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How to get your child to do their homework

by Cathrine Versfeld
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Whether you’re a working parent or a stay-at-home mom, the question of homework isn’t an easy one. Who should be helping and how much responsibility falls on your child?

It seems obvious that children should take their homework seriously. They should come home smiling as they immediately throw their books open and quietly beetle away in the background, making you proud. But I’ve never met that child! And if I’m honest, I don’t have fond memories of homework myself.

They spend all day in class and when they finally arrive home, the last thing they want to do is more work. I really feel for my kids because that is precisely how I felt about the whole thing all through school. And yet, it’s the kids who practise their sums and memorise their sight words that get confidence in those first few years of school. I’m painfully aware that it is easier to master these good habits when they’re younger than to try and change their hormone-fuelled minds by the time they get to high school.

ALSO READ: What to do when your child doesn’t like to read

How should you tackle homework? And who takes responsibility?

Now for starters, you can’t just dump all the responsibility on a child under the age of 12 years. Children aren’t robots and although they may really WANT to please you, they’re also tired at the end of a long day. They need the best possible environment and motivation to just get started, and then to keep going.

How to get your child to do their homework

  1. Turn distractions into rewards. There’s a lot going on in most homes nowadays when it comes to entertainment. But it’s not just the tablets and computers and TV’s and phones. Since time immemorial, just about any distraction has been good enough when you don’t want to do your homework. But this also poses a nice opportunity to offer rewards. “You may play Minecraft/ride your bike/play on the tablet when you’ve finished your homework.” It seems like such a basic old-fashioned solution and it’ll be hard in the beginning, but it works. And beyond that, it gives kids a nice sandbox for real life. After all, we all share the struggle of having to put off fun things for later.
  2. Be honest. I don’t lie to my kids. I hated homework as a kid and I openly sympathise with them. The fact is, they would see right through me if I tried to tell them I loved it. However, I do try to show them the bright side. “This’ll be fun if we research it a bit on Google. Let’s find images of these biomes so that it’ll be easier to describe them.” Sometimes, the most I can offer is simply, “You don’t want to get into trouble for not having done anything.” That may not seem terribly motivational, but that’s how life works. Children really respect honesty and respond well to matter-of-fact statements. “It’s tough, I know, but let’s just get it done. You’ll feel so great when you’ve put your books away and you have the rest of the day to yourself.”
  3. Work with your partner. Whether you have one child or five (like me) it’s not possible to handle all the homework yourself. And this goes for full-time work and stay-at-home parents. Where I thrive in the humanities, my husband is a more mathematical genius. It’s not that I can’t explain basic arithmetic, but I’m not as patient as he is. Beyond that, helping with homework is a valuable opportunity to spend some quality time with your child. And believe me, that’s precious when your weekdays are so full. The more you can multitask these moments, the better. So, I help in the afternoons and then my husband spends some time with them in the evenings.

The important thing here is to be consistent. If they’ve done everything and only have a few questions left for their dad, I allow them to play, with the understanding that everything gets switched off again when he gets home. This is a system that works for me, but there will be days where it doesn’t work out. And there will be kids who don’t respond to this kind of motivation. My advice is to keep trying. And if you find a new method, give it at least two weeks before giving up.

Homework is something that you can’t give up on. There are some children who are clever enough to pick it all up in class, but they’re missing the valuable lesson of doing something even when they don’t feel like it, and that is one of the greatest lessons a child can carry into adulthood.

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