieve, they now need something from their children—they need them to do their homework and be successful. I believe this need puts you in a powerless position as a parent because your child doesn’t have to give you what you want.
The battle about homework actually becomes a battle over control. Your child starts fighting to have more control over the choices in his life, while you feel that your job as a parent is to be in control of things. So you both fight harder, and it turns into a war in your home.
So, instead of waging a nightly battle of wills with your kids over multiplication tables and verb conjugations, try tailoring your approach to their temperament.
For the past two hours, you’ve been sitting with your kid, speaking only in soothing tones (while contemplating what bribes might work), desperately hoping he’ll miraculously plow through three more pages of math problems without another meltdown.
Unless you happen to be blessed with a hyper-organized, methodical, consistently motivated kid (we’re not jealous at all), you are keenly familiar with the pain and frustration of homework. Is there any way to sidestep all the drama?
Find below a list of amazing tips to make your children do homework.
1. Stop the Nightly Fights
The way you can stop fighting with your kids over homework every night is to stop fighting with them tonight. Disengage from the dance. Choose some different steps or decide not to dance at all. Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student. Stay focused on your job, which is to help your child do his job. Don’t do it for him.
2. Take a Break
If you feel yourself getting reactive or frustrated, take a break from helping your child with homework. Your blood pressure on the rise is a no-win for everyone. Take five or ten minutes to calm down, and let your child do the same if you feel a storm brewing.
3. Create Structure Around Homework Time
Set limits around homework time. Here are a few possibilities that I’ve found to be effective with families:
- Homework is done at the same time each night.
- Homework is done in a public area of your house.
- If grades are failing or falling, take away screen time so your child can focus and have more time to concentrate on his work.
- Make it the rule that weekend activities don’t happen until work is completed. Homework comes first. As James Lehman says, “The weekend doesn’t begin until homework is done.”
4. Get out of Your Child’s “Box”
When you start over-focusing on your child’s work, pause and think about your own goals. What are your life goals and what “homework” do you need to get done in order to achieve those goals? Model your own persistence and perseverance to your child.
5. Let Your Child Make His Own Choices
I recommend that within the parameters you set around schoolwork, your child is free to make his own choices. You need to back off a bit as a parent. Otherwise, you won’t be helping him with his responsibilities.
If you take too much control over the situation, it will backfire on you by turning into a power struggle. And believe me, you don’t want a power struggle over homework.
6. Let Your Child Own the Consequences of His Choices
Within the structure you set up, your child has some choices. He can choose to do his homework or not. And he can choose to do it well and with effort or not. The natural consequences will come from the choices he makes—if he doesn’t choose to get work done, his grades will drop.
When that happens, you can ask him some honest questions:
“Are you satisfied with how things are going?
“What do you want to do about your grade situation?”
“How can I be helpful to you?”
Be careful not to be snarky or judgmental, just ask the question honestly. Show honest concern and try not to show disappointment.
7. Intervene Without Taking Control
The expectation is that homework is done to the best of your child’s ability. When he stops making an effort and you see his grades drop, that’s when you invite yourself in. You can say:
“Now it’s my job to help you do your job better. I’m going to help you set up a plan to help yourself and I will check in to make sure you’re following it.”
Set up a plan with your child’s input in order to get him back on his feet. For example, the new rules might be that homework must be done in a public place in your home until he gets his grades back up. You and your child might meet with the teacher to discuss disciplinary actions should his grades continue to drop.
In other words, you will help your child get back on track by putting a concrete plan in place. And when you see this change, then you can step back out of it. But before that, your child is going to sit in a public space and you’re going to work on his math or history, perhaps together.
You’re also checking in more. Depending on the age of your child, you’re making sure that things are checked off before he goes out. You’re adding a half hour of review time for his subjects every day. And then each day after school, he’s checking with his teacher or going for some extra help.
Remember, this plan is not a punishment—it’s a practical way of helping your child to do his best.
8. “I Don’t Care about Bad Grades”
Many parents will say that their kids just don’t care about their grades. The truth is that somewhere inside, they do care. “I don’t care” also becomes part of a power struggle.
In other words, your child is saying, “I’m not going to care because you can’t make me. You don’t own my life.” And he is right. The truth is, you can’t make him care. Instead, focus on what helps his behavior improve. Don’t focus on the attitude as much as what he’s actually doing.
9. Motivation Comes From Ownership
It’s important to understand that caring and motivation come from ownership. You can help your child be motivated by allowing him to own his life more.
So let him own his disappointment over his grades. Don’t feel it more than he does. Let him choose what he will do or not do about his homework and face the consequences of those choices. Now he will begin to feel ownership, which may lead to caring.
Let him figure out what motivates him, not have him motivated by fear of you. Help guide him but don’t prevent him from feeling the real-life consequences of bad choices like not doing his work. Think of it this way: it’s better for your child to learn from those consequences at age ten by failing his grade and having to go to summer school than for him to learn at age 25 by losing his job.
10. When Your Child Has a Learning Disability
Take note that it’s very important that you check to see that there are no other learning issues around your child’s refusal to do homework. If he is having a difficult time doing the work or is performing below grade level expectations, he should be tested to rule out any learning disabilities or other concerns.
If there is a learning disability, your child may need more help. For example, some kids need a little more guidance; you may need to sit near your child and help a little more. You can still put structures into place depending on who your child is.
But be careful. Many times, kids with learning disabilities get way too much help and develop what psychologists call learned helplessness. Be sure you’re not over-functioning for your learning disabled child by doing his work for him or filling in answers when he is capable of thinking through them himself.
11. The Difference between Guidance and Over-Functioning
Your child needs guidance from you, but understand that guidance does not mean doing his spelling homework for him. Rather, it’s helping him review his words. When you cross the line into over-functioning, you are taking on your child’s work and putting his responsibilities on your shoulders. So you want to guide him by helping him edit his book report himself or helping him take the time to review before a test. Those can be good ways of guiding your child, but anything more than that is taking too much ownership of his work.
If your child asks for help, you can coach him. Suggest that he speak with his teacher on how to be a good student, and teach him those communication skills. In other words, show him how to help himself. So you should not back off altogether—it’s that middle ground that you’re looking for. That’s why it’s important to set up a structure. And within that structure, you expect your child to do what he has to do to be a good student.
12. Believe In Your Child
Start believing in their children. Don’t keep looking at your child as a fragile creature who can’t do the work. We often come to the table with fear and doubt—we think if we don’t help our kids, they’re just not going to do it.
But as much as you say, “I’m just trying to help you,” what your child actually hears is, “You’re a failure; I don’t believe you can do it on your own.”
Instead, your message should be, “I know you can do it. And I believe in you enough to let you make your own choices and deal with the consequences.”
Below is also a list of the most common “homework personalities” that crop up in kids and how to handle each one of them.
1. The procrastinator
Your child has known about the solar system project for three weeks now. But so far there’s only a half-painted Styrofoam sun abandoned in the basement. As parents, we know all too well the temptation to put work off, and it’s no different for many kids.
The first thing to investigate is whether your child understands the material or is struggling with a learning exceptionality. Once those are ruled out, it’s good to remember that kids are going to find pretty much everything vastly more interesting than homework.
On top of that, most kids don’t yet have a clear concept of how long a task takes. “Why should I start gluing this longhouse now? It won’t take that long!” (Which is how you find yourself huddled in the basement at 10:30 p.m., nowhere near finished.)
What to do: Insist the fun stuff can’t happen until the homework is completed. “Things like playing video games cannot be done until homework is clearly done.” It also helps to break the work down into manageable parts. So if your kid has five pages of addition due next week, have him tackle one page a day.
2. The perfectionist
Kids who are sensitive or who are identified as gifted are especially prone to perfectionism. The parents often say they know their kids are capable of the work, “they don’t want to venture into that vulnerable state of doing homework.” Perfectionists, see it as “an opportunity for someone to shine a spotlight on the fact that they have no idea what they’re doing or feel that what they’re doing is not living up to their ideal.” Sometimes they’ll start a project many times—they keep rejecting their own ideas, hoping the next one will be perfect.
What to do: Overcoming perfectionism is anything but easy. In fact, your kid may always have anxiety around getting things right, and it might take longer for her to get through work than you might expect.
Try to keep the focus on process rather than outcome.
3. The speed demon
With some kids, the faster they can get their homework done, the better. They’ll come home, whip out the assignment sheet, write a few rudimentary sentences and then holler, “Done!” They might feel that it’s silly to write about a book they’ve already read and they want to spend as little time as possible rehashing it. Those two-digit multiplication problems were a piece of cake in class—why do a whole extra page of them at home? They have better things to do.
What to do: Going over homework with your kids and double-checking that it’s up to snuff can help them understand why it’s important to be thorough.
4. The rebel
Maybe your kid is starting to see the world with a more critical eye, or maybe she has other interests that fall outside what’s being delivered in the school curriculum. In any case, she just doesn’t see the point of that geometry worksheet and has absolutely no interest in exploring the history of French-Canadian folk music. Rebels will second-guess and question the purpose of almost everything.
This, of course, can be a good trait. There’s more and more evidence that in the future the recipe for adult success will be about “divergent thinking, creative thinking, thinking outside the box and not waiting for someone to tell you what to do.” But if this attitude is starting to become problematic for the teacher and marks are suffering, it might be time to go back to basics.
What to do: Keep the emphasis on learning. Help your kids discover what new ideas, concepts or skills they can master. See if there’s a way to draw connections between their passions and the work they’re doing at school. If, for instance, you can persuade them that learning about area, perimeter and volume might help them design and build their own Millennium Falcon, you may make some progress.
Resist the urge, however, to offer rewards or bribes. Even if you’re just rewarding effort, it sets up a bad dynamic in which the kid’s goal—whether it’s ice cream or more screen time—becomes the prize, not the learning experience. Sometimes it comes down to this message: “Whatever homework you’re getting, you just need to get it done, you don’t necessarily have to put your heart and soul into it.”
5. The forgetter
Did he write in his agenda today? “Oh no, I forgot.” When is the diorama project due? “I can’t remember.” Where did he put that assignment sheet for the family tree project? “I don’t know.”
Part of our role as parents is to help kids develop organizational skills, but with some kids, that’s going to require a lot of monitoring, reminding and cajoling. For many children, remembering and organization simply are ‘can’t dos’ rather than ‘won’t dos,’ because of immaturity.
What to do: Start out with a lot of structure, repetition and reminders. At first, don’t rely on your child to drive the process, as she may not yet have the skills or the maturity to deal with the consequences of her actions. Help her develop good habits by attaching a tag to her backpack with a list of everything she needs to remember to bring home and by checking her agenda together at the end of the day. Once her organizational skills begin to develop, it’s important to back off, so that you’re not just perpetuating a situation in which the child is depending on you to remember everything for her. (You don’t want to end up being your kid’s permanent personal assistant.)
Make it a habit
As parents, we quickly learn that no matter what the parenting challenge, one of our most effective tools is helping kids develop a routine. That applies to homework, too. Experts recommend kids sit down at the same time, in the same place every evening so that starting homework becomes as automatic as putting on a seat belt.
When to back off
There’s no doubt kids benefit when you get involved in monitoring homework and help them establish good habits. But you don’t want to get over-involved. If you help too much, you might be masking a larger problem. If a child is assigned work she just doesn’t have the skills, knowledge or understanding to complete, there’s really no value in having a parent fill in the blanks. After all, kids learn the most when they themselves figure out how to overcome hurdles. And teachers need to know when a child is having trouble with the work or just isn’t developmentally ready to tackle it. If you believe your child has the maturity and the tools to deal with failure, sometimes the decision not to intervene might be the right one, and once in a while a reprimand from a teacher might go way further than more nagging from you. The message that occasionally we need to back off can be a difficult one for some parents to hear.
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