“You can’t MAKE me!”

The child screams. Sometimes the adults scream back. Sometimes it goes on for hours.

In the end, homework is a battle every night, and nothing seems to work. However, parents CAN get their children to do homework. One very effective method involves environment, structure and behavior modification.

Create a Homework Environment

First, find a way to project an attitude of calm, empathetic control. Nancy Thomas, a Therapeutic Parenting Specialist, says that when, “parents push, the children fail.” So stop fighting.

Start, instead, to set up a comfortable place to do homework. If you don’t have a dedicated homework space, you can still use a special storage box to keep all your child’s “homework materials.” You are doing this because you want your child to succeed in school and enjoy learning. Communicate that message by allowing your child to make some choices about the materials you will use to create this environment. Give your child some choices among writing utensils, or add fun “accessories” such as grips or erasers while staying within your budget and teacher standards. Bring other special items such as a favorite lamp, chair or pillow. Consider providing soothing music or white noise if it won’t be too distracting.

Establish a Routine

After creating a comfortable environment for your child, schedule a time for homework. Start homework at the same time as often as possible. Many dedicated parents feel that children should start homework the minute they enter the house. However, some children may need time to play, relax or regroup after a stressful school day. Choose a time that will fit into your schedule and be productive for your child.

Establishing a stopping time is also important. Add a timer to your homework materials kit and let your child know that when the timer goes off, homework is finished. Very few children can endure more than an hour of homework, but less than thirty minutes will probably not be enough to accomplish much. Consider your child’s age, needs and frustration level.

At first, this structure may seem ineffective. However, your child may begin to see defiance as wasted effort once homework becomes an inevitable part of the nightly routine.

Provide Reinforcement

Finally, show your child that refusing to do homework has negative consequences while making a true effort has rewards. Choose two or three behavioral goals for your child and write them on a chart that your child can understand. For example, if your child’s screaming is the worst part of homework time, you could include “Speak in a calm voice” on your chart. Other goals may relate to staying seated, following directions, or reading aloud. Try to phrase them positively; most students will not respond well to a list of items that all begin with “Do not . . .”
At the end of each homework session, discuss your child’s behavior. If the child has met the goal, record that under the date. You can use stickers, stars or a certain color. If the child has not met the goal, record that with a different mark, such a minus sign or a frown.

Give praise when your child meets the goal. Show disappointment when the goal is not met, but don’t raise your voice or become upset. Express your belief that tomorrow will be better.

Choose rewards and consequences that fit your child. Some children hate to miss a TV show but don’t mind chores; other children will do almost anything for candy but don’t get excited about stickers. Similarly, some children will not be able to wait a week for rewards and will give up after the first night, while others will lose interest if they earn rewards every night. You may want to give some small rewards quickly in the beginning and then give bigger rewards for longer periods of compliance as success becomes more routine.

This program may not work right away, but parents who stay with it will see continuing progress and may eventually experience joy. Helping your child learn to accept help, complete assignments and follow directions is one of the most important gifts you will ever transmit.