Convincing Kids to do Homework

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Back when I was in school, I needed someone to push me to do the right thing.  We were encouraged (told) to actually study the material and not blindly do homework problems.  My parents always made sure we did more than what was expected.  Some of the ways used may not have been very forthcoming, but eventually we understood the need to work hard in school and do our homework.  Some of the strategies can still be applied while others may not necessarily work that well today (like a willow switch). 

With the right motivation given to our kids, we should be able to inspire them to take their schooling more seriously. 

My kids experienced a drop in grades because of many contributing factors – including my own draconian approach to forcing homework onto them.  Extracurricular activities like band, sports, and a multitude of other clubs can take their toll.  Not to mention all the digital distractions today such as cell phones; cable TV; ipods; PCs; and the internet.  They may feel the knowledge they are expected to learn will not apply anywhere and is a waste of time.  How should we help our kids put schoolwork into perspective?

WaiterCLARIFY OUTCOMES - When they feel that homework is a waste of time, remind them of the reason they are doing it in the first place.  Show them how important the work they are doing is going to be later on versus right now.  Explain to them how the knowledge will help them be better people. You can tell them this stuff til the cows come home with little success.  Kids today need to see a clear connection, and showing them is always much better than telling (nagging).  For example, instead of drilling your child on fractions or percentages, try having them “own” the task of calculating Sales Tax or how much a 15% tip for the waiter should be in dollars.  These are examples that are real and have a concrete basis and outcome.  Calculating wrong can mean coming up short and not being able to afford to buy that new CD, tape, or whatever.  An error on the tip affects the waiter’s income, or conversely you might pay too much which affects yours.  Adding to the variety of knowledge they acquire will help them think more broadly, outside of the proverbial “box” of academic problems.  

SkateboardingCHANGE THEIR ATTITUDE – Make sure you let them know how good they are (first), and how great they can become (second).  Not only will it help their grades and make them experts in their class, they will earn the respect of others and improve their self-esteem.  A positive and engaged attitude reinforces the “I’m a winner” attitude you want them to have.  The perspective you want is that nothing is beyond their grasp and anything is achievable.  Just make sure it’s not an arrogant outlook.  One area I constantly struggled with one of my boys was that he gave up too soon.  He felt defeated before he even started.  Now keep in mind, this is a kid who would spend literally hours in the driveway practicing to master all kinds of skateboard kicks, flips, ollies, knack-knacks, etc..  I simply had to convince him that learning Algebra was no different.  It takes practice to learn how to factor polynomials just like it took practice to do a 360 Pop-Shuv-it!  If he can master the harder board tricks he most surely can master quadratics.  


TrebuchetBE COMPETITIVE – Sometimes all you have to do is cultivate a competitive spirit in your child.  A disadvantage compared to other students can be turned around if we instill a competitive attitude.  View projects as challenges which we have to take on in a smart way.  Be inspired to overcome the challenges and surprise everybody.  Use team work with a close friend and bring both heads together to outdo the rest.  One project my son had to do was to give a presentation about the Dark Ages and Medieval times.  It was like pulling teeth out of a chicken to get him to work on this until we stumbled upon a competitive aspect of the project.  Not just the normal - “do better than Johnny” approach, but being competitive within the project itself.  He built a trebuchet, which is much like a high tech catapult.  He not only tackled the project, but as part of his demonstration got to pulverize the other students too.  It was a big hit – literally.  We still have that trebuchet in the basement today!


DirtbikesSETTING GOALS - This helps particularly when your child is bored and does not feel like doing homework.  All you need to do is help them focus on the smaller short-term goals and how to reach them.  If the problem is very tricky or challenging divide it into multiple steps.  Every intermediate step they finish gets a reward (Xbox time?) until they can eventually move on to the next step in the path towards success.  Early on as teenagers my boys wanted dirt bikes, motorcycles to ride off road.  Now you may think I spoiled them by buying those bikes, but I didn’t..mostly.  I made an agreement with them, a contract of sorts.  If they saved up half of the cost I would buy the bikes.  From that day onward, every time we were in a store and they wanted to buy themselves candy; a magazine; or a CD, I would gently ask them which they wanted more… a motorcycle or a magazine?  Either one was fine with me, but they had to live with their decision.  To my relief they would always choose to put the longer and harder goal of saving for the motorcycle first.  This provided another great life lesson that translated later on as a strategy for tackling difficult homework or projects. 


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Help for Helping with Homework

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Dads might have left their calculus problems and English papers behind, but now their kids must endure the same torture. From kindergarten to senior year, kids are given homework assignments, and they are going to need help, even if they don’t ask for it, during all those years.

So, how does a busy dad help his befuddled first grader with very simple worksheets?

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