How can I motivate my son to do his homework after school?
Today’s question comes from Lyla:
“My son is in 6th grade and isn’t motivated to do his homework. He does the bare minimum to get by. Everyday after school, I suggest, plead, scream, command (depends on my mood) that he GET his homework DONE so he doesn’t have to think about it anymore! All he wants to do after school is get on his skateboard. You’d think that would motivate him to get his homework done! When I make him to sit at the kitchen table with his books after school, he dawdles, complains, and argues with me. If I don’t say anything, and just let him ride his skateboard, he’ll pull his books out at 10:00pm and fall asleep shortly after. How can I motivate my son to do his homework after school?”
This is such a great question because it’s the classic example of Mom having a perfectly logical and reasonable solution to a problem. Getting the homework done after school is a great idea. The problem is, it’s not working.
Lyla asks the question, “How do I motivate my kid?” but what she is really asking is “How do I motivate my kid to do what I want them to do?”
Parent Educator Answer – Motivating kids is about finding THEIR currency. Most kids want to get good grades, they just may not want to do the work required. Motivating kids is about finding out what works for them and this takes trial and error.
You can try no video games during the week, pulling out a favorite snack during homework time, sitting down at the kitchen table with them to do your own work. When the possibility of video games is available, it keeps the brain flooded with dopamine and can make it harder for kids to do the boring tasks of reading and homework. Eliminating the option can help. If the lure of free skateboarding time isn’t working, then it’s time to try something else.
The most important thing is to avoid a power struggle and get on the same team as your child. When our kids hit adolescence, it’s helpful to switch from being the authority with all the answers, to the coach and cheerleader, asking “How can I support the player?” They are so wired to rebel against parental authority, they might refuse your idea just because it’s your idea.
Answer compliments of spiritual teacher, Byron Katie –
There are only 3 kinds of business: my business, your business, God’s business (Universe)
My business – Creating a conducive environment for homework (distraction free zone, quiet music, relaxing). I can create natural consequences for poor academic performance like hiring a tutor, meeting with the teacher, or reducing cell phone access. I can reward the EFFORT, not perfectionism.
When kids lose motivation to do well, it’s often because their parents have such high expectation and they feel such pressure, that they purposefully rebel against them.
Your business – What, how, and when you kids do your homework. I can sit at the table and put books in front of you, but I cannot make you read.
God’s business – If school is interesting or boring, hard or easy, it’s God’s business.
Do they like to work hard? Are they detail oriented? Fast or slow? Are they competitive or collaborative? We can help our kids to appreciate who they are and how they best learn. Do they learn best in groups or alone? Or when they are outside and moving? Be careful not to argue with reality, wishing your kid was wired differently. Once you’ve figured out what is God’s business, you can let it go. There is nothing good to gain from arguing with it.
Staying in “my business”
Movement helps kids process their learning. What if skateboarding is helping him integrate the information he’s already taken in? As our kids grow, we want them to have a good understanding of who they are and how they best learn. As moms, our job is to recognize that there is no right or wrong way. What works for us may not work for our kids, and that’s ok.
What gets in your way when you think about giving up your authority? Do you have a fear of letting go control? It’s really common with Supermoms. But trying to control something you have no control over puts us into struggle.
At sixth grade, Lyla’s identity is still very enmeshed with her son’s grades and behavior. Her ego is probably tied up with her son’s performance and it’s a great age to separate. How can you still be a good mom while your kid has a D in math? Just because your child has a bad report card, doesn’t mean you get a bad report card as a mom.
You can separate out your ability to feel like a good mom, from your child’s grades, by staying in your own business and the things you have control over. This will allow you look deeper at the issue to understand why he is struggling, without making either of you feel like you are doing something wrong.
The most common thought moms have when their kid has bad grades or isn’t doing his homework, is “I’m not doing a good enough job as a mom.” We think we need to do MORE! This, naturally, gets us all anxious, trying to control the situation.
Circumstance – My kid isn’t doing homework
Thought – I’m not doing enough as a mom / I should be doing more
Feeling – anxious, embarrassed, insecure
Actions – do more, yell, plead, encourage, restrict, get more involved, overreact
Result – We don’t sound like a coach or cheerleader. We seem needy and attached. Our child HAS to great their grades up in order for us to feel calm.
Instead of the thought, “I’m not doing enough as a mom”, what if we changed the thought to something like ….“He’s showing me what works for him and what doesn’t” ?
Feeling – calm
Action – observe, pay attention to, learn more about who he is, what works, and what doesn’t.
Result – You both are learning more about how to help the “player” win at the game of school.
Supermom Kryptonite: Unproductive worry. Productive means there is an immediate action step to take. Ask yourself, “Is this productive worry or unproductive worry?” If I’m worrying about his bad grade, I could email the teacher, ask a friend for a tutor recommendation. If there is no immediate action step to take, let it go.
Superpower Boost: Only try to control things you have control over. Figure out what here is mine, yours, The Universe’s. Example:
My business: The food I buy, cook, serve and store in my house.
Their business: What they put into their mouth.
God’s business: They have a sensitive palette, hypo-sensitivity, hyper sensitivity, sugar addiction.
Make sure you only try to control the things you have control over. You always have control of the thoughts you think, the feelings you feel, and the energy you bring to the relationship. If you want your kids to obey, make sure you stay in calm, confident energy.
Quote “Pay close attention to the particular thought you use to deprive yourself of happiness” Byron Katie