How To Get Child Motivated To Do Homework

With less than an hour to go before my seven-year-old daughter’s bedtime, my home was a long way from being the oasis of calm I was hoping for at that time of evening.

Instead Lily had just scribbled all over her homework worksheet, thrown her pencil on the floor and was now yelling at the top of her voice: ‘I hate Math. I suck at it.

With my younger daughter to put to bed, Lily in a melt-down and me exhausted after a day at work, the tension was rapidly rising.

But even if I could calm ourselves down, there was no end in sight. Even if I could persuade her to finish her math homework, Lily still had the whole book reading to do.

So I was facing two choices –

Should I stand over her and insist that not doing homework was NOT an option?

Or, should I tell her to put the books away, write a note to her teacher and just let her unwind and play in the lead-up to bedtime?

Have you been there? What choice would you make?

Editor’s Note: For confidence that you will make the best choices for tough everyday questions like this and others, click here for our FREE mini-course How to Be a Positive Parent.

The choice I would make now is very different to what my choice would have been a few years back.

Back then, I’d try to push through with a mixture of cajoling and prompting and assurances that she did know how to do her Math really.

If that didn’t work then maybe in despair and frustration that she didn’t seem to want to try, I would have got angry and tried to explain how serious I was about this.

A Game of One-Upmanship

Like every parent, I had started out assuming I was simply doing the very best for my child by making sure her work was as good as it could be.

After all, what choice did I have? From the very early days in the private nursery she attended, I found myself surrounded by lots of other mothers locked into the same race to make their children the brightest and the best.

As Lily got older, I came to learn how insidiously contagious pushy parenting is.

If one of the mothers spotted another a parent with a Kumon Math folder, we all rushed to sign up too – for fear our children would get left behind.

Neurosis underpinned every conversation at the school gates – particularly as all of us were aiming to get our children into a small handful of selective private schools in the area.

Bit by bit, the parenting journey which had started off being so exciting and rewarding, was turning into a stressful game of one-upmanship.

But children are not products to be developed and put on show to reflect well on us.

Depending on what happens on the night, every child is conceived with a unique combination of genes which also maps out their strengths, weaknesses and personality traits before they are even born.

Lily may have been bred into a competitive hotbed. But as an innately modest and sensitive child, she decided she did not want to play.

The alarm bells started ringing in Grade Three when, after I personally made sure she turned in the best Space project, she won the prize. While I applauded uproariously from the sidelines, Lily, then seven, fled the room in tears and refused to accept the book token from the Head.

When she calmed down, she explained she hated us making a fuss. But what is just as likely is that she disliked the fact that her successes had become as much ours as hers. Even at that young age, no doubt she also realized that the more she succeeded, the more pressure she would be under to keep it up.

Over the next few years, the issues only deepened.

The Problem of Not Doing Homework

Slowly, Lily started to find excuses for not doing homework. Our home started to become a battlefield. She would barely open her books before yelling: “I’m stuck” –when really she was just terrified of getting it wrong.

The increasing amounts of homework sent home by the school gradually turned our house into a war zone – with me as the drill sergeant.

Homework is one of the most common flash points between kids and parents – the crossroads at which academic endeavors meet parental expectations at close quarters – and behind closed doors.

Surveys have found that homework is the single biggest source of friction between children and parents. One survey found that forty per cent of kids say they have cried during rows over it. Even that figure seems like a dramatic underestimate.

Yet more and more, it is recognized that homework undermines family time and eats into hours that should be spent on play or leisure.

A straightforward piece of work that would take a child twenty minutes at school can easily take four times as long at home with all the distractions and delaying tactics that go with it.

As a result, children get less sleep, go to bed later and feel more stressed.

Homework has even started to take over the summer vacations.

Once the long break was seen as a chance for children to have adventures, discover themselves and explore nature. Now the summer months are viewed as an extension of the academic year – a chance for kids to catch up… or get ahead with workbooks and tutoring.

But ultimately homework abides by the law of diminishing returns.

Researchers at Duke University found that after a maximum of two hours of homework, any learning benefits rapidly start to drop off for high school students.

While some children will do everything to avoid doing it, at the other extreme others will become perfectionists who have to be persuaded to go to bed. Some moms I spoke to had to bribe their children to do less!

Given the cloud of anxiety hovering over them, no wonder some of these children perceive education as stressful.

Pushed to the Brink

Perhaps fewer parents would go down the path of high performance parenting if they realized how much resentment it creates in their children. The irony is that all this obsession with pushing our kids towards success, pushes away the very people we are trying to help.

While all of us would say we love our children no matter what, unfortunately that’s not the message our kids hear. Instead, children become angry when they feel we are turning them into passive projects. Rather than feel like they are disappointing us, they disconnect. Early signs may be they become uncommunicative after school, stop looking parents in the eye, secretive or avoidant.

But we need to remember that unhappy stressed kids don’t learn.

Over the next few years, Lily’s insistence on not doing homework kept getting worse. To try and get to the bottom of it, my husband Anthony and I took her to see educational psychologist who found strong cognitive scores and no signs of learning difficulties.

But what the report did identify was how profoundly Lily’s self-worth had been affected.  Even though I had never once told her she should be top of the class, she still felt she had to be good at everything. If she couldn’t be, she didn’t think there was any point trying at all.

It was clear despite our best efforts to support her, Lily constantly felt criticized. She was becoming defensive and resentful.

Most serious of all, by claiming she couldn’t do her homework – when she could – she was testing if my love for her was conditional on her success.

I had to face up to the painful truth that unless I took immediate action – and killed off my inner Tiger Mom – my child and I were growing apart.

So for the sake of my daughter, I realized I had to change direction and take my foot off the gas.

When her tutor rang to tell me Lily needed a break, I was delighted to agree. Since then, I have let her focus on the subjects that really matter to her – art and music – and have let her decide what direction to take them in.

I also made a deliberate effort to spend time with Lily – just the two of us – so we can simply “be” together. Now instead of trips to the museums and classical concerts, we go for walks in the park and hot chocolates.

The Difficult Journey Back

Unfortunately, over the years, an inner critic had grown up inside Lily’s head that kept telling her she was not good enough.  I realized I needed to take quite deliberate steps to address that if she was to be happy with herself again.

To help her recognize and dismiss the voice that was bringing her down, I took her to see a Neuro-Linguistic Programming coach who teaches children strategies to untangle the persistent negative thoughts that undermine their self-belief – and replace them with positive ones.

Before we began, Jenny explained that Lily’s issues are not uncommon. As a teacher of 30 years experience, Jenny believes the growing pressure on children to perform from an early age is contributing to a general rise in learning anxiety. The youngest child she has helped was six.

It’s children like Lily, who don’t relish a contest, who are among the biggest casualties.

At home, some have been made to feel they are not good enough by parents or are intimidated by more academic sisters and brothers. Some may develop an inferiority complex simply because they are born into high-achieving families.

Once established, failure can also become self-reinforcing. Even when they get good marks, children like Lily still dwell on the pupil who got the higher one to support their negative views of their abilities, making it a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

It’s when children start to see this self-criticism as fact that the negative self-talk can start.

As she sat on the sofa, Jenny asked Lily if she had ever heard a nagging voice in her head that put her down. Lily looked surprised but answered that yes, she had. Asked who it was, my daughter replied: “It’s me, but the mean me.”

Asked to draw this character, Lily depicted an angry, disapproving female figure with her hands on her hips, with a mouth spouting the words “blah, blah, blah.” When asked to name her, Lily thought for a moment before coming up with the name Miss Trunch-Lily, so-called because the figure is half herself – and half the hectoring teacher from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

Now Miss Trunch-Lily had been nailed, Jenny and Lily agreed an easy way to deal with her would be to talk back and tell her “Shut up, you idiot” one hundred times.

But that would take a long time, so Lily and Jenny came up with a quicker solution; imagining a canon which would instantly send a shower of 60 candies into her mouth so she couldn’t say another word.

Next time Lily heard her nagging voice, all she had to do was press an imaginary button and her nemesis would be silenced.

In the months that followed, Lily seemed to relax. Gradually the procrastination about homework started to vanish – and Lily was much more likely to open her books after school and quietly get on with her homework.

A Fresh New Start

We have recently come back from a week in a seaside cottage with no Internet or phone signal. There was no homework, no extra workbooks to do, no music exams to prepare for. Nor did we use our vacation as a catch-up period to prepare the girls to get ahead.

Instead my husband, my daughters and I went on long walks with our dog. We examined different types of seaweed and examined crabs in rock pools.

Back in the cottage, we sat around and read books that interested us. I let the children play upstairs for hours, not on their phones, but in long elaborate role-plays, without feeling the need to interrupt once.

I would wager that Lily and Clio learnt more about themselves – and what they are capable of – in a single week than in a whole semester at their schools where they hardly get a moment to stop and think.

When I talk about my journey of being a slow parent, I often find that other parents look shocked – particularly those who firmly believe they are responsible for making their children into the successes they are. So, I shared my journey in the book Taming the Tiger Parent: How to put your child’s well-being first in a competitive world.

Of course, for the child born with a go-getting personality, teaming up with turbo-charged parents can be a winning combination – to start with at least.

But as adults, we have to start asking – how high we can raise the bar before it’s too high for our children to jump?

After all, a bigger picture is also emerging: a rise in anxiety disorders, depression and self-harm among children who have grown up with this continual pressure – and the emergence of a generation who believe they are losers if they fail, they’ve never done enough if they win.

Even among children who succeed in this environment, educationalists are finding pushy parenting creates a drive towards perfectionism which can turn into self-criticism when these young people can’t live up to such high standards.

I’m happy that in the midst of this arms race to push our kids more and more, there are changes afoot. Around the world, parents and educators are drawing up a blue-print for an alternative.

Whether it’s slow parenting, minimalist parenting, free-range parenting – or the more bluntly named Calm the F*** Down parenting, there is recognition that we need to resist the impulse to constantly push and micro-manage.

As a mother to Lily, as well as my younger daughter, Clio, I’ve decided I don’t want to be a part of all those crushing burdens of expectations. I want to provide a relief from it.

Apart from the fact it makes children happier, it’s also so much more fun.

Now I love the fact that when Lily messes around in the kitchen making cupcakes, I no longer have to fight the urge to tell her to hurry up – and badger her to finish her homework.

Of course, not doing homework is not an option – but these days in our house the aim is to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. If a concept is not understood, I don’t pull my hair out trying to be the teacher and trying to play ‘catch-up’. If Lily, now 12, genuinely does not understand it, I write a note to the member of the staff to explain that it may need further explanation. It’s a simple system and is working perfectly fine for us.

I like it that when she comes home from school, and I ask her, ‘How are you?’ I really mean it.  It’s no longer code for: ‘What marks did you get today, darling?’ and I’m not thinking ‘Hurry up with your answer, so we can get on with your homework.’

Most of all I love the fact that I can finally appreciate Lily for the person she is now– a 12-year-old girl with an acerbic sense of humor who likes Snoopy, play-dates and kittens – and not for the person I once wanted her to be.

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The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

For our quick contemplation questions today –

  • Imagine meeting your child in 20 years times. Ask them to describe their childhood. Do they describe it as magical? Or do they look back on it as a race from one after school activity and homework project to the next?
  • Ask yourself what do you want for your children? When you say you want your children to be happy, what has that come to mean to you?  If you really analyze it, has it drifted into being interpreted as professional success and financial acumen? Furthermore, have you come to judge success by a very narrow definition of traditional career achievement and earning power?
  • Now check again. If you look around you, what do the happiest people you know have in common? Is it material goods, high-flying jobs and academic qualifications? Or is it emotional balance? If you approach the question another way, are the wealthiest people you know also the most satisfied with life?

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

Spend some time sorting through any conflicts related to your kids not doing homework.

To start with, train your children in good habits and place time limits on how long homework should take from the start.

Ask the school how long a child should spend on each subject at night. Then you can help keep those limits in place by telling kids they can’t spend a minute more – or a minute less – than the allotted time.

Find the time of the day after school that works best for your child – either straight after arriving home or after a short break. Agree a start time every day so that the rule turns into a routine and there is less room for resistance and negotiation.

Don’t finish their homework for kids because you are desperate to get it off the evening’s to-do list. That will just mask the problem and get you dragged into a nightly conflict. Help them instead to take responsibility for their homework, while you provide guidance from the sidelines on an on-need basis.

How we wish homework could be fun — only if our kids also had a Doremon to help them with their studies! One of the biggest concerns of parents today is getting their child do homework and studies on time and effectively.

It’s quite understandable that homework sounds like a big task, uninteresting, and unrelenting, given the little time kids have to play, relax, and entertain themselves in this gadget-led age. Nevertheless, you’ll soon agree that it’s important to stick to a regular homework regime.

If you’re wondering why anyone would want their kids to bury their face again in notebooks and do homework every day, here is why:

5 Reasons Why Homework Is Important:

  • Reinforces concepts taught in school
  • Instils self-responsibility
  • Exercises brain and improves concentration
  • Self-discipline, time management, independent thinking and problem-solving
  • Bring a sense of accomplishment and confidence

Now, the big question remains, how to get your child to study and do homework?

Bonus: Don’t have time to read the rest? No worries. Download the free PDF version of The Secret Formula To Make Your Child Study And Do Homework >>

Vidya Ragu, psychologist, learning and development specialist from Chennai has an interesting methodology for parents to follow! It’s called the ‘2 Rupees, 3 Paisa’ concept! Want to know what that is? Read on!

The 2 Rupees, 3 Paisa Concept to help kids do Homework

Homework is an opportunity for a parent to be able to teach responsibility to the child. With the ‘2 Rupees 3 Paisa’ model, parents will be able to get children to do homework without a fuss.

‘2 Rupees, 3 Paisa’ which basically means 2 R’s and 3 P’s, is just an acronym for parents to remember every time they’re handling a child. So let’s look into each of it one by one.

Let Homework be your child’s responsibility

The first R is Role and Responsibility! Vidya explains, “In our experience, most of the parents just want the homework to be complete.

And they think it’s their responsibility that the homework should be complete and the child should do it in the best way.

Please understand it’s the child’s homework and we are responsible for enabling them to do it rather than actually sitting down and doing it.”

RELATED: 13 mind-blowing tips to increase concentration in kids

So what Vidya suggests is, instead of completing the homework for your child or shouting at them, encourage the child to understand that it is their role and responsibility to do their homework.

Nehal Roy, a parent says, I always tell my daughter, “You see we have money so that we can buy lots of stuffs” — she asks, “Where does this money come from?” and I replied, “Dad and mom bring that money after working hard”.

She tells, “I will also work hard and bring money to buy lot many stuffs”. Then I told her that money comes from hard work from your job and you can do any job smartly if you study well and finish your homework on time. So when she comes back from school, she freshens up, has her lunch and directly finishes her homework!

RELATED: 12 Must try Extra Curricular Activities For After School Engagement

Let your child tell you what’s to be done, what is required, by when he/she should be able to complete it, and if he/she wants to do it independently — without your constant supervision and nagging. Gradually, kids will learn to own the responsibility of their homework.

So how about being a role model?

While your child is working hard at completing homework or studies, ensure that you do your homework—house chores, cooking, readying bed, reading, research on topics he/she wants help with, ironing school uniform, etc. Show him/her you’re hard working as well!

Says Vijay Gupta, a parent, “Kids have a habit of following footprints of their parents since for them their parents are the world. So we make sure to complete our work on time or ahead of time. It helps us to set an example in front of our children as a good role model when we understand the value of time.”

Sticking to Regularity & Routine — Makes Doing Homework A Habit

“When you’re talking of Regularity & Routine it’s about whether they have homework or not. They create a Routine of a certain time every single day where they know that that is Homework Time.”

So instead of forcing the child to sit down and finish studying and do all the homework in one shot, engage them for a 45 minute duration (average attention span of a child) and add a break after.

Vidya explains, “Make it a habit that every single day you decide, you discuss and you come up with a plan saying, “OK this is our homework time and we will do it every single day”.

Another very interesting thing that can be done is to actually put a timepiece in front of the child to let them know that until this is going to be there, set the time and say “in this time, you’re going to sit and do it”; they kind of know that there is no choice, and there is no point in fussing.

So they try to take responsibility for saying “OK, this is my time and it is a slow process, it will take a little time but it definitely works.”

For some, it works well if kids finish their studies before they’re out to play. Sometimes, it makes sense to finish homework and pack the bags before they’re ready for dinner and family time. Whatever it is, make sure you keep a consistent time and routine for homework.

Shruti Kapoor, a parent, shares her views, “I agree that it’s a task to make kids do their homework but the right strategy and time management works wonders. My Champ is a smart independent boy and enjoys doing his homework.

We have a timetable for weekdays and a different one for the weekend. I never insist upon doing homework immediately after school or lunch. Instead, we have a good chit chat first along with planning activities that would follow homework.

Happily and joyfully, with imaginary stories and characters, we complete the homework so that we can spend equal time in playing and doing different activities. I truly believe, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’”

Praise your child — rather than Reward

Now moving on to the P’s. The first P is Praise rather than Reward. Why? Because Praise is motivation.

“The moment you look at the child and say, “Wow you did the A very well; can you do the B as well?”, that’s a Praise!

But the moment you come and give a chocolate, the child is not doing the homework for the homework, but because of the Reward — and that becomes a habit”, says Vidya.

Make your child understand the consequence of not doing homework

The next P is the power of choice and the power of consequence. If the child is able to sit for 45 minutes and finish the homework (or do a good bit of it) — enable them to take on the choice saying “OK, so you’ve done this part of it, what do you want to do next?” rather than forcing, “your homework time is over, let’s do this now.”

“So take a back-seat and allow the child to come forward and exercise his power of choice”, suggests Vidya.

Then comes the Power of Consequence. “If the child does the homework one day but another day he does not, the child should be able to understand that there’s a consequence for it.

So in a week if 2 or 3 are not done, then the child will face a consequence of maybe skipping one hour of TV Time or skipping their play time or anything where they can appreciate that “there is a consequence to my action”. These enable a child to understand responsibility as an important factor in their life.”

Patience is key for parents to help kids do homework

The last P is for parents to have patience. Don’t get into the anxious mode and complain if your child is unable to do the work quickly.

Because in the process of all the fuss management, you shouldn’t let the child go away.

Sometimes in the anxious mode we forget the priority — which is the child and not the homework.

Make Homework And Studies Fun For Your Child

Homework and studies should be fun. Everyday, ask your child what he/she did at school and if he/she has got some exercise sheets to revise it at home. When you discuss homework, show interest and eagerness, and not tension and anxiety.

You can also give your child thoughtful gifts like an exciting study table, good stationery, art items, calculator (if required), dictionary, or table-clock, etc.

Tell your kid to do the difficult part with your help first and then he/she can quickly finish the easy part when he/she is tired.

Give him/her tips to remember spellings and how to form spellings by breaking the words. Create jingles or thumb rules if telling something repeatedly doesn’t help.

For example, to teach your child vowels, create a jingle including letters a, e, i, o, u! Teach your kid cutting-pasting, taking a print-out, and make sure he/she picks up the skills to do it on his/her own the next time.

Ravichand Sankuru says, “Homework is an essential task for every schooling student, and it should be made interesting or fun rather than a task. We often pick a character which my kid likes the most at that moment, and we both get into the characters and try to do the task.”

Shivani Shourie, mother of a 7 year old states, “No fancy talks or frills. It is an arduous task to get my 7 year old to sit down and study. I do try to get her to initiate on her own but when she does not (which is mostly the case), we get into role play or should I say role reversal?

She does not like to study as a student but loves getting into the shoes of a teacher and teach me. While I sit and listen attentively, she reads out the chapters and writes the answers to teach them to me, hardly realising that she completes her homework in the process!

When you are a parent, only you know what works best for you and your child and you learn it on-the-job!!”
Wouldn’t you agree?


Hope you found this method useful! Do try it out at home and let us know in the comments section. If you have more ideas, do let us know! We’re sure it will be useful to other parents as well!

Article originally published on – July 6, 2015, updated on – February 09, 2017

90% of a child’s permanent foundation for brain development occurs in the early years according to Rauch Foundation. An overuse of gadgets can only stunt this growth and cause a negative impact on the child’s overall development.
If your child is spending more time swiping and scrolling, instead of interaction with the real world, you need to act before it’s too late.
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