How To Get Your Reluctant Child To Do Homework

Girl with tongue stuck out over homework
So NOT wanting to do homework. Cappi Thompson

You have watched their grades plummet.  You have talked to your child about their work.  You have looked for causes to the struggle, like missing skills.  Maybe you have rearranged their homework corner repeatedly hoping that would fix the problem. You have e-mailed and talked with your child's teacher.  Maybe they did have another problem to overcome, but you are beyond that now, and they still won't do their work.

 You know they have the skills to do the work,  but still, they just won't do their homework.

You don't want to nag.  Or maybe you did nag, and you want to stop.  It only led to a power struggle.

If your child or teen just doesn't want to do their work, don't give up yet.  You may have actually identified the problem.  

Once you know they just don't want to do their homework, you can do something to help them do their homework.

Why Your Capable Child Won't Do Their Homework

Your child does not feel rewarded in any sense for doing their homework.  The rewards that are directly connected to completing homework are not immediate or concrete.  Completing homework leads to better grades and academic skills.  Good grades and strong academic skills aren't really useful until long after they are earned.  While they are important, children and teens often can't think far enough ahead to really understand that they will benefit from having earned good grades and strong skills.

 To make matters more difficult for children to understand, children with poor grades are often promoted to the next grade each year (for sound educational reason.)

The rewards that come directly from completing any sort of task or work are known as intrinsic rewards.  The "in" in intrinsic means that it is included within the task itself.

 Other intrinsic rewards that result from homework completion can include things like pride, a sense of accomplishment, and self-confidence.  In order to develop a good, disciplined work ethic, your child will need to really feel and understand the intrinsic rewards that come from doing their homework.

The trick is getting them to feel rewarded when they don't really have the long term view yet to help them see the importance of sticking it out and doing their homework. No matter how many times you tell them their grades in elementary school will affect their choices in middle school, or that their high school grades will determine not only their college options but also their job opportunities, the reward is so far in the future they may not be able to fully comprehend it.  Hence, they don't care.

What You Need To Do About It

If your child can't really understand what the direct rewards of doing their homework consistently are, then you need to create extrinsic rewards for them.  Extrinsic rewards are controlled by other people and not really a part of the work itself.

 Think about Holiday bonuses that employers give out, or things like paid leave.  While these are important to employees, they do not come straight from your work.  Your employer provides them to keep you motivated to work, and work for them.

The same tactic will work for your child.  Obviously, you need to use different rewards.  You can create a system for your child where completing their homework will earn them smaller rewards like extra money, special treats, trips, or a little extra spending money while eventually leading to a longed for high-priced item such as a tablet or new cell phone.  To find out how you create an extrinsic reward system to get your child to complete their homework, read this article.

Realize that you should not have to dole out rewards for homework completion forever.  Often, once children or teens start to feel rewarded from completing their homework, they start to get some of the intrinsic rewards as well.  Over time, a sense of accomplishment develops from all of the hard work they have completed.  The child's relationships with parents and teachers also often improve. Children or teens who were afraid that they would be viewed as nerdy by their peers if they received good grades are often surprised to find they get respect from peers instead.  

Once your child has both the habit of completing their homework and they are feeling some of the positive intrinsic rewards, you will be able to gradually wind down the extrinsic reward system.  Not only will you child be completing their homework, they will also have learned valuable character skills that will benefit them throughout life.

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