Help! How Can I Get My Kid to Do His Homework?

Now that school is almost back in session, I would love to have a good strategy for avoiding struggles to get my 8-year-old son sit down and complete his homework. The past battles have been horrible. I personally am against too much homework, but for now, he needs to stay on task and not fight us every night about it.

A child’s natural desire to savor the moment is one of the greatest gifts they bring to our lives. Imagine how dreary the world would be if our kids didn’t insist that we lighten up and have fun!

Doing pages of math problems or copying spelling words cannot compare to riding bikes, chasing the dog or, in the case of many children these days, playing an electronic game. But I do understand that homework needs to be done, and can appreciate your desire to help your son without enduring hours of whining and complaints.

Here are some ideas that might help reduce those horrid homework battles.

• Be realistic. I know there are some kids who naturally take pride in their academic achievements, but by the end of a long school day, most children simply want to have fun. While there’s nothing wrong with encouraging your son to do a good job and experience the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, it is unrealistic to expect that level of care and dedication every night. Let your son know that you understand he’d rather be playing, and that you’re willing to help him get his homework done so he can get back to the things he enjoys.

• Help him see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many children put off starting their homework because they feel as though it will take them hours. Invite your son to set a timer for the amount of time he believes he can work without needing a break. Many kids find it much easier to start an assignment if they know they only have to work for seven minutes; in fact, they often find that once they’re on a roll, they don’t want to stop when the buzzer goes off. (I personally use this approach for exercise!)

• Don’t be needy. He who is most attached to a particular outcome has the least amount of power. If your son senses your desperation about getting his homework started, you will activate what I refer to as “MOM TV”, adding to the drama by creating some of your own. Remember — he is the one with the homework, not you. While it is important to help an 8-year-old get his lessons finished, avoid coming across as needing him to manage your anxiety about his work.

• Incentivize. Humans are motivated by one of two things: a desire to experience pleasure or to avoid pain. Rather than focusing on the latter (which requires endless threats and punishments), remember Mary Poppins’ advice: “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Offer to play a few rounds of “Connect Four” with your son if he finishes in a reasonable time. Promise a cookie-baking session over the weekend if he manages to do homework all week without drama. While I would avoid on-the-spot bribes that are generated from desperation, I have no problem letting your son learn that good things happen as a result of fuss-free homework.

• Create an appealing space. Some children work well at a desk in their room. Others prefer being sprawled out on the living room floor. Ask your son to think about what kind of environment will best help him be focused and relaxed. Does he want to use noise-canceling headphones to tune out noise? Would he like to have a scented candle or quiet music in his homework haven? Help him create a space to work that is comfortable and inviting.

By letting your son know that you’re on his side, rather than lecturing him for not being more enthusiastic about his school work, you can help him get his work done without the drama that wears everyone out.

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, an Educational Therapist, Parent Educator and Professional Speaker. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology, a California K-9 Teaching Credential, a Masters of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology, and a California Marriage and Family Therapist license since 1991. Visit her website and be sure to sign up for her free Parenting Without Power Struggles newsletter!