How do can I motivate a child to do his homework?


EUNICE [a parent]: My son is in second grade this year and I'm having the same problem we've had since kindergarten—motivating him to want to do his schoolwork. We've tried bribes and threats to no avail. So I've just been talking to him, trying to encourage him. I tell him that his job in life right now is school. He seems to agree with me. He says, "Oh, yes, Mom, Ill do better."

KEVIN [Dr. Kevin Leman]: He throws you a fish to quiet you is what he does.

EUNICE: He sure does. I've had him tested and I know he's a bright kid. He could probably be in a gifted program, but he's had this problem ever since kindergarten when I think we started him too early. I don't think he was quite ready. He never has liked schoolwork so he doesn't do it.

RANDY [Randy Carlson]: Maybe he's bored. Bright kids can get bored with school.

EUNICE: So what can I do? I am out of ideas.

KEVIN: Now you want to take a new proactive approach. You do that by making a list of all the things and activities that are important in your sons life. Every kid has things he loves to play with or do. And when you have that list completed, you use it to discipline your boy in a very matter-of-fact way. You provide motivation in a very natural sense by telling him that when he completes his homework he can enjoy the things that he truly loves. What does he like to do in life?


EUNICE: He loves to play soccer; his team practices twice a week and plays once on Saturday.

KEVIN: Let me ask you, what should happen if his homework isn't done and its time for practice, or even a game?

EUNICE: I guess he shouldn't go, but…

KEVIN: What's the “but”? I'm dying to hear the “but” because this is what gets you into trouble.

EUNICE: I understand that, but my husband is not in agreement with keeping him out of soccer for not doing homework.

KEVIN: There is your problem. The child is driving you up the wall because you and your husband are not on the same wavelength.

EUNICE: Well, it isn't just my husband. Even the teacher he had last year said we shouldn't take soccer away from him.

KEVIN: You tell the teacher that I disagree—big time!

RANDY: The only way to motivate children is through things that motivate them. You cant be constantly beating them over the head, so to speak, but you do have to hold them accountable and let them know that school is more important than soccer or Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or whatever.

We've done that in our own family, and it has worked. In our case, it was taking away Little League and gymnastics class, and it motivated our kids, no question about it. The point is, however, you have to follow through. When its time to go to practice and the homework hasn't been done, you have to be willing to say, "Sorry, no homework, no soccer." If you just warn him and threaten him, and then don't do it, he’ll just continue to pull your chain.

KEVIN: But what happens, Randy, if our little guy perceives that Mom and Dad are in disagreement over taking soccer away? What happens then?

RANDY: The kid knows he can just put a wedge in there. We've been through that in our own family and its something Eunice and her husband will have to resolve.

Eunice, sit down with your husband and try to convince him that Reality Discipline is worth a try. Nothing else is working, and, besides, we’re not suggesting the end of your sons soccer career, only missing a few practices and maybe a game. We’re willing to bet he’ll come around on the homework.

Author: excerpt from Parent Talk by Dr. Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson of Family Life Communications

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