Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Get Your Kiddo to Do His Work: Part II

No doubt parenting is one of, if not THE, most challenging undertakings we humans experience.  Good gravy.  Just when you've got them figured out, they dive headfirst into another developmental phase, rendering you either a step behind......or simply speechless!  Max is a really good kid - sometimes crusty on the outside, but soft in the middle.  He doesn't step too far out of line usually.  Drawing that line and clearly pointing it out to him - I didn't fully appreciate how to set a solid boundary with my own child, even though I certainly should know better; in an earlier rendition of me, I had much experience working with families and children as a therapist/counselor for several years.

As mentioned in Part I of this post, we were butting heads about doing schoolwork in a timely fashion or even doing schoolwork period.  Gradually I found myself "managing" Max's day and hounding him to sit down and do his work; I was just the sort of person you wouldn't want to work for - a micro manager!  Yuck. A clear assignment of responsibility didn't exist because I was too busy rescuing him and assuming much of said responsibility for his actual learning.

I can search the ends of the earth and locate awesome materials from which to learn from, I can bring in all sorts of books and websites and clever curricula - but it's not MY job to invest the energy to engage his brain with the materials.  That's his :).  And he's just beginning to figure that out!

John Rosemond (see thoughts about his book, Ending the Homework Hassle in Part I) offered some saleable points that hit home with me.  I had to figure out a way to place the brunt of the responsibility for Max's education on his twelve-year-old shoulders; in doing so this might be the very best action I can take as his parent.  If I don't teach him about choice and consequences, who is going to?  How is he going to fare out there in the big world if he's perfected some self-sabotaging habits?  I also needed to remove the "school issue" from the center of our family.  It was getting far too much attention from all of us.  I "got it" while reading Mr. Rosemond's words and decided to act upon his suggestions.

It took two weeks to read, digest the information, and formulate a plan to apply to our situation.  I'm calling it The Wonder Plan!  Hopefully it will work wonders.  Beginning January 2nd I implemented the wonder plan, much to Max's dismay.  Things were a'changing and he was really hoping I'd relent and turn back into his old trusty Mom - the one who was predictable and permissible. Hah!  I toughened up (in a gentle but firm way) and have been practicing being calm and assertive.  Cesar Milan would be so proud of me!  I'm so proud of me!

I sat down and wrote out some daily expectations for our kiddo.  Here are some examples included in our Wonder Plan:

1.  Remarkable child is responsible for completing all schoolwork assigned to him each day.  (Novel idea!)  

2.  Wonderful child will complete all school-related work issued by his adoring mother by 5:00 p.m. each day (you pick the time that works for your family best; I'm going to wean him down to 3:00 p.m. over the next few weeks and keep it there; no more of this finishing up math over an argument just before bedtime!)

3.  Intelligent child can manage his time as he sees fit.  Breaks and fidgets and time with animals are allowed; iPod, computer time, phone conversations with friends or other electronic distractions, however, are not.

4.  Less-stressed Mom will not remind you about school stuff.

5.  If the work is obviously rushed and/or sloppy, it will be reassigned to amazing child the next day on top of all the new assignments.

6.  Grumpy child will not issue whiny noises about schoolwork.  

After nailing down the expectations in clear writing, THEN, I figured out what his preferred daily lifestyle consists of (very important!)  If your child is anything like Max, he or she probably enjoys things like:

time with friends 
computer play 
maybe an allowance 
permission to spend that allowance 
a reasonable bedtime.........

and wrote them down, labeling them as 'full privileges'.  Sounds like a place you'd want to hang out - in full-privilege land!

Let's say you present yourself to your place of work at 10 a.m. or later each morning, when you are expected at 8 a.m.  Your boss is going to pull you into his or her office eventually and probably hand you a pink slip, which would cut off your paycheck, which would in turn affect your LIFESTYLE.  Mr. Rosemond's approach is to impact the child's preferred lifestyle if certain expectations aren't met.  Brilliant.

SO.  Each night I write up the assignment sheet I expect Max to tackle the next day and put it in his folder.  He's to consult it in the morning and figure out how he's going to get the work done.  If any of the work involves me, he's to come seek me out and figure out a time when we can work together.  At 5:00 I check his work and see if it passes muster.  If yes, he's awarded an "X", a "check mark" or similar for the day - we've been using paw prints!  




In between two and five paw prints I worked out gradually increasing privileges as you go up in number of paw prints.  Ultimately, it's my job to enforce the level of restriction, which means I have to be on my game and be paying attention.  I even created a little cheat sheet to help me remember.  I know, pretty anal, but I have enough things packed into my head already!

Three weeks in and I am seeing definite improvement.  It certainly hasn't been without conflict, but I am much better about not reminding him about his work.  He is MUCH better about getting it done in a timely manner because he's figured out that I'm serious about that whole restriction thing. :).  It's very motivating.

This morning after waking him up, I found him at the table working on his math assignment.  I almost stopped in my tracks and let my mouth fall open, but didn't.  Just quietly smiled and went on to make breakfast.

In essence, no more rescuing, pleading, nagging, arguing.  I have felt a humongous weight peel from my shoulders and I've witnessed no less than a miracle as he begins to accept responsibility for more independent work.

We still read a lot together and play various games and do experiments together, but the bulk of his learning now rests in his lap.  I don't wish to kill the fun or put the kibosh on child-led learning, so it will be a balancing act to keep it fresh and fun.  I teach as I see he needs it, demonstrate some problems, find great materials, pay attention to what he's interested in, and encourage a broad view in his education. WHEW.  It took some reading, some thinking, some incorporating, some planning, some typing, some informing and a healthy dose of "I can do it" pep talks, but the plan is proving itself in the pudding.  I really like this pudding.

Much less stress.  Much less grumpies.  AND HE'S LEARNING on his own!  Easily verifiable with problem checking, retells, discussion, etc.  

I HIGHLY recommend a read of John Rosemond's Ending the Homework Hassle if you find yourself in a similar stressful place where your child isn't doing his/her work.  I am so grateful for his sound advice and can-do attitude that we can in turn pass on to our kids.  Win-win.  


  1. Great post! Very helpful. I think it's about time to work with my sixth-grader on managing his schoolwork. Surely he's old enough and it would give me more time to work with the younger two.

  2. Hi Arisah! Looking back on the process and now that Max is in 7th grade, I learned that gradually handing over responsibility for school work seems to be a good strategy. He is mostly self-sufficient now, barring some minor math help here and there. But setting up the chart was very effective. I wish you luck!


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