Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How To Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 2

Photo by Lone_F

Are you tired of the homework battle? Here are some nitty-gritty tips to help you (and your son) get a grip on homework:

(First, if you haven't already, read How to Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 1)

Talk to your son. Does your son think homework is a problem? Why? It's crucial to get your son's input. If he truly doesn't understand the assignment, encourage him to talk to his teacher. If he thinks the homework is pointless, ask why -- and listen to the answer. While many boys struggle with homework, you need to understand what's going on with son in order to effectively intervene.

Talk to the teacher. If you son's homework is of the truly pointless variety -- if you son already understands the material, or could easily pass the test or complete the rest of the assignment without doing part of the homework -- schedule a meeting with the teacher to discuss the issue. Ask for alternatives. Perhaps your son could test out of certain homework assignments. Or do half of the assigned problems instead of all of them.

Beware: your son may not want you to talk to his teacher. He may be afraid that the teacher may simply assign more (and more difficult) homework. And that may well be the case. If the teacher wants to assign additional homework, though, ask if it can be tailored to your son's outside interests, or completed in an innovative way. (Could he make a website instead of writing a paper? Submit a spreadsheet from his side business instead of re-creating one from the textbook?)

Let him go outside. Forcing your son to sit down and do homework the minute he comes home from school is rarely productive. Instead, send him outside or to the gym to burn off some energy. You can even intersperse homework sessions with activity -- say, a half-hour stretch of homework followed by 15 minutes of physical activity before returning to homework. Believe it or not, those brief bursts of activity will actually improve your son's productivity.

Talk to your son about his goals. What does your son want to do in life? Help him see how his homework directly relates to his life goals. And whenever possible, link your son's homework to his goals. A boy who loves video games, for instance, might fight nightly reading -- but might be willing to read a video game magazine for a few minutes before bed.

Get outside assistance, if needed. If your son is truly struggling with a certain subject, or needs help with study skills, consider enlisting a tutor. Ask around at school; your son's school may offer resources such as after school study times or check-ins with teachers. School personnel and other parents may also be able to point you toward private tutors. (College kids and retired teachers make great tutors.) Outside assistance may also be necessary if your son has a learning disability.

Make it meaningful. Consider setting up an incentive system to encourage your son to do his homework. If he absolutely must get it done for whatever reason -- your sanity, his learning, whatever -- consider offering him a personally meaningful reward if he does his homework X number of nights in a row, for instance. So instead of fighting about homework on a nightly basis, pre-agree on a series of behavior expectations and rewards. Maybe you can make him his favorite dessert. Or maybe you can go to the park or museum together.

Some parents tie homework to negative consequences -- you know, the old, if-you-don't-do-your-homework-you're-grounded! scenario. And while that can work, in the short-term, it only reinforces your son's belief that homework is odious. It also takes away your son's responsibility for his homework, because effectively, you become the one who makes sure his homework is done.

Make it fun. Inject a little fun whenever possible. If your son has to practice math facts, consider writing numbers on a white board and letting him "shoot" the right answer with a Nerf gun. (One homeschooling mom I know tried this technique -- and ended up with all the neighborhood boys in her kitchen!) Practice spelling words in chalk on the driveway. Or trace them in the sand. Read outside.

Do you have any other tips to share? How do you help your sons with homework?


  1. I applaud how you considered that homework is often pointless. We get that here, because school is designed to keep everyone at the same level my boys are ahead of the curve and therefore get pointless homework (and in-school work too). I think, as you probably do, that homework is mostly pointless!

    That said, there is some homework that appears useless to the child, or even the parent, but is useful. For example, rote multiplication practice has a purpose even though it might be boring.

    I also hesitate a bit on the "make it meaningful with rewards" advice. What about the research which shows that rewards decrease motivation? My strategy for making homework meaningful is to invent a value rather than a reward. Like "If you do these multiplication exercises then you'll be even faster." Or if it's a research project on some useless topic like piano history (that is something we had to do) then we can use the opportunity to practice writing in an interesting/compelling way or focus on some little-known aspect of pianos.

  2. I love your advice re "make it meaningful," Alex. In fact, I like yours better than mine. Your comment also reminded me of something I meant to include, but forgot: You can help make homework meaningful to your son by reminding him of/pointing out a connection between his homework and something he does want or value. For instance, your son might not want to do his algebra homework.He might pull the old, "But when will I ever use this?" trick. But that same son may already have his eyes set on a college - so it might be good time to gently (and tactfully) remind your son of the college's math and admission requirements.

  3. Homework is one the most stressful tasks we had to face when we were studying. My kids usually complain about the amount of homework that they have to do. So to relieve the stress, I let them watch a couple of shows once their done with their homework. That reward system has worked for me. Also, I make sure to give them breaks, so that they won't experience any burnout. Making the tasks interesting is a good way to go too.

    Daniele Ickes