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Kid doing his homework

Kid doing his homework

How many times have you said something like, “My child can focus on TV, movies or video games for hours, but getting her to complete homework is like pulling teeth”?

Kids, even defiant ones, usually don’t consciously choose to fail. Yet, your child refuses to do her homework, which causes her to fail. Neither you nor your child know why she is sabotaging herself.

Most moms and dads struggle with getting their youngster to complete homework after school. Rarely is a kid ever eager to get back to work when she returns home from a long day in the classroom. To minimize “homework battles” (i.e., parent-child conflict over homework), you need to understand why your child is resistant to doing homework in the first place.

  • Your child doesn’t understand the work and needs some extra help. It’s possible that your youngster doesn’t want to do his homework because he really needs help. Also, it can be challenging for moms and dads to accept that their youngster might need help with homework, because there is often a stigma attached to kids who need tutoring.
  • Your child is addicted to TV and video games. Moms and dads often find it very difficult to limit these activities. But, understand that playing video games and watching TV doesn’t relax a youngster’s brain. In fact, it actually over-stimulates the brain and makes it harder for him to learn and retain information. Too much of watching TV and playing video games contributes to your youngster struggling with school and homework in more ways than one.
  • Your child is exhausted from a long day at school. In the last 10 to 20 years, the needs of kids have not changed, however the pace of life has. Most moms and dads are busy and have very little down time, which inevitably means that the youngster ends up with less down time too. He is going to be less likely to be motivated to work when there is chaos all around him.
  • Your child is not sleeping enough. Sleep is one of the most under-appreciated needs in our society today. When a child doesn’t get enough sleep, it can cause him to be sick more often, lose focus, and have more emotional issues. Kids often need a great deal more sleep than they usually get.
  • Your child is over-booked with other activities. Moms and dads want their youngster to develop skills other than academics. Because of this, they often sign-up their youngster for extracurricular activities (e.g., sports or arts).
  • Your child is overwhelmed by your expectations. Moms and dads want their youngster to be well-rounded and to get ahead in life. Along with this comes getting good grades. All these expectations can put a lot of pressure on your youngster and may cause him to become burned-out and want to find an escape.

So, what is a parent to do? Below are some tips that will help your child be less neglectful of his homework assignments – BUT – these ideas will take some hard work on your part too:

1. Be a cheerleader. Some children need a little extra boost of confidence. Let’s say your youngster has a big test to study for, but can’t seem to get started. You can help out by running through the first few problems until she gets the hang of it. Or you might brainstorm with your youngster to help her choose a topic for the big paper she has to write. You’re not doing the work for her, rather you’re helping her to get going so the task doesn’t seem so daunting.

2. Be clear and firm, but don’t argue with your kids about homework. Make eye contact and tell them calmly that they are responsible for the work.

3. Choose a powerful incentive that your youngster will recognize as meaningful. This might be extra time on the computer, a special meal, or attending an activity that she is looking forward to. Incentives can be phased out when kids attend to the homework responsibly.

4. Communicate regularly with your youngster’s educators so that you can deal with any behavior patterns before they become a major problem.

5. Consider adding in break times (e.g., your child might work on her math homework for 15 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break).

6. Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect that your youngster has a homework problem. Schools have a responsibility to keep moms and dads informed, and you have a right to be upset if you don’t find out until report-card time that your youngster is having difficulties. On the other hand, sometimes moms and dads figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.

7. Don’t do the assignments yourself. It’s not your homework – it’s your youngster’s. Doing assignments for your youngster won’t help him understand and use information. And it won’t help him become confident in his own abilities. It can be hard for moms and dads to let kids work through problems alone and learn from their mistakes. It’s also hard to know where to draw the line between supporting and doing.

8. Engage your youngster in constructive, mind-building activities – any activity that supports learning (e.g., reading, puzzles, educational games, library visits, walks in the neighborhood, trips to the zoo or museums, chores that teach a sense of responsibility, etc.). Join in these activities yourself.

9. Help your youngster get organized. It’s a good idea to set a regular time and place for kids to do homework. Also, stick to a routine as much as possible. Put up a calendar in a place where you’ll see it often and record assignments on it. Writing out assignments will get him used to the idea of keeping track of what’s due and when. You may want to use an assignment book instead of a calendar.

10. If you understand something about the style of learning that suits your youngster, it will be easier for you to help her. If you’ve never thought about this style, observe your youngster. See if she works better alone or with someone else. If your youngster gets more done when working with someone else, she may want to complete some assignments with a brother or sister or a classmate. (Some homework, however, is meant to be done alone. Check with the teacher if you aren’t sure.) Does your youngster learn things best when she can see them? If so, drawing a picture or a chart may help with some assignments. Does your youngster learn things best when she can hear them? She may need to listen to a story or have directions read to her. Too much written material or too many pictures or charts may confuse her. Does your youngster understand some things best when she can handle or move them? An apple cut four or six or eight ways can help kids learn fractions.

11. Involve your child. As your youngster matures, you should involve her in setting expectations, rewards, and consequences. This empowers her, which may improve her self-esteem and reinforce the concept that she is in charge of her own behavior.

12. Keep the house generally quiet during homework time.

13. Kids are more likely to complete assignments successfully when moms and dads monitor homework. How closely you need to monitor depends upon the age of your youngster, how independent she is, and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your youngster, if assignments are not getting done satisfactorily, more supervision is needed.

14. Look over completed assignments when possible. It’s usually a good idea to check to see that your youngster has finished her assignments. If you’re not there when an assignment is finished, look it over when you get home. After the teacher returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your youngster has done the assignments satisfactorily.

15. Make sure your child has enough “space” for doing her work. For some children, this will mean a large work space like a kitchen table to spread out their papers and books.

16. Make your youngster responsible for her choices. All privileges are suspended until the work is done, even if it takes all evening.

17. Model good study habits. Kids are more likely to study if they see you reading, writing, and doing things that require thought and effort on your part. Talk with your youngster about what you’re reading and writing, even if it’s something as simple as making the grocery list. Also, tell them about what you do at work.

18. Offer snacks to keep your youngster “fueled-up” for the work.

19. Pre-teach. It’s easier to prevent negative behaviors in defiant children than to deal with them after they occur. A very effective tool is to pre-teach behavior prior to an event (in this case, doing homework) or potentially vulnerable situation. This involves talking with the child in detail about what will be happening, why, and what her role and expected behaviors will be. Pre-teaching reduces anxiety, clarifies expectations, and builds confidence.

20. Reward the youngster appropriately for good behavior and tasks completed. Set up a clear system of rewards so that your youngster knows what to expect when she completes a task or improves behavior.

21. Seek outside assistance. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by “homework battles,” speak to a professional. It’s only natural that you have needs and questions in this process, so seek help when needed.

22. Separate the youngster’s behavior from the youngster, using thought rather than feelings. Another way to say this is “disengage” from the defiant behavior. (This doesn’t mean ignore it.) Consistency and follow through on consequences still apply, especially when it comes to “homework refusal.”

23. Set a good example. Children don’t always show it, but their parents are very important. They are watching YOUR behavior. Thus, if you are a “follow through” person (i.e., someone who always starts what he finishes), then you will be modeling “task completion” skills for your child, and she will likely follow your lead.

24. Share concerns with the teacher. You may want to contact the teacher if:

  • instructions are unclear
  • neither you nor your youngster can understand the purpose of assignments
  • the assignments are often too hard or too easy
  • the homework is assigned in uneven amounts
  • you can’t provide needed supplies or materials
  • you can’t seem to help your youngster get organized to finish the assignments
  • your youngster has missed school and needs to make up assignments
  • your youngster refuses to do her assignments, even though you’ve tried hard to get her to do them

25. Show an interest. Make time to take your youngster to the library to check out materials needed for homework (and for fun too), and read with your youngster as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your youngster what was discussed in class that day. If he doesn’t have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask your youngster to read aloud a story he wrote, or discuss the results of a science experiment. Another good way to show your interest is to attend school activities, such as parent-teacher meetings, shows, and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in the classroom or at special events. Getting to know some classmates and other moms and dads not only shows you’re interested, but helps build a network of support for you and your youngster.

26. Talk about the assignments. Ask your youngster questions. Talking can help him think through an assignment and break it down into small, workable parts. Here are some sample questions:

  • Do you understand what you’re supposed to do?
  • What do you need to do to finish the assignment?
  • Do you need help in understanding how to do your work?
  • Have you ever done any problems like the ones you’re supposed to do right now?
  • Do you have everything you need to do the assignment?
  • Does your answer make sense to you?
  • Are you still having problems? Maybe it would help to take a break or have a snack.
  • Do you need to review your notes (or reread a chapter in your textbook) before you do the assignment?
  • How far have you gotten on the assignment? Let’s try to figure out where you’re having a problem.

27. Talk with educators early in the school year. Get acquainted before problems arise, and let educators know that you want to be kept informed. Most schools invite moms and dads to come to parent-teacher conferences or open houses. If your youngster’s school doesn’t provide such opportunities, call the teacher to set up a meeting.

28. Tie responsibilities to privileges. When your youngster chooses to do her work reliably, she may then expect to participate in activities that interest her.

29. Use a broken record technique to respond to any rebuttal your youngster may offer (e.g., “I hear you, but I want you to start your homework now”).

30. Use a timer. Some moms and dads find that using a timer for “homework time” is a good way to build and reinforce structure. Setting a reasonable time limit for completing homework helps train your youngster to expect limitations, even on unpleasant activities like homework. Giving your youngster a time limit for completing his work is useful, especially if you reward finishing on time.

Homework is a major struggle in many homes, but it doesn’t have to be. Recognizing why your youngster might be fighting it is key to establishing healthy homework habits. By doing this, you may find you have fewer battles to fight on that front.

Is it Okay to Nag Kids to Do Their Homework?

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Verywell Family content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more.

Adah Chung is a fact checker, writer, researcher, and occupational therapist.

After sitting in school all day, most kids can find lots of things they would rather do than sit down and do their homework. And now that kids have access to electronic devices, it’s no surprise that that they’d rather play video games than solve math problems.

And some kids just don’t like to do their school work. It can be frustrating to a parent who tries to constantly remind a child to “Do your spelling.”

Nagging a reluctant child to do his work isn’t effective. In the long-term, all that nagging might actually backfire.

The Problem with Nagging

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, found that children do best when parents encourage them to be independent with their homework. The researchers found that children needed autonomy to become fully engaged learners.  

Nagging doesn’t encourage independence. Constantly saying, “Don’t forget to do your homework,” and, “I’m not going to tell you again. Sit down and do your homework,” means you’re taking on more responsibility than your child is to get his homework done.

If you spend your evening nagging, begging, and trying to motivate your child to do his work, you’re likely putting more energy and investment in their work than they are.

Nagging until your child finally gives in doesn’t teach self-discipline. Instead, they may comply to get you to stop nagging, not because they think it is important to do their homework.

Nagging also makes your child more dependent on you. He may not worry about managing his time or tracking his assignments if he knows you’re going to offer frequent reminders.

Nagging also teaches your child that he doesn’t have to listen to you the first time you tell him something. If he knows you’re going to say “Do your homework,” at least 10 more times, he’s not going to be motivated to do it the first nine times you say it.

Allow for Natural Consequences

Sometimes, natural consequences are the best teachers. So rather than nag your child to get her work done, step aside and see what happens.

Consider what consequences she might face at school if she doesn’t get her homework done. Will she have to stay in for recess? Will the teacher make her stay after school? Will she get a zero? For some children, these consequences can be very effective.

Of course, those strategies won’t work for everyone. If your child doesn’t care what kinds of grades she gets or she seems unaffected by the consequences the teacher hands out, she isn’t likely to learn a life lesson if you allow for natural consequences.

But for other children, simply allowing them to face the consequences of their own behavior can be key to helping them learn.

Motivate Your Child to do His Work

A report card alone doesn’t motivate every child. Many kids are more concerned with what’s going on today, not what sort of a grade they will receive on a report card in a few months. These kids need more immediate positive consequences to motivate them.

You can motivate your child to get his work done by setting limits with electronics. Establish a household rule that says, “No electronics until homework is done.”

Then, leave it up to your kids to decide when to do their work. The earlier they get it done, the more time they’ll have to do the things they like. If they choose not to do their work, restrict their privileges until they complete their assignments.

You can also provide extra incentives with a reward system.

If your child gets their homework done on time every day, consider giving them a little reward on the weekend.

Or, use a token economy system by providing him with a token each day he gets his work done. Let him exchange the tokens for rewards worth various points. Get him involved in choosing the rewards and he’ll be motivated to earn them.

Problem-Solve Together

When your child struggles to do his work, it can be helpful to problem-solve together. The work may be too difficult or perhaps he forgets to write down his assignments. If you work together to solve the problem you may find fairly easy solutions that will help him to do his work independently.

Ask your child, “What would help you get your work done on time?” You might be surprised to hear his ideas. It could be as simple as allowing him to do his work after dinner, so he can have a break when he comes home from school. Or, he may say he needs more help with a particular subject.

Inviting your child’s input can help him become motivated to find a solution. Then, he’ll be more likely to do his homework, with fewer reminders from you.

How To Motivate Child To Do Homework (7 Practical Tips)

By: Author Pamela Li, MS, MBA Pamela Li is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

Posted on Last updated: Apr 23, 2022 Evidence Based

“How to motivate child to do homework” is on almost every parent’s mind right now. Getting kids to do homework is not always painful. In fact, it can be outright fun!

In this article, I will share the secret on motivating your child to not only do homework but also love homework. Yes, you read it right. It is possible to love doing school work. No yelling, screaming, threatening or crying required.

Why Do Kids Hate Homework

Let’s start with kindergarteners.

For many children, kindergarten is their first formal experience in school.

Kindergarten has changed a lot over the last decade.

Once a place for socialization and play, kindergartens now emphasize the importance of learning to read, to count, to sit still and to listen to the teachers.

Going from playing all day at home to behaving or sitting still in a structured environment for hours at a time is a tough transition.

To add to that, many kindergartens also assign homework to these little children, further reducing their available play time.

It’s no wonder that some kindergarteners are not motivated to do homework.

How To Motivate Kids

Homework Motivation

Remember when your child was still a toddler, he/she would get into anything and everything?

They were curious and they were eager to learn about everything around them.

They were passionate learners.

Children naturally love learning, if we provide the right environment and motivate them appropriately.

Here’s the problem…

When you hear the word “motivate”, what do you think of?

If you’re thinking about toys, money, iPad time, points, stickers, etc., you’re not alone.

Rewards (and sometimes punishments) are many parents’ go-to motivators.

Parents love them because they work almost instantly.

You present the prize and the child complies to get it. Problem solved.

Simple and effective.

But very soon, you will notice some unintended results.

Here is an example.

Some years ago, after a lecture, Professor Mark Lepper was approached by a couple who told him about a system of rewards they had set up for their son, which had produced much improved behavior at the dinner table. “He sits up straight and eats his peas and the Brussels sprouts and he is really very well behaved,” they reported. Until, that is, the first time the family dined at a nice restaurant. The child looked around, picked up a crystal glass from the table and asked, “How many points not to drop this?” A fine example, says Dr. Lepper, of the detrimental effects of over-reliance on rewards to shape children’s behavior.

Mark Lepper: Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning By Christine VanDeVelde Luskin, Bing Nursery School at Stanford University

This example is far from rare.

In fact, it is very common when a child is motivated purely by an external reward.

Once the reward is removed, the child will no longer be interested in continuing the behavior.

What’s the right way to motivate our children?

Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for its pure enjoyment.

This enjoyment comes from within an individual and is a psychological satisfaction derived from performing the task, not from an extrinsic outcome.

In other words, to get your kid to do homework, first help them enjoy doing it.

It is not as crazy as it sounds.

It’s unfortunate that homework is called “work”.

We like to separate work from play.

So naturally, we feel that homework is drudgery.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Homework is a tool for children to learn and get familiar with the knowledge taught in class.

To enjoy homework, the child has to enjoy learning.

For more help on calming tantrums, check out this step-by-step guide

How To Motivate a Child To Do Homework

To motivate kids, we first change our mindset, from a working mindset to a learning mindset.

The goal of going to school is not about getting into college, finding a good job, earning a stable income, etc.

Of course, all of those are wonderful, but that’s a working mindset – you’re doing all that work for reasons other than enjoying the learning itself.

Going to school is about learning, acquiring knowledge, exploring new subjects and growing as a person.

In the US, the average expected years of schooling is 16.5 years ​1​ .

If a child doesn’t like school, that will be 16.5 years of misery.

You don’t want that for your child.

But here’s the good news.

If you can intervene early, like in kindergarten or even before kindergarten, your child will be getting off to a good start.

So, convince yourself to change from the working mindset to the learning mindset.

It sounds abstract, but here are 7 tangible steps on moving towards that goal.

1. Stop referring to doing homework as your child’s “job”

When you call it a “job”, you are implying that it will be all work and no fun.

Doing that is setting up a child to feel bad even when it’s not.

2. Don’t tell your child, “you cannot play until you finish your homework”

Again, by putting homework in a category separate from play, you are saying that it cannot be enjoyable.

The importance of play cannot be overstated. So make it count ​2​ .

Tell your child that they can do both (of course, only healthy physical play like basketball or biking, but not watching iPad).

They can decide the order of doing them as long as they do both by the end of the day.

You’d be surprised – giving a child autonomy over their homework schedule is one of the biggest motivators.

3. Don’t use “no homework” as rewards

I once heard that some teachers would give students with good behavior “no homework tonight” as a reward.

I was horrified.

Homework is for practicing what we’ve learned in school.

It helps us understand and remember better.

It’s not a punishment or torture that you need a “break” to feel better.

Don’t give your child the impression that homework is something you want to get away from.

4. Do not nag, bribe or force

Do not nag and do not force your kid to do homework, whether through rewards or punishment.

“But then, how to make kids do homework?” parents wonder.

Don’t make your child do homework. Period.

Forcing or bribing will only backfire and reduce your child’s intrinsic motivation ​3​ .

The motivation to do homework needs to come from within the child themselves.

5. Let your child face the natural consequences

“But what to do when my child refuses to do homework?” many frustrated parents ask.

When your child refuses to do school work, let them… after you explain why doing homework is important for learning and what may happen in school if they don’t.

Walk them through the natural consequences for not doing homework – they won’t retain the information well and they will need to accept whatever natural consequences in school. They will have to explain to the teacher why the homework was not done and they may lose some recess time, etc (but first confirm that the school doesn’t use corporal or other types of cruel punishment).

You think I should let my child fail?

Well, not doing homework in lower grades is not the end of your child’s academic career.

Think about this, you cannot force or bribe your child through college.

Help them understand the purpose of learning and doing homework now.

You’re helping them make the right decision by letting them understand and face the natural consequences sooner rather than later.

6. Do homework with your child

Don’t tell your kid that homework is important, show them through your action.

Do the homework with them.

You are telling your child you value this so much that you are willing to take the time to do it together. Besides, parental involvement is associated with better school performance ​4​ .

7. Make doing homework fun and positive

There are many ways to make homework fun.

Let’s take a look at two methods I’ve used and the results.

You can try them or invent your own.

Method 1: Use doing homework as a “reward” (younger kids like kindergartener)

Wait, you said that using rewards wasn’t good a moment ago.

Now you say, “use homework as a reward”?

Well, I said rewards were bad because you would be implying the activity you’re trying to motivate your child to do was not as good as the reward.

But here, I am using homework as the reward.

I am signaling to my child that doing homework is so good that she needs to “earn it”.

You can try different things.

We used “If you behave, you can do homework with me. If you don’t behave, you can’t do homework.”

We started at preschool and it worked very well.

Parents who have tried this report good results in motivating their children to do homework, too.

But some of them have concerns…

Some parents are uncomfortable with this idea because it feels manipulative.

That’s because these parents do not believe in the idea that homework can be fun.

So they feel like they’re lying to the child.

But I genuinely like homework! (Yes, I’m officially a nerd)

So I have no problem helping my child learn to love homework like me.

If you are not convinced yourself, you may not want to try this method. Or if your child is older and already hates homework, it won’t work.

However, although I don’t agree with using manipulative measures in general, I don’t see this particular one harmful to children even if the parents do not like homework themselves.

Method 2: Turn doing homework into a game and a bonding activity

When my daughter was in preschool, I bought colorful homework books and we did them together.

Sometimes we took turns – she did one problem and I did the next and so on.

Sometimes we raced to see who would finish the page faster.

Sometimes I did them wrong intentionally so that my daughter could point out the wrong answers.

It was actually very empowering and satisfying for her to be able to catch Mom’s mistakes!

We celebrated when we both finished or got the right answers.

It was a lot of fun and my kid enjoyed doing that so much.

By the time she started kindergarten, she already loved homework.

In kindergarten, I couldn’t do her homework because, well, that’s her homework.

So I bought homework books that were similar to the ones she brought from school. Then I did problems alongside her as she did hers.

We still raced, celebrated and had fun doing it.

At the beginning of her kindergarten year, my daughter was given two homework books to take home. The teacher would assign homework from the books every week. They were supposed to be used for the entire school year. But my kindergartener liked doing homework so much that she finished them all in one month! No yelling, screaming, threatening or crying required.

Need Help Motivating Kids?

If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.

It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate about learning.

Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.

Final Word On Motivating Your Kid To Do Homework

Getting your kid to do homework is only the first step in building a good learning habit. Finishing homework or getting good grades is not the purpose of going to school. Instill the love of learning in your child early on and your child will benefit for life.

References

et al. Human Development Reports. UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME. http://hdr.undp.org/en/indicators/69706

Ginsburg KR. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. PEDIATRICS. Published online January 1, 2007:182-191. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2697

Lepper MR, Greene D. Turning play into work: Effects of adult surveillance and extrinsic rewards on children’s intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 1975:479-486. doi:10.1037/h0076484

Nye C, Turner H, Schwartz J. Approaches to Parent Involvement for Improving the Academic Performance of Elementary School Age Children. Campbell Systematic Reviews. Published online 2006:1-49. doi:10.4073/csr.2006.4