Train your kids to do homework without arguing! May 14, 2007Posted by edukfun in add, adhd, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention training, challenged, children, concentration, discipline, education, ld, learning disability, parenting, school, underachieve, video games.
This article will, hopefully, shed some light on why homework may be necessary and provide you with some tools to motivate your kids to knuckle-down and get the job done. Without threats or bribes. Eventually.
Sometimes kids, especially kids with attentional issues or a learning disability, just won’t do homework.
It’s a national issue here in the U.S. Homework is supposed to facilitate mastery of new information and skills; all too often it becomes a focal point for power struggles at home. Many teachers have given up assigning much or even any homework, secure in the knowledge that fewer than 25% (made up statistic) of their students will actually follow through. Some parents, pressed to find any quality time with their kids, also want homework loads to be reduced or eliminated.
What good is homework, anyway?
After all, if homework isn’t good for anything then we should definitely eliminate it. The good (and bad) news is that when homework is appropriately assigned, it is vital for learning and development. Here are a few benefits of appropriate homework.
- Skill Mastery. New skills, especially in math and critical thinking, require practice to achieve mastery. There is not normally enough time during the school day for students to obtain all the practice they need. Once they “get it” in the classroom, they need independent practice to cement new learning.
- Supplementary Skill Development. Some skills that are taught in school are vital for real life, but are not part of the official curriculum. Internet research or practicing a speech (without peer commentary) are valuable skills that aren’t always practical or possible to spend time on during the school day.
- Self-Discipline. This is a vital skill for all students and especially for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD) or learning disabilities. Students simply must learn how to manage their time, work on their own, and accomplish lengthy, multi-step projects. Getting their homework done and on time is a great tool to practice this skill set.
Let’s make this perfectly clear: if a child does not obtain the self-discipline to complete homework consistently and on time, that child will struggle in their adult life.
Why don’t kids want to do their homework?
C’mon, are you really asking that? Some people enjoy learning and homework. Most people prefer “fun” activities. There are so many high-stimulation, low-cognitive-cost activities competing for kids’ time that homework is easily brushed aside. Television, internet, MySpace, text messaging, telephone, video games, you name it! Nobody is marketing homework. There is no California industry pushing Algebra; millions are spent pushing American Idol. You can’t expect kids, who are new to the world and susceptible to marketing influences, to make rational, adult decisions. The deck is stacked against them.
How can you get your kids to do their homework without a fight?
We have a well-behaved dog, entirely thanks to my wife. She is a wonderful dog trainer, and I’ve learned a great deal from her. For example, never use the dog’s name in a negative context. If the dog is chasing a squirrel, shout “No!” If you associate the dog’s name with being bad or punishment, then the dog won’t come when you call. Also, you have to catch the dog in the act. It does no good to punish the dog after the fact, because the dog won’t make the connection between chewing on the couch, which happened hours ago while you were at work, with your yelling and screaming now. Finally, you have to train the dog by reinforcing the behaviors you want. You can’t do it by punishing the behaviors you don’t want. So dole out cookies when the dog is laying quietly in bed instead of spankings when the dog jumps on guests. A dog training book can answer further questions.
The research shows that intrinsically motivated behaviors always win out. If your child does her homework because she expects an allowance boost, then the behavior is less lasting than if she is motivated because she feels good and proud when she gets it done.
This cracks me up because she fails to use those same skills on me. If I leave crumbs on the counter, she yells at me. But I never get a Scooby-Snack when I do remember to clean up. I get chewed out for messing something up even years after it actually happened! Ultimately, and you might want to put down your coffee before you read this, she has posted signs in various places around the house, mostly in the kitchen: Wipe Up Crumbs, Put Away Shoes, Turn Up the A/C, Shut off Lights. It may seem silly, but it works. After a month or two, they sink into the background and have to be changed.
How does this help you with your kids?
Give them a good dose of training. Forget that they “should know” or “should do it because” and just focus on training them that they will be rewarded for proper behavior, and slowly transition them away from external rewards (extrinsict motivation) to internal rewards (intrinsic motivation).
- Establish written expectations that you negotiate with your child. If they don’t understand what is expected of them, then they are being set up for failure. If they aren’t part of the process, then they feel powerless and are more likely to reject the expectations. Example: 90% of all homework assignments will be completed on time with a C or better grade.
- Spy On Them. You have to be a little sneaky, but your intention here is to catch them doing something right. Depending on your child, this may take a while. Peek in their room without knocking, email their teachers, install hidden cameras in the fridge, whatever it takes. Find SOMETHING that they did right, catch them RED HANDED, and IMMEDIATELY reward them and state exactly why you are proud of them. “Because you’re doing your homework for once (or for a change)” is not a compliment. Pretending to have a heart attack because your kid did something right may be funny, but it won’t train your kid to be anything more than a smarta**.
- When they screw up…and they will screw up. We all do. It is a requirement for being human. When they do, do NOT make a big deal out of it. Don’t lecture. Don’t shame or embarrass them. If you react emotionally to them screwing up, then you are reinforcing the behavior. Don’t let it get your goat. Accept that it will take time for new behaviors to become habits. In your Step 1 Written Expectations you must have some clear consequences for “screwing up.” Dispassionately follow those guidelines.
- Focus on Feelings. This is vital. You’ve got to help them build an internal reward system so that cookies and cell phones and allowances aren’t what motivates them. They have to–eventually–be motivated by the good feelings that “getting the job done” generates. Rewards are important in the beginning, should be less and less frequent as time goes on, and ultimately should be replaced by intrinsic motivators. You help your child create this by saying things like:
- “Doesn’t it feel good to have this out of the way?”
- “Great job getting this finished ahead of time! I’m proud of you and you should feel proud, too.”
- “Remember how stressed out you felt when you left your last report until the last minute? You’ll feel a lot better if you start tonight.”
Pretending to have a heart attack because your kid did something right may be funny, but it won’t train your kid to be anything more than a smarta**.
Of course, if you are a procrastinator who never pays his bills on time, your kids will pick up on that and copy it. Live the way you want your kids to live and they’ll pick up on that instead.
I hope this helps!