Increasing Motivation To Do Homework

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

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Do your children get their homework done with little or no input from you? If so, consider yourself fortunate! On the other hand, if your children struggle to get their homework done, you may find yourself more involved.

Your role is to assist your child in establishing a good place to do homework and good conditions for working. For example, you might improve the conditions by giving them something to munch on while they are working like hummus and crackers, carrot sticks or strawberries.

How Involved Should You Be in Homework?

Let your child be in charge of requesting your help if needed. Establish times when you are available to help like from 3:00 – 5:00 and 7:00 – 8:00. If you don’t set boundaries, you may find yourself overwhelmed by things like trying to prepare dinner while also helping with homework.

In their book Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal write “Parents who are actively involved with their children’s homework every night, or who check over their children’s work before they turn it in, are establishing a dangerous pattern. First, they’re creating confusion about whose responsibility the homework really is. Second, they’re cutting off essential feedback that teachers need about what children do or don’t understand on their own. Third, they’re unwittingly criticizing their children’s abilities, implying that what their kids can do alone isn’t good enough to be seen in public. Parents who correct their children’s homework are trying to be helpful, but they’re unintentionally communicating to their children that mistakes are intolerable and must be hidden. This can be particularly harmful for perfectionistic children.

One mom realized she was establishing a dangerous pattern by checking over her daughter’s math homework every night. One day she missed her daughter’s mistake and the teacher marked the answer as wrong. The daughter stormed home complaining "You made a mistake!" This mom quickly realized that checking over her homework needed to be her daughter’s responsibility not hers.

Increasing Homework Motivation by Making It a Game

Difficult tasks like homework become more engaging if they involve the attributes of a game:

  • Focus on accomplishing tasks to win
  • Time limit
  • Scoring
  • Prizes
Your kids can make homework more like a game by doing the following:

  • Write down the homework tasks that need to be done.
  • For each task, write down the time they think it will take.
  • Set a timer for a task. If it’s accomplished before the timer goes off, score one point.
  • Determine the prize for the points. It can be as simple as running outside and shooting 10 baskets or eating three strawberries.
  • Check that item off and go to the next task.
By transforming homework into a game, they will have more fun doing it. They will also gain the important life skill of writing down what needs to get done and checking it off once it's done.

Getting Some Exercise Before Doing Homework

If your child is struggling to get started on a homework assignment, an exercise break might just be the answer. This is especially true if your child is feeling angry, frustrated or overwhelmed.

In their book, The Whole-Brain Child, Siegel and Bryson explain why this works. "Research shows that when we change our physical state - through movement or relaxation - we change our emotional state. ... The next time your children need help calming down or regaining control, look for ways to get them moving."

They tell the story of a 10-year-old boy who successfully used this strategy when he was feeling extremely frustrated with all his homework. When his mom tried to coax him into getting up from underneath his beanbag chair and sitting at his desk, he decided to go for a run instead. The act of running as fast as he could for as long as he could helped him calm down. When he came back home, he was ready to have a snack and start on his homework.

Turning in Homework

One dad was frustrated by his son continually missing homework assignments. So he agreed to stop nagging his son about homework if his son would email his teachers weekly to check if he was missing any homework.

Although his son was embarrassed to have to email his teachers, he did it. This weekly email allowed any homework problems to become visible and helped his son greatly reduce his missing assignments.

Struggling Far More than Others

Is your child struggling in school year-after-year despite getting extra help? If so, there is probably a more fundamental obstacle that your child needs help in overcoming.

Experts are figuring out better ways to help these kids by addressing their underlying brain neurology. One of the thought leaders in this area is Barbara Arrowsmith Young who founded the Arrowsmith Program. This program is based on neuroscience research and 30 years of experience demonstrating that it is possible for students to strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying their learning dysfunctions through a program of specific cognitive exercises.

When your kids experience success in their homework, their internal motivation improves. Once they have the skills they need to get their homework done independently, your parenting job becomes much easier!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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