Time and again, homework time turns into a battleground to complete it. Homework is eliminated from school for some, altogether. Good for them. But reality is, homework is a necessary duty. I go as far as to call it a sacred duty to invoke its value in showcasing self-motivation, discipline, organization and planning.
Screen for the following barriers: Weed out what is in the way and make the way forward
You know your child, and I bet you thought through things. But it is a good exercise to think objectively one more time. Here we go-
(1) Writing, reading and math difficulties- Imagine if you have to do a task and fall short of understanding ‘how to’: Get tutoring. Often parents and kids fight if parents have to be the teachers, but not altogether impossible to help them yourself at least in lower grades. Issues like addressing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or anxiety disorder need to be addressed too (not elaborated here). Working with teachers to offer reasonable individualized homework is rarely possible.
(2) Pure lack of motivation: This is in short supply as such, with the first barrier due to frustration. Getting an assignment notebook to list homework, and making daily lists to do, and checking them off is satisfying. Rewards of favorite food by the homework (before and after homework too, where relevant), and praise work the best. Believing in them and telling them that you do, and holding them as they find joy in success- is my secret key. I think creating complicated reward system with points and prizes becomes hard to maintain.
(3) Distractions that steal the motivation such as video games: Prearranged rules of “3:1 :: homework: games” would be good to establish paired with grandma’s rule of work first and play next.
(4) Overbooking with scheduled extracurricular or family activities: Only way here is making unhurried time by optimizing activities and feeding well to ensure kids are not tired, hungry and irritable.
(5) Family atmosphere of chaos or discomfort: Chalk out a calm consistent space, and induce a sense of independence away from any real or perceived “thorns” in the family situation. Remove the element of helplessness, perhaps telling them that others’ issues in the family are not related to theirs. They can move on. Family problem solving is in order too, where possible, but that should not stump and slow them!
(6) Excessive preoccupation with romantic relationships hindering progress. I have seen this in teens. Someone must mentor through Socratic questioning gently, to help them regain perspective.
Real deal: Beyond the barriers, powerful influence can begin early.
I am a converted fan of Cal Newport now! He summarizes in “Deep Work” all that I always wanted to say about being disciplined and get down to working. For someone who spent days and nights as academic on more than a decade on researching and publishing, I am thinking backwards to decode exactly what works to get to the goals. Like Cal Newport puts it, wring every drop of intellectual capacity with distraction free concentration. Work regularly at regular time so that it becomes a habit. And don’t look for inspiration, such as thinking you can begin when mood is right. I would say, “Just do it.” Work at it as hard as you can, and don’t be satisfied with “shallow work.” Think hard, work hard, dig deep, learn more and get to the goals with systematic effort. Keep working on improving the quality of the homework. Help them to take pride in their work.
Wasting time on things that won’t improve or contribute to your success must go. Teach our kids (and we must do the same) to not have face-book, snap chats, messengers or chat boxes of any kind open by the side of homework screens. I believe that teaching and influencing are more effective than grabbing computers or hovering over their computers. They will say they need computer for homework. You definitely can’t be a police in the long- term. Share occasional stories of how social media becomes a slippery downward slope to a black hole if it becomes an addiction. And help them see advantages of using it well vs. disadvantages.
Find a way to get to their heart with your message. Keep at it, periodically. Raising the tone with anger, or speaking softly while “controlled anger” is felt underneath, not giving space and chasing with expectations spiking your own anxiety in turn flooding the child’s anxiety to the point of scaring them- are all wasted efforts.
Finding good mentors is helpful, in addition to you. It could be an uncle, teacher, family friend, big sister or brother. Identify them and cultivate them.
Inspire them. Enjoy them.