How To Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 2

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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.

Did you miss Part 1 of Boys & Homework? Find it here.

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7 Responses

  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

  4. I have twin boys in 11th grade – in a high achieving public school district. One son is wired to do homework – and gets the straight A’s as a result – the other son is bright but not engaged in school to his ability. His effort is inconsistent. Our experience with homework is that it is disconnected with learning….and our second son has internalized that message. It has taken a while to “let go” of some of this as a parent and to realize that what engages him is when he is invested in a project of his own choosing. He loves gaming and just this morning told me that he is saving his money in order to build his own gaming computer. Having this goal will hopefully light a fire to motivate him in other areas. Although this one goal doesn’t have much to do with actual classroom homework – it is definitely one I can support.

    1. I’m so glad you support your son’s goal, Martha! Building a gaming computer might not have much to do with his classroom assignments, but he’ll learn a lot, including how it feels to pursue a project, set goals and overcome obstacles. And it’s always interesting to me how a deep interest in one thing can lead anywhere. Taking gaming, for instance. What might look like “just” playing video games can lead to reading and friendships around the world; deep problem solving skills; even an interest in history, politics or science.

      BTW, I highly recommend the book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

  5. This is easier in a more stable, middle class environment where there is relatively more stability, knowledge, skills, and verbal interaction, creating more ease of reading and writing. However, even here, those boys are slowly falling behind their female peers in those areas. For boys in more average and lower income areas, this problem is far worse.
    The problem that is unseen though is the accumulation of “lack of skills beginning from infancy” that slowly creates a point where many Males begin to stagnate and give up due to feelings of inferiority in those areas. We are assuming here the ability is there and but not the effort. What we are not seeing is how higher average stress from more aggressive, less supportive, less verbal interaction, and providing love and honor only for achievement, with more discipline and ridicule for lack of achievement by parents, teachers, and others is creating accumulating obstacles for learning, motivation, and feelings of esteem and feelings of self-worth.
    I imagine in middle school where the students are more immediately separated according to ability levels and then talked down to by their teachers and ostracized by their peers in other classes can weigh more heavily on their love of learning. Of course the lack of social vocabulary sentence/communication experience and higher average stress has slowly and increasingly hurt their reading motivation and development. The higher muscle tension from higher average stress (not developmental but socially created) has hurt writing/motivation. The more distrust and yes, fear of adults, has only added to the problem. Probably an important part is the lack of love and honor from parents, teachers, and peers if they are not achieving in school. “Conditional love and honor and ridicule/discipline was designed to make boys tough and keep their esteem/feelings of self-worth low, so they would try hard in the physical world to earn those essentials of worth. This then almost forces many boys into sports, video games, other groups not achieving to garnish some tid bits of love and honor not given in school.

    1. Excellent points, Lynn! The cumulative effects of stress definitely impact human development, and I think we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more about this important factor in the coming years. I hope we see some action too!

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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