As much as parents want their child to automatically do their homework and read without putting up a fight, it’s actually a good thing that kids protest a bit. It would certainly be easier to have little robot children who comply with every parental wish, but ultimately that little robot would grow up to be passive and unsuccessful. Instead of getting stuck feeling frustrated that your child won’t do homework or read on cue, accept that most children try to avoid it. Try creative ways to engage them so that they get the job done without too much of a fuss.
First, I’ll share three techniques that involve positive reinforcement, which includes giving your child something good when they do something good. The alternative is to issue a punishment when they do something bad (not completing their homework). Yes, there is one punishment that works effectively, but I find that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment as a rule. Remember, the more you punish your child, the more they will see you as an opponent. Use positive reinforcement instead and your kid will listen to you better because they will see you as more of an ally.
Treat or prize basket
If your child is ten years old or younger, you need a treat basket. The next time you go to the market with your child, visit the treat aisle and tell your child to pick out a bag or two of their favorite treats. At home, fill a basket with small items that your child values and allow him or her to pick out two treats after the homework or reading is completed. My children love chocolate, so their basket includes little wrapped chocolates. Nothing motivates my children to do their homework as much as that innocent little treat basket. If your kids are motivated by stickers or little dime toys, visit the dollar store and stock up on them, and include them in your basket.
Sit with your child at the table while they do homework
It’s important that parents not work too hard to help their children with homework. Once a child fully learns to read, they can understand directions and they should be able to complete their homework with only occasional guidance from you. Sit with them at the table and write your grocery list or answer emails while they focus on their homework. Trust me: They will get their homework done a lot faster if you are there to make sure they stay focused.
Suggest a post-homework fun activity
Whether your child is in elementary school or junior high, you can motivate your child to do something they don’t want to do. Sometimes one of the most effective motivators – especially with elementary school-age kids –is to do something fun with them after they finish their homework. My daughter, for example, loves to do dance shows for her parents. I say to her, “Come on and finish your reading, and if we have time later, you can do a dance show.” (Wow, do kids love attention!) You could try any of the following motivators: throwing the football or kicking a soccer ball outside; looking up funny videos online; playing dress-up; making art at the kitchen table; or watching a family show on TV together.
A simple punishment
Though using punishment is not as effective as using positive reinforcement, sometimes a benign punishment is necessary. If your child outright refuses to do their homework, it’s a fair consequence to send them to bed early. Say, “This is a choice you can make. I can’t control every single thing you do. You make your own choices. One choice is to not do your homework and go to bed now, and the other choice is to follow the rules, do your homework, and then you can chill out and watch TV later.”
Ultimately, try not to let yourself get too worked up or angry when your child refuses to do homework or read. If you’re a parent who also works out of the home, coming home to these challenges can be extremely frustrating at the end of a long day. When you feel yourself getting triggered and starting to go to that frustrated, lashing-out place, take a break by going into another room and then revisit the situation a half-hour later. After all, nothing good happens once both child and parent are upset.