Many parents write in to EP about homework battles with their kids. They want to know what to do about a child who procrastinates or who just can’t seem to stay focused on the task at hand. This week James Lehman shares tried and true methods to get kids to sit down and do the work.
If you threaten your child with punishments or use power to get him to comply, he will simply become more aggressive and more defensive as he digs in his heels—and resists even more.
Homework becomes a power struggle as soon as you try to force your child to do his work and he pushes back. Many parents are trapped in this battle nightly: they’re pulling one way while their child is pulling the other, and in the meantime, no work is getting done at all. Often, when kids start resisting, parents try to use power to get them to do their homework, but for many kids, that will only make matters worse. In fact, you may find that if you threaten your child with punishments or use power to get him to comply, he will simply become more aggressive and more defensive as he digs in his heels—and resists even more.
In the first part of this series, I talked about how you can establish the right environment and mindset in your home around schoolwork. Today, I’d like to tell you about techniques you can use in the moment with your child. If you’re trapped in a power struggle with your child over homework, I’d like to tell you that you may be able to end it sooner if you follow some practical ideas.
- Keep a Close Watch
For a lot of kids, sending them to their rooms to do their homework is a mistake. Many children need your presence while they work. We call that technique “proximity”. Some kids simply need to do their homework at the kitchen table. Your supervision and presence actually will keep them from being distracted.
- Get Your Child off the Starting Block
Some kids have a hard time sitting down and starting assignments. There’s a concept I explain in The Total Transformation Program called “Hurdle Help.” If you have a child who has a hard time getting started, part of Hurdle Help is that parents spend the first five minutes with them. So you get the book started, maybe help them work on the first math problem and make sure they understand the assignment. For many kids who are slow starters, Hurdle Help is very effective. This doesn’t mean you are doing their homework for them—this is simply extra help over the first hurdle that will get them going.
- Challenge Your Child
Another way to get your child to do homework is to make a game out of it. Challenge them by saying, “Let’s see how long it takes you to get your homework done tonight. And for every minute that you get it done earlier than X, you get to stay up an extra minute.” (Or you might say, “You get to be on the computer an extra minute” or “You get to play video games an extra minute.”) Then you get your child to try to beat his score from last night. Now, eventually you’re going to reach a plateau, and that’s fine—let’s say it’s one hour. When that occurs, you say “every time you match one hour, you get extra minutes.” So your child is competing with himself and you’re making a kind of game out of it with a reward.