I don’t want to speak in
absolutes, but I can say with reasonable certainty that there aren’t more than
a handful of children who actually like doing homework.
Kids are wired to enjoy the moment, and generally speaking,
answering questions about Saturn or writing paragraphs about Woodrow Wilson is
tedious, time-consuming and robs children of the precious opportunity to do
really important things — like watching TV or chasing the dog.
Still, if your children go to school, chances are they have
homework. And while the little ones (yes, most schools now give homework to
kindergartners) might actually enjoy pasting kidney beans onto pretty yellow
construction paper for their “science project,” for most parents, it’s takes a
Herculean effort to simply get little Ethan or Delilah to locate that “missing”
math worksheet and get started.
Once children have accepted their fate and are at least sitting at
the table with the worksheet and a functioning pencil, you have to inspire the
reluctant scholar to activate a few of his or her brain cells to at least
attempt to do a decent job on the assignment.
Whew! Getting a child to even start their homework can be fairly
exhausting, can’t it? And then we have to get them to try their best! Seems impossible!
Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to motivate your
child to put in some earnest effort when they do their homework:
First, recognize that human beings are motivated by reward.
Children (and most adults) operate from a “What’s in it for me?” standpoint.
While I’m not recommending that you pay children to improve their grades
(though I’m also not entirely opposed to that strategy), it is important to
acknowledge that most children are not intrinsically motivated to do a great
job on their school work, at least until good grades represent a realistic
reward for them in terms of college, scholarships, staying on the team, and so
While some youngsters simply find satisfaction in a job well done,
most kids race through their homework so they can get it over with. It’s vital
that you create a more immediate payoff for making the effort today to try
their best on something that may not translate into anything to them for weeks
or even months. (In other words, a child who tends to rip through his math
sheet typically isn’t going to slow down and be more careful when the payoff —
a better grade on his or her report card — is months away.)
Invite your child — with your help — to come up with a list of
small incentives. It might be that if they show that they checked their math
answers, they get an extra bedtime story. Or it could be that if the teacher
reports that they’re showing improvement in their writing assignments, you go
out for an ice cream after school on Friday.
Another way to get kids to raise the bar on their effort is to
have them grade their work. When your child says, “I’m done!” after a homework
session, encourage them to assign a grade to what they’ve done. Teachers who
have implemented this approach in the classroom have found that the quality of
their students’ work rises significantly when they give a smaller quantity of
homework, but ask students to raise the quality of what they do. (Check out “The
Quality School” by William Glasser.)
You may also help kids focus more on doing a good job if you make
homework time more pleasant. Play quiet music, light a fragrant candle, or
break a long task up with short breaks so they don’t feel they’re trapped in
Encouraging children to make more than minimal effort on their
school work starts by recognizing the reality of the situation: there has to be
some motivation and enjoyment, other than lectures and threats. By coming alongside
them and acknowledging that it’s not much fun, but pointing out some small
incentives, and by making homework time more enjoyable, you’ll help them know
that there is a reason to try their best, and that it actually feels good to
show the world how smart they really are.
For more support with homework issues, register for my class on
Homework and the Self-Driven Child here!