Here are my 5 tips for parents to get kids not only to do their homework but get into the homework-doing mood.

Tip #1: Homework Should Fit The Goldilocks Principle

Goldilocks had it right: whether it’s porridge or homework, the best is the one that is not at either extreme, but somewhere in the middle. If the homework is too easy, your child will get an unrealistic idea of what life has in store. Think about it: Imagine the kid who slid through school and now goes out for a first job – and is actually expected to put in time working! Kids who end up at Harvard find the same thing. They had it easy all the years in school and suddenly they’re faced with other children who also did: They’re meeting their match. Uh-oh, they have to work!

And if it’s too hard, well, they might just quit on you. Where do you draw the line? How do you find the perfect sweet spot? Parents have to not only use their judgment on that, but they have to be really honest with themselves when they do. They have to be sure that they are not drawing the line at either the “too easy” or the “too hard” extreme because of their own emotional needs.

Parents can get into doing that. They want to be the child’s “friend” so they complain to the school that the homework is “too” hard. Maybe it’s a wee bit too hard, but not so hard that it can’t be done. Or parents want to push their kids excessively so they call anything too easy.

Once that is determined, they can encourage their child because they believe their child can do it.

Tip #2: Make it Fun

Do not tell me that is impossible. The possibilities actually depend more on your creativity – and that of the teacher – than anything else. When I was a little kid, back in the days when the word “scan” meant looking out over the landscape rather than putting a piece of paper in a machine and having it appear on your computer, my father taught me a neat trick: You can make an accurate copy of anything without a copier or a scanner. You take tracing paper and go over whatever you wanted a picture of. Then you take the paper you wanted the picture on, cover it with a sheet of carbon paper – does anyone know what I’m talking about, here? – and put your tracing paper on top. Go over the tracing paper, and presto! It copies onto your bottom sheet. I was so excited at this discovery that I started asking for reports so I could include drawings in them!

Because so many of the homework games we can download are interactive, the kids love them. And they learn, too. Take a tip from my father and the game manufacturers and use your imagination to make the process fun.

Tip #3: Use Rewards with Your Child

There is nothing wrong with rewards. Would you go to work without knowing you’ll be paid for it? Of course, the child’s grade is a reward. But then there is such a thing as waiting. OMG, your child may be thinking, I cannot wait til the end of the marking period. And she may be right. There is a key to using rewards, though. It’s called a “schedule.” Take candy. Remember the Halloween candy? After your son got through consuming his six bags of candy, would he have done any job or task for more of the same? I think not. So all rewards must be on the proper schedule; in other words, you can’t expect them to work when your child is not “hungry.”

The way to figure this out is to use liberal verbal reinforcement for “trying” and then give the child (depending on age) a star or sticker for completing work on a given day. The backup reward can be at the end of two days, or three, or a week, depending on what is going to be most potent for the child.

Tip #4: Know What’s Going On

Most important is for you to know what is going on. You would not want to learn too late that your child is learning how to build a bomb on the computer. By the same token, if you don’t keep an eye out for what’s going on, you can end up with a child who fails a course because he’s totally lost. It’s up to you to not let that happen. Your goal should be attachment parenting – being available and aware, setting appropriate limits without hovering.

And on that subject, do not confuse the fact that your child may be smart with the possiblity of being learning disabled. I, for example, could not do math to save my life and needed tutoring as a child. But I was still a smart kid!

Tip #5: Know Why Homework Is Important

Perhaps the most important message for you to give your child is that homework is important. And you will convey that message – or it’s opposite – just from your body language. Do you let the homework go because you hate supervising it? Your child is watching! He knows. Make sure it is as important to you as it should be. If not, then maybe you need to ask yourself why. And then perhaps you had better change the attitude so your child doesn’t lose out in school.


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