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Do your homework!

October 31st, 2007

Would you rather clean the house or go shopping? Would you choose washing dishes over watching TV?

No one prefers work over pleasure – not you, and certainly not your kids. So it really should come as no surprise that our children will find every excuse to procrastinate doing their homework or chores. Don’t we as adults do the same?

You’ve probably found that nagging or yelling or threatening your children to do their work hasn’t worked. After all, would it motivate us to work more if our boss nag or yell at us? Maybe for the short term, but a mean boss certainly will not get the best work out of his employees. Our children are no different. If we put ourselves in their shoes, it makes sense that what we need to do is to give some positive motivation for them.

First, we need to define our goals. As a parent, our goal is not just to get our kids to do their homework. Remember to keep in mind the bigger picture whenever we parent our children. What we really want for our children is to develop good work habits, time management skills, responsibility, and respect for authority.

My older daughter is in her first year of college, and how well she internalized those lessons are being tested. Without the external pressures from parents or teachers now, will she succeed in college? If she has not learned good work habits and time management skills from the last 12 years of schooling, 13 including kindergarten, graduating from high school has not taught her enough.

I have a few suggestions here for teaching our children good study habits. Before you begin, it is important to have a timer on hand.

1. Some children need to unwind after a long day at school. I substituted at an after-school care center and saw a bunch of over-stressed kids. They get off school, come to the center, and are told to sit there and do their homework as well as additional tutoring work. It would be more healthy to allow the kids to de-stress with a snack and some play time. Let your child know that you are setting the timer for half an hour to an hour of free time. Put the timer where it can be easily seen. When the timer goes off, the expectation is clear. There is no excuse not to start the homework immediately. “Can I just watch the last 10 minutes of this show?” No! “Just one more game?” No!

2. Have your child lay out all the work that needs to be completed. If there is a long-term project, decide how much of it needs to be done today. Check each subject area. Most teachers will tell the students to write down their homework assignments in their notebooks. Go over the list with your child. Here is where you teach your child priorities. Which assignment should he do first? If there is an assignment that is easy, do that first and get it out of the way. Next, which assignment will affect his grade the most? There are some assignments that are long and tedious, but not worth much on the grade. He can do that last.

3. Set the timer for a certain amount of time that your child needs to work continuously. Depending on your child, it could be anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. During that period, he must be working diligently on the homework. The time should be long enough to actually get some work done, but short enough that he doesn’t lose focus. Let him know that when the timer beeps, he gets to take a short break. Set the timer again for a 5-minute break. When it beeps after 5 minutes, again the expectation is clear. It’s back to the table to continue where he left off. Lengthen each work period by 2 minutes. Since children generally do not have an extended attention span, slowly requiring a longer work time helps to develop a longer attention span. This routine also breaks up the work into manageable segments. Even when adults work, we take breaks, don’t we? When the child knows there is a break coming, it makes the work more bearable. Continue this routine until the work is done.

4. Set a reward system for achieving successes. Everyone needs kudos to encourage progress. Adults get paychecks to keep us going to work. In fact, we like our paychecks weekly rather than monthly, don’t we? For example, if your child finishes all his homework by 5pm, he gets a sticker on the chart or a marble in the jar. When he gets 5 stickers or marbles, the reward is…

The best motivation is positive reinforcements. Be creative and make work fun for your children. This way, they will develop a positive attitude and good work ethic.

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