“How to motivate a child to do homework” is on almost every parent’s mind right now. Getting kids to do homework is not always painful. In fact, it can be outright fun!
In this article, I will share the secret on motivating your child to not only do homework but also love homework. Yes, you read it right. It is possible to love doing school work. No yelling, screaming, threatening or crying required.
Why Do Kids Hate Homework
Let’s start with kindergarteners.
For many children, kindergarten is their first formal experience in school.
Kindergarten has changed a lot over the last decade.
Once a place for socialization and play, kindergartens now emphasize the importance of learning to read, to count, to sit still and to listen to the teachers.
Going from playing all day at home to behaving or sitting still in a structured environment for hours at a time is a tough transition.
To add to that, many kindergartens also assign homework to these little children, further reducing their available play time.
It’s no wonder that some kindergarteners are not motivated to do homework.
Remember when your child was still a toddler, he/she would get into anything and everything?
They were curious and they were eager to learn about everything around them.
They were passionate learners.
Children naturally love learning, if we provide the right environment and motivate them appropriately.
Here’s the problem…
When you hear the word “motivate”, what do you think of it?
If you’re thinking about toys, money, iPad time, points, stickers, etc., you’re not alone.
Rewards (and sometimes punishments) are many parents’ go-to motivators.
Parents love them because they work almost instantly.
You present the prize and the child complies to get it. Problem solved.
Simple and effective.
But very soon, you will notice some unintended results.
Here is an example.
Some years ago, after a lecture, Professor Mark Lepper was approached by a couple who told him about a system of rewards they had set up for their son, which had produced much improved behavior at the dinner table. “He sits up straight and eats his peas and the Brussels sprouts and he is really very well behaved,” they reported. Until, that is, the first time the family dined at a nice restaurant. The child looked around, picked up a crystal glass from the table and asked, “How many points not to drop this?” A fine example, says Dr. Lepper, of the detrimental effects of over-reliance on rewards to shape children’s behavior.Mark Lepper: Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning By Christine VanDeVelde Luskin, Bing Nursery School at Stanford University
This example is far from rare.
In fact, it is very common when a child is motivated purely by an external reward.
Once the reward is removed, the child will no longer be interested in continuing the behavior.
What’s the right way to motivate our children?
The answer is intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for its pure enjoyment.
This enjoyment comes from within an individual and is a psychological satisfaction derived from performing the task, not from an extrinsic outcome.
In other words, to get your kid to do homework, first help them enjoy doing it.
It is not as crazy as it sounds.
It’s unfortunate that homework is called “work”.
We like to separate work from play.
So naturally, we feel that homework is drudgery.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Homework is a tool for children to learn and get familiar with the knowledge taught in class.
To enjoy homework, the child has to enjoy learning.
How To Motivate a Child To Do Homework
To motivate kids, we first change our mindset, from a working mindset to a learning mindset.
The goal of going to school is not about getting into college, finding a good job, earning a stable income, etc.
Of course, all of those are wonderful, but that’s a working mindset – you’re doing all that work for reasons other than enjoying the learning itself.
Going to school is about learning, acquiring knowledge, exploring new subjects and growing as a person.
In the US, the average expected years of schooling is 16.7 years1.
If a child doesn’t like school, that will be 16.7 years of misery.
You don’t want that for your child.
But here’s the good news.
If you can intervene early, like in kindergarten or even before kindergarten, your child will be getting off to a good start.
So, convince yourself to change from the working mindset to the learning mindset.
It sounds abstract, but here are 7 tangible steps for moving toward that goal.
1. Stop referring to kid doing homework as your child’s “job”
When you call it a “job”, you are implying that it will be all work and no fun.
Doing that is setting up a child to feel bad even when it’s not.
2. Don’t tell your child, “you cannot play until you finish your homework”
Again, by putting homework in a category separate from play, you are saying that it cannot be enjoyable.
The importance of play cannot be overstated. So make it count2.
Tell your child that they can do both (of course, only healthy physical play like basketball or biking, but not watching iPad).
They can decide the order of doing them as long as they do both by the end of the day.
You’d be surprised – giving a child autonomy over their homework schedule is one of the biggest motivators.
3. Don’t use “no homework” as rewards
I once heard that some teachers would give students with good behavior “no homework tonight” as a reward.
I was horrified.
Homework is for practicing what we’ve learned in school.
It helps us understand and remember better.
It’s not a punishment or torture that you need a “break” to feel better.
Don’t give your child the impression that homework is something you want to get away from.
4. Do not nag, bribe or force
Do not nag and do not force your kid to do homework, whether through rewards or punishment.
“But then, how to make kids do homework?” parents wonder.
Don’t make your child do homework. Period.
Forcing or bribing will only backfire and reduce your child’s intrinsic motivation3.
The motivation to do homework needs to come from within the child themselves.
5. Let your child face the natural consequences
“But what to do when my child refuses to do homework?” many frustrated parents ask.
When your child refuses to do school work, let them… after you explain why doing homework is important for learning and what may happen in school if they don’t.
Walk them through the natural consequences for not doing homework – they won’t retain the information well and they will need to accept whatever natural consequences in school. They will have to explain to the teacher why the homework was not done and they may lose some recess time, etc (but first confirm that the school doesn’t use corporal or other types of cruel punishment).
You think I should let my child fail?
Well, not doing homework in lower grades is not the end of your child’s academic career.
Think about this, you cannot force or bribe your child through college.
Help them understand the purpose of learning and doing homework now.
You’re helping them make the right decision by letting them understand and face the natural consequences sooner rather than later.
6. Do homework with your child
Don’t tell your kid that homework is important, show them through your action.
Do the homework with them.
You are telling your child you value this so much that you are willing to take the time to do it together. Besides, parental involvement is associated with better school performance4.
7. Make doing homework fun and positive
There are many ways to make homework for kids fun.
Let’s take a look at two methods I’ve used and the results.
You can try them or invent your own.
Method 1: Use doing homework as a “reward” (younger kids like kindergarteners)
Wait, you said that using rewards wasn’t good a moment ago.
Now you say, “use homework as a reward”?
Well, I said rewards were bad because you would be implying the activity you’re trying to motivate your child to do was not as good as the reward.
But here, I am using homework as a reward.
I am signaling to my child that doing homework is so good that she needs to “earn it”.
How to earn it?
You can try different things.
We used “If you behave, you can do homework with me. If you don’t behave, you can’t do homework.”
We started at preschool and it worked very well.
Parents who have tried this report good results in motivating their children to do homework, too.
But some of them have concerns…
Some parents are uncomfortable with this idea because it feels manipulative.
That’s because these parents do not believe in the idea that homework can be fun.
So they feel like they’re lying to the child.
But I genuinely like homework! (Yes, I’m officially a nerd)
So I have no problem helping my child learn to love homework like me.
If you are not convinced yourself, you may not want to try this method. Or if your child is older and already hates homework, it won’t work.
However, although I don’t agree with using manipulative measures in general, I don’t see this particular one harmful to children even if the parents do not like homework themselves.
Method 2: Turn doing homework into a game and a bonding activity
When my daughter was in preschool, I bought colorful homework books and we did them together.
Sometimes we took turns – she did one problem and I did the next and so on.
Sometimes we raced to see who would finish the page faster.
Sometimes I did them wrong intentionally so that my daughter could point out the wrong answers.
It was actually very empowering and satisfying for her to be able to catch Mom’s mistakes!
We celebrated when we both finished or got the right answers.
It was a lot of fun and my kid enjoyed doing that so much.
By the time she started kindergarten, she already loved homework.
In kindergarten, I couldn’t do her homework because, well, that’s her homework.
So I bought homework books that were similar to the ones she brought from school. Then I did problems alongside her as she did hers.
We still raced, celebrated, and had fun doing it.
At the beginning of her kindergarten year, my daughter was given two homework books to take home. The teacher would assign homework from the books every week. They were supposed to be used for the entire school year. But my kindergartener liked doing homework so much that she finished them all in one month! No yelling, screaming, threatening, or crying is required.
Need Help Motivating Kids?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate about learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.
Final Word On Motivating Your Kid To Do Homework
Getting your kid to do homework is only the first step in building a good learning habit. Finishing homework or getting good grades is not the purpose of going to school. Instill the love of learning in your child early on and your child will benefit for life.
- 1.et al. xpected duration of education for all students: Countries Compared. NationMaster. https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Education/Expected-duration-of-education-for-all-students
- 2.Ginsburg KR. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. PEDIATRICS. Published online January 1, 2007:182-191. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2697
- 3.Lepper MR, Greene D. Turning play into work: Effects of adult surveillance and extrinsic rewards on children’s intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 1975:479-486. doi:10.1037/h0076484
- 4.Nye C, Turner H, Schwartz J. Approaches to Parent Involvement for Improving the Academic Performance of Elementary School Age Children. Campbell Systematic Reviews. Published online 2006:1-49. doi:10.4073/csr.2006.4