I came across an article, written by an exacerbated parent, in the online Wall Street Journal. The parent was struggling with how to put limits on the use of electronic media in the service of having her children get their homework done. When I lecture on The Homework Trap, I often ask parents what they think is a good consequence for homework not done and, to a tee, the answer involves removing the types of devices the writer refers to here. I then point out that the hallmark of a “good consequence,” is one that it is one that works, and the way you know it works is that you do not have to use it again. Consequences that continue to be used teach avoidant behavior, not homework compliance.
So, I’m going to offer this mother, and parents everywhere, an alternative to efforts to limit time doing things that are fun, and that is to limit time on the homework. Most parents have no trouble getting their kids to go to school. Their children know when the school day starts, and they know when it stops. Adults know when they’re supposed to show up for their jobs. They know when they can go home. It’s the natural order of things that “work” and “chores” be planned and placed in containers. Fun, free-time, is yours to use. So rather than engage in repetitive and unproductive efforts to get your child to limit what he wants to do, place limits on what he has to do. Set up an at-home study hall. Call it quiet time. Join your child, not in completing the homework, but in maintaining the quiet norm. Read a book. Take care of some personal business. Use the time to finish things from your work that you did not have time to complete during the work day. Do it the space where your child works and be available to “help” the child only if needed and requested by the child. But make sure that when the homework/quiet session is over, it completely comes to a stop, whether or not all the work has been done.
You’ll find yourself being much more effective overseeing your child’s behavior and helping your child get more work done by resisting the temptation to place boundaries on things that are fun, and begin putting the boundaries on the “must-do’s,” like homework, the child faces at night.
For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.