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As much as parents want their child to automatically do their homework and read without putting up a fight, it’s actually a good thing that kids protest a bit. It would certainly be easier to have little robot children who comply with every parental wish, but ultimately that little robot would grow up to be passive and unsuccessful. Instead of getting stuck feeling frustrated that your child won’t do homework or read on cue, accept that most children try to avoid it. Try creative ways to engage them so that they get the job done without too much of a fuss.

First, I’ll share three techniques that involve positive reinforcement, which includes giving your child something good when they do something good. The alternative is to issue a punishment when they do something bad (not completing their homework). Yes, there is one punishment that works effectively, but I find that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment as a rule. Remember, the more you punish your child, the more they will see you as an opponent. Use positive reinforcement instead and your kid will listen to you better because they will see you as more of an ally.

Treat or prize basket

If your child is ten years old or younger, you need a treat basket. The next time you go to the market with your child, visit the treat aisle and tell your child to pick out a bag or two of their favorite treats. At home, fill a basket with small items that your child values and allow him or her to pick out two treats after the homework or reading is completed. My children love chocolate, so their basket includes little wrapped chocolates. Nothing motivates my children to do their homework as much as that innocent little treat basket. If your kids are motivated by stickers or little dime toys, visit the dollar store and stock up on them, and include them in your basket.

Sit with your child at the table while they do homework

It’s important that parents not work too hard to help their children with homework. Once a child fully learns to read, they can understand directions and they should be able to complete their homework with only occasional guidance from you. Sit with them at the table and write your grocery list or answer emails while they focus on their homework. Trust me: They will get their homework done a lot faster if you are there to make sure they stay focused.

Suggest a post-homework fun activity

Whether your child is in elementary school or junior high, you can motivate your child to do something they don’t want to do. Sometimes one of the most effective motivators – especially with elementary school-age kids –is to do something fun with them after they finish their homework. My daughter, for example, loves to do dance shows for her parents. I say to her, “Come on and finish your reading, and if we have time later, you can do a dance show.” (Wow, do kids love attention!) You could try any of the following motivators: throwing the football or kicking a soccer ball outside; looking up funny videos online; playing dress-up; making art at the kitchen table; or watching a family show on TV together.

A simple punishment

Though using punishment is not as effective as using positive reinforcement, sometimes a benign punishment is necessary. If your child outright refuses to do their homework, it’s a fair consequence to send them to bed early. Say, “This is a choice you can make. I can’t control every single thing you do. You make your own choices. One choice is to not do your homework and go to bed now, and the other choice is to follow the rules, do your homework, and then you can chill out and watch TV later.”

Ultimately, try not to let yourself get too worked up or angry when your child refuses to do homework or read. If you’re a parent who also works out of the home, coming home to these challenges can be extremely frustrating at the end of a long day. When you feel yourself getting triggered and starting to go to that frustrated, lashing-out place, take a break by going into another room and then revisit the situation a half-hour later. After all, nothing good happens once both child and parent are upset.

If school hasn’t started yet for your children, it will soon. That means it’s time to shift from summer flexibility to a routine that can sustain learning.

Here are eight ideas to get the year off on the right foot.

Early to bed, early to rise. It’s still light late into the evening but getting up in time for a good breakfast, a relaxed send-off, and an unhurried walk to the bus stop requires getting to bed on time. Remember that children need at least 10 hours of sleep every night, so count back from the best time to arise and get kids into bed early enough to fit in 10 hours of shut-eye.

You are what you eat. Summertime lends itself to sugary sodas and lemonades, quick snacks, and sketchy meals. School time demands more. Now is the moment to cut out the junk food and stock the fridge and pantry with nutrient dense foods. Smart kids eat smart.

Sunshine works wonders. One joy of summer should continue straight into the school year: outdoor play. The best way to rejuvenate after a stressful day in the classroom is not to sit still even more in front of the TV or computer. The best way is to get out and play.

Accentuate the positive. Summer’s been a fun and relaxed time and the school year should be as relaxed as you can make it too. Students do better when they are unstressed and confident. So avoid making threats or voicing your own worries about your child’s success. Instead, keep things positive.

Slow down, do less. Starting a new school year is tiring. If a child is also starting a new season of soccer, starting a new class in Spanish, and starting a volunteer project in the community, it’s just too much. Let school be the centerpiece of August and September, not just one responsibility of many. Do less.

Establish strong study habits. Don’t wait for your child to fall behind. Get going right away with a daily review of what needs to be learned, practice time, or homework time. Make studying ordinary – a habit – not a chore.

Make a place for school work. Now is the time to clear off the kitchen table or locate a quiet study table and move the sports stuff off it. Putting summer away is hard, but setting up a space for homework is exciting and motivating. Let your child help you shop for pencils and other tools, a desk lamp, and even a cushion for the chair to make the place for school work special.

Include daily downtime. Make certain that not every moment of your child’s day is scheduled. Downtime is important for creative thinking and even for absorbing material that was learned earlier in the day. Let your child kick back and do nothing without hassle.

The school year kicks off with high hopes. Help those hopes come to reality with a little planning ahead of time.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Does homework at your house stretch out to fill the entire evening? Assuming you believe the amount of homework is reasonable for your child’s grade (and check with your child’s teacher or principal if you think it’s not), then now is time to help your child get homework done with time left over for fun. Here’s how.

You remember Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time allowed. The child who lets his homework drag on is allowing it too much time. Many kids do this because they don’t know any other way. Because homework always takes all night, they don’t realize it might be possible to do it quicker. To change your child’s perspective, you’ll need to help her think differently.

A New Daily Routine

As soon as your child gets home review together what homework was assigned that day. It helps to walk through the daily classroom schedule: what do you have for reading? what do you have for math? what do you have for social studies? and so on. The objective is to get a clear picture of the homework load early on, so there are no surprises later.

Then, help your child to imagine how long each piece of homework will take. He will need your help here, though he’ll get better at estimating time as he becomes more practiced. Put a sticky note on each bit of homework that indicates his best guess about time.

Next, help your child consider what else he’d like to do that evening. Does he need to play outside a bit or have a snack? Is there a television program he wants to watch? Does he have some sort of practice or lesson he needs to get to? Remember to figure in time for dinner and a reasonable bedtime.

Now your child creates her plan. What homework will she do first and how will the various bits of homework fit into the spaces between the other things she needs or wants to do? Some kids like to do the hardest or longest piece of homework first and some like to get a lot of the smaller, easier ones out of the way first. There’s no right or wrong way.

Get settled in. Make sure your child has a clear space to do the work. If your child has trouble staying on-task, make this a quiet spot near where you’re also going to be. Turn off the TV and other distractions. Especially when you’re trying to build a new habit for doing homework, it’s important that the place for homework work well for your child. Other kids in the household might need to help in reducing the interruptions.

Set a timer or at least note on the clock when the first bit of homework should be done, based on your child’s estimate of the time needed. Let him get started.

When the first piece of homework is completed, share high-fives all round and let your child get on to the next. Celebrate each step but help your child stay on-track. Make sure to stop for whatever breaks your child has planned but make sure also to not delay in getting back down to business.

A New Habit

It will take a while for this new system to become a habit. But if you can stick with it for three weeks, your child will be on the way to being able to manage his time better all by himself. He will also start to see the results of his diligence, in the form of better grades at school and more fun at home. He may be able to look back on the time when homework took forever and laugh at his old self.

But What If?

What if there is just too much homework? Talk with your child’s teacher and talk also with other parents. Is everyone in the class having the same difficulty? If it’s just your child having trouble, why is that? Is she having trouble not just with homework but with guided instruction during the school day? Does she have too many extracurricular activities that take up too much after-school time? What is reasonable and what can be done?

What if he can’t remember his assignments? Most schools these days offer a homework hotline or online homework listings that can be helpful on those nights your child can’t figure out the homework directions or he knows there is an assignment but can’t remember what it is. Using a homework notebook can help, though he’ll have to remember to fill this in during class, when you won’t be there to remind him to write things down.

What if she just plain won’t do it? Kids sometimes don’t do homework because it’s better to be thought lazy than stupid. Why go to all the trouble of doing homework and earn a D – and let everyone know you’re dumb – when not-doing homework just means you’re lazy or too cool for school? If your child feels she cannot succeed, she won’t do her homework. In this case, you’ll need to help her get her confidence back, by locating a tutor or helping her with her work yourself. (Notice this doesn’t mean you do the homework – that only makes your child think you believe she’s dumb too. But it does mean you’ll need to make her success a priority.)

When you help your child manage his homework, you give him a great skill he’ll use over and over. It’s worth the time and effort you’ll need to put into this to get your child back on track.