How to Motivate Your Child To Do Their Homework
In this four-part series of blog posts, Omari Eccleston-Brown shares some top tips from his upcoming book The Secret to Happy Homework on how parents can motivate their child to do their homework and achieve calmer, happier, and more productive homework with their children.
For so many parents doing homework with their children in the evenings means facing resistance, complaints and full-blown tantrums.
“You know what, I’m just glad we at least get those 10 minutes walking home from school before we have to kill each other!”
In Rebecca’s case, she had three children – one in his first year of secondary school, one preparing for the 11+ and another preparing for the 8+. So, homework was definitely a feature in her house. But it wasn’t going well. Her children all thought it was pointless and they weren’t short on ways to let her know.
“Why do I always have to be the bad cop, Omari?” Rebecca asked me. “I don’t remember signing up to police their homework every evening. But if I don’t, then they don’t. It’s exhausting!”
I’ve been working with families as a tutor for over 10 years and I see situations like Rebecca’s all the time – homework has become a battleground, the parents are fed up and the children feel totally demotivated.
Yet, motivation is so critical to success at school, so what can you do to motivate your child? And how do you make homework not only bearable, but genuinely fun, meaningful and productive?
Here are a few of my favourite ways to turn things around and get homework working for you and your children, instead of against you.
How can I motivate my child when they don’t want to do their homework?
Most parents know that bribing their child with sweets or threatening them with no screen time can get them one or two nights of argument-free homework at best. But the question is: how do you get the change to last?
The real key to motivating your child or teen is to realise that motivation only lasts when it’s an inside job, not when it’s an outside job. So, the best way to motivate your child and get it to stick is to use whatever’s already motivating them. I call this The Hook.
For instance, I teach lots of boys who are absolutely mad about Match Attax football cards. In the past, whenever they would refuse to leave their game to do my “stupid” comprehension with me, I would immediately start begging, reasoning and cajoling them. It was so long and painful and it took all my energy. I don’t do any of that anymore. Now I try to follow where their motivation naturally wants to lead me. I say: “Ok, I’ve got a passage here about a match between some football-mad schoolboys in Afghanistan. Let’s read it and then make Match Attax cards about the different characters!” I’m not negotiating on the fact that they have to do a comprehension, but I am willing to see how I can make it more interesting and relevant to them. My students can hardly believe their luck. They love poring over the passage to find clues that will tell them how fast each player should be and what score they should give them for passing.
Of course, your child may have a completely different Hook, but it’s not hard to find. Just ask yourself: “What’s my child really into?” “What do they research by themselves and then come and tell me about?” “What was the last piece of schoolwork that got them really fired up?”
Knowing your child’s Hook doesn’t mean you now have to make every piece of homework related to it – that’s not realistic or even necessary. But simply incorporating their Hook occasionally will help them discover something in homework that’s both for themselves and feels like it comes from themselves – and that’s highly motivating!
How do I help my child be more independent and responsible?
As a parent, you want your children to be able to get on with their homework by themselves. And when one child genuinely needs your help, you want to know that you can trust the others to finish their work without you watching over them.
The best way to get your child to show this sort of responsibility and independence is to give them as many opportunities to be autonomous as possible. That doesn’t mean handing over the reins to them, but you can start allowing them to make choices within certain parameters. For instance, if your child constantly argues with you about starting homework, try letting them decide when to start. The parameters could be that they have to finish all their homework between 4pm and 6:30pm, but then you leave it up to them to decide whether they’d prefer to do it right away or have a 20-40 minute break before they start. This will help them feel like some aspect of homework is in their control and it’s an invitation to be responsible, rather than the expectation they typically face. Giving your child autonomy like this also builds in some useful flexibility for both of you. If they’ve had a long and tiring day at school, it gives them room to take a longer break than usual – as long as they still have everything done by 6:30pm, of course. And recognising that they really are tired, you don’t have to insist on them doing their homework as soon as they step in the door simply to avoid seeming inconsistent with your own rules.
What if my child starts their homework, but takes forever to finish?
Every parent has had a piece of homework that’s meant to take 20 minutes take an hour – or more! So, what do you do when your child starts their homework, but takes forever to finish?
Again, giving them a sense of autonomy is key. I suggest finding out from your child’s school how long homework is meant to take their year, then share this with your child and make them The Timekeeper. Give them a stopwatch or a clock and tell them how long they have to finish their homework. Make it sound like a real privilege and let them know you won’t be watching the time for them – you’re trusting them to do that themselves and be in charge of finishing on time. Once the timer goes off, that’s it – the books go away and they get on with the rest of their evening. If they don’t finish their homework on time because they were being distracted or stalling, don’t be afraid to let them go to school the next day with incomplete homework. Part of being responsible is discovering that there are natural consequences to certain choices and it’s fine to allow your child to discover that now. You might have to put up with a few incomplete homeworks at first, but they will quickly realise that they don’t like disappointing their teacher or getting in trouble at school, and when you don’t bail them out either, they’ll learn to finish their homework on time.
Of course, sometimes a piece of homework does genuinely need longer and in those cases you can work out together how much longer you think it needs and adjust the time accordingly. Your child should still remain The Timekeeper though, and this will keep them motivated and on task.
These are just a few ways that you can motivate your children to not only do their homework, but to truly learn from it, which is the purpose it should really serve.
Omari Eccleston-Brown is the creator of the Happy Homework™ Programme. His book The Secret to Happy Homework: 7 Hidden Laws of Success is released in December 2020.
Read the second article in this series, ‘Making homework work for you’ on how parents can use rules and structure to end homework battles here. Part three in this series, ‘Removing the Barriers to Happy Homework’ is available here.