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Challenge: Back to School

How We Can Motivate Our Kids to Complete Homework Without the Nightly Battle

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For most children (and my kids are no exception) entering school is something they look forward to. As they progress through grade school, middle school and high school the excitement of being in the classroom varies from year to year especially when they are put in class with a teacher who they've been told "gives a lot of homework."

Homework assignments, which are often seen as trivial and meaningless in the eyes of our kids, can transform an otherwise peaceful home into a battlefield pitting parents against children. According to the book I read last summer Homework Without Tears by Lee Canter and Lee Hausner, Ph.D., homework, if approached in the proper manner, need not be a hassle. For Canter and Hausner, keeping the peace is all about us (parents), having the right attitude. If we dismiss homework assignments as being meaningless and unimportant so too will our children.

It seemed silly to me that a kindergarten teacher would ask my kid to write a specific letter from the alphabet on a sheet of paper each night after having done so in class that day. Is it silly? To be honest - No! It appeared that the assignment, not only reinforces the work done in class that day, but also teaches my kid how to follow directions, work independently, complete tasks and manage their time. I was stunned!

Likewise, it seemed pointless to have to review multiplication tables over and over again with my child. Is it pointless? Again, No! The assignment reinforces work done in class as well as teaches my kid how to appropriately deal with the monotonous routines and tasks he will encounter in the adult world. Tossing paperwork out the bus window or throwing temper tantrums because one doesn't feel like doing something are inappropriate actions in the adult world. Homework assignments help to get this message across to young minds.

When you think outside the box and factor in the life skills learned from doing homework its easy to understand why teachers assign homework. Homework is important! Unfortunately, children aren't as easily convinced of the value gotten from these nightly assignments. That is where we parents come in.

According to the book, parental involvement is a key factor to ending homework hassles in the home. I wanted that for sure! A positive attitude that expresses our support of homework assignments as well as its value can be a very convincing argument for motivating children each night. Unfortunately, some children (read: my children) need more convincing to do their homework than others.

According to Canter and Haussner refusing to do homework should never be an option given to kids at any age. Michele Gordon, mother of three and Theology teacher at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, agreed. She said, and I quote: "There is simply no excuse or reason a child should refuse to do homework. Just not allowed. They're kids and don't have the right to refuse,".

Seems strict, but if you think about it, she's right. Setting the proper environment for doing homework is imperative according to Gordon. "Parents have to start off day one by instilling a good work ethic with their children in regards to homework. In elementary school parents should stay on top of their child's homework and assignments. A good working environment should be set up early on without distractions. A routine should be set up early, come home, have a snack and relax, and then set time for homework. As the child gets older, the parent doesn't need to stay as involved, depending on if the child is showing responsibility and the ability to work independently." In which I totally failed as a parent.

I tried hard, but unfortunately, sometimes even the best laid plans can be met with resistance from time to time. When my son entered kindergarten I designated a spot in my home where homework would be done each day. Our first rule when Lucas gets home is homework first everything else after. We have a special area with a table and two chairs set up where he does his studies everyday. No television, no radio, nothing but quiet time for homework. Despite following the suggestions voiced by teachers and written about in Homework With Tears occasions due arise in my home when homework time is met with "Please let me do this tomorrow, mom?"

Instilling a good work ethic early on, as suggested by Gordan, that includes an unwavering commitment to getting homework assignments completed can be a key factor in keeping the peace. Now, when my son puts up resistance I follow through with appropriate actions aimed at showing him refusal is not an option. If he gives me a hard time, he gets something special taken away from him with an explanation why. I don't have as much trouble with this as last year. He has finally got the hang of it.

If not doing homework becomes an issue as a child gets older Gordon suggests parents revisit the measures they employed when their child first started going to school. "The parent then needs to step in and start doing what they did when their child was younger. Monitor their homework. If resistance continues to be a problem parents should take away privileges," said Gordon.

Taking away privileges is exactly what my friend Audrey does when her son or daughter attempt to ignore homework assignments. She says that they need to learn homework is their responsibility not hers. And that things like loss of privileges, no sleepovers and groundings work. She has this poster board, working markers, glue sticks and printer paper in the house. I was stunned when I saw how well organized she is and when I asked her how this works she said "It saves a lot of aggravation and time, especially if kids have to write research papers and don't know exactly how much time do they need in order to complete it.". She organizes everything for them, and I agree, it saves a lot of time later, but for organization merely I didn't have time. I needed to teach them how to organize themselves.

Keeping in mind that no two children are alike parents need to be flexible in their approach to homework issues. What works for one child may not work for another. For some children (like my son) losing privileges once is enough motivation to keep them in line. For others (like my daughter), who feel they can wear their parents down with an iron will, it is not. We should remember we are acting in the best interest of our child and not give in to the child as this will only make things all the more difficult the next time homework needs to be done. I discovered that my daughter responds more favorably with a reward system such as being given an extra 15 minutes to stay up at night for completing their homework assignments.

Whichever approach we take for motivating our kids, negative consequences or a reward system, it is important that they understands refusing to do homework is unacceptable behavior to us and will not be tolerated. If you choose to use a reward system care must be given to your choice of words as some children may see an opening for manipulating you and taking control of the situation. Canter and Haussner suggests when using a reward system approach as motivation parents should use phrases like, "When you do your homework appropriately you will earn a reward" or "You did such a good job starting your homework without arguing that you can stay up 15 minutes later tonight."

Having the right attitude is important for motivating children however attitude alone won't get homework done. Some children will go to great lengths to avoid doing homework. Providing the proper setting for doing homework can eliminate many of the delay tactics children rely on for avoiding homework assignments.

Canter and Haussner recommend keeping all the necessary school supplies a child needs to complete their homework within the child's reach. If pencils, pens, paper, glue, scissors and rulers are made available in the immediate vicinity there is no excuse for the child to get up and wander about the house towards the television set putting an end to the nightly battle of redirecting him or her back to their books.

Homework doesn't have to be a contentious issue between parents and children. Yes, there can be peace and happiness at home when teachers assign homework and that I learned from my experience. Our involvement, a positive attitude and a suitable work area are all that is needed.

Homework Without Tears, Harper Paperbacks; 2nd edition (November 6, 1993)

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