Sunday, May 4, 2008

Q & A: How do I get my son to do his homework?


I am needing some guidance on how to handle my son in not doing his school work. I have taken his DS, Gameboy, and PS2 all away from him. Plus, he is also not able to test for a new belt in martial arts until he starts improving and owning his school work and responsibilities. I just do not know what else I can do. Can you please give me some other things that I may try on him?


There are several steps that need to be followed. It will not be easy or quick, but if you put in the time, effort and consistency, it will pay off in the long run.

1. Find out if he is able to do the work. The only way to find this out is to actually sit with him and help him with his homework. Is he capable of this level of work? Are the assignments clear? Can he read the instructions? Is he able to stay focused? I have helped my kids with their homework before and found that something was not clear from the teacher. I worked closely with the teacher through phone and email until we got it worked out.

Once you have insured that he can do it, you do not need to sit and watch over him. Get up, tell him to call you if he has a question, then go about your business. You don’t want him to pretend he doesn’t understand to get the attention of you sitting there walking him through it.

2. Is there an environment and routine conducive to study? Are there distractions that need to be eliminated (TV, music, etc.)? Does he have a set time to work on homework? Our kids come home from school, sit at the table and eat a snack for 10 minutes to unwind from the day, then it is homework time for everyone. We do not deviate from this schedule. It is structured, predictable and stable. If you are not home during the after school hours, then this will have to be adjusted (immediately after dinner may work best). He needs a regular time, every day, with you available to ask questions when he needs it, and to help him stay focused. I do not know any elementary or junior high school-age boy who can sit and stay focused on homework without supervision!

3. Once the above are done, then you can set up incentives for good work and consequences for poor work. Work closely with his teacher through email or phone to get a weekly report on any missing work. A note from the teacher doesn’t always make it home, so if Friday comes, and you don’t get the “missing-work-report” you have no idea if he completed his assignments. If you get an email on Friday that everything was turned in, perhaps you take him to ice cream. If you find that he has missing assignments, then he has to work on those assignments and some privilege is taken away or there is restriction to his room for an appropriate amount time. These consequences should be clear and consistently enforced. If you say, “no PS2 for a week” then follow through. I would recommend the consequence last until work is caught up. Consequences must also be delivered with no anger or lecturing. You don’t need to remind him, “you could be out playing with your friends right now if you had done your school work” or “you could be having TV time if you finished all your assignments.” The consequences speak for themselves. He knows these things already and this type of lecturing makes him irritated with you instead of himself and sabotages the discipline.

4. Watch your own attitude. You are on his side. You want him to succeed. This is not a battle of you against him, it is you coming alongside him, being his coach and encourager to help him accomplish a good goal. Badgering, lecturing, shaming, and cajoling are not going to motivate him, and will not serve to build a positive relationship. Taking the time get to the bottom of the problem (step 1), giving him the environment to succeed (step 2), and being his cheerleader and accountability (step 3), all done with an attitude of love and understanding will show him that you are his greatest ally in this adventure called life and responsibility.

5. Finally, be an example. Do you value a “job well done”? What is your work ethic? Do you come home complaining about your responsibilities at work or your boss or obstacles you face? Those are all part of life and how you handle them will be an example to your kids of how they should handle similar challenges.

Once again, it will not be easy, but if you can do these steps with consistency, change will happen.

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