Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Homework Cure

As the weather warms up, one consistent consequence is that the desire for doing homework cools down considerably. Whether the cause is spring fever or senioritis, resistance to schoolwork intensifies as the finish line of summer vacation approaches. Assignments are increasingly left unfinished. Homework routinely stays at school or gets lost. 

It can sometimes seem as if your teenager spends more time and energy skirting schoolwork than it would take to just sit down and do it! 

Needless to say, this can be frustrating for a parent and a teacher. No one likes to watch a child resist encouragement and rewards while their grades take a nosedive. So, what shall we do? How do you motivate the unmotivated? 

As stubborn and prevalent a problem as this is, there is a way to approach it that works quite well. It’s an elegant and simple approach, and there are no loopholes. 

First, obtain a small notepad. This is now your youngster’s best friend. Require him to carry it to and from school every day. 

Second, keep a daily record. At the end of each school day (or each period if that’s necessary), your teen will list in his pad all homework assignments, incomplete classwork, failed tests and anything else you think should be included. If he’s too young or has not yet developed the capacity to do this on his own, I’ve found most teachers are willing to do this for him. 

Third, make sure it’s accurate. Obviously, if the teacher has filled it out for him, you may assume it’s accurate. If your student fills it out for himself, he has the added responsibility of getting his teacher to initial it every day. The teacher initials it if and only if everything is listed properly. 

Fourth, schoolwork is completed after school. Set up a quiet, isolated spot at home where all homework can be finished. Only when everything is done may your student indulge in privileges or other activities. Schoolwork is the evening’s first order of business. 

Fifth, the notebook is the ticket to privileges. No notebook means no ipod, TV, laptop, games, no borrowing the car, no going to the movies with friends -- basically, everything but the basics of eating, breathing, bathroom, etc. If the process is going to break down, this is where it will happen -- and your teeanger knows it! They are incredibly resourceful at offering explanations for a missing or incomplete assignment. “We had a substitute today, and she wouldn’t sign anything without her lawyer present.” “The big bully at school ate my notepad.” 

Regardless of the reason -- even if it sounds legitimate -- the notepad must come home signed. That is your child’s responsibility. If you try to validate the excuses you hear, you are playing a guessing game without the facts. 

Finally, you must persevere in this. Odds are, this approach will not work overnight. It may take weeks. But it will pay off eventually. 

Keep these points in mind:

This approach is meant to be clear and to eliminate loopholes. You cannot be consistent and negotiate with your teen in this. School is their job. It will open doors for them in the future. They do not have a choice here. 

Homework may never become their favorite thing. This approach will not internally motivate them. This is purely external, carrot-and-stick motivation. However, in time, your kid will develop personal motivation, because he’ll see success, and that will change his self-image. Until then, you’ll be making him keep up with his work and develop the skills he’ll need when he finally does decide to push himself. 

Do not hover, prod, threaten, cajole, debate or nag. This is not your problem. You have no reason to feel guilty. Help when and if you think that is appropriate, but let the consequences do the screaming for you. Your child knows the rules. If he makes his life miserable at first, that’s his choice. Honor his choice. Honor the heck out of it! He’s not a fool. Eventually, he’ll motivate himself when he gets tired of the consequences of his chosen lifestyle. 

You may also want to set some positive goals. For example, if all the homework assignments are completed for three days in a row, he can earn an extension of his curfew or more TV time or something.

If you stick with this approach, it’s practically foolproof. If you stick with it. If you. But that will not be easy. It means you’ll have to stay calm. It means you’ll have to be the grown up. It means you’ll have to set boundaries and be willing to enforce consequences. 

It means you’ll have to be ScreamFree.

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