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How to Encourage Children in Their Schoolwork

Donna R. Copeland, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

Parents: Do you wish your children would be more diligent with school work?  Here are some tips for creating an optimal environment for study at home:

  1. Provide a special place that is pleasant for children to study and do homework. Is it well lighted? Are the chair and desk comfortable? Is it away from distractions such as radio, television, and family conversation? If you have a computer, does your child need some coaching about how to get the most out of it?
  2. Offer or agree to assist with homework. Provide only as much guidance as you feel children need, then ask them to go through it again and explain the steps to you to make sure they have fully understood.
  3. Discuss with your children the time of day that would be best to do homework, then encourage them to follow a consistent daily schedule. If they do not have homework assignments on a given day, provide other educational activities for the regular study period; for instance, reading a book for pleasure or going through educational computer programs or videos.  This will reinforce a positive attitude toward learning and promote good study habits.
  4. To keep track of assignments, design an assignment sheet by class and day with your child, and keep the sheet in a designated place in the child’s school binder.
  5. Use incentives rather than punishment or nagging if children resist doing homework on a regular basis. Let them skip homework a time or two before intervening so they can experience natural consequences of behavior. Remember, an incentive can be anything that is acceptable to you and that is worthwhile to the child--hugs, praise, a walk in the park, television time, and telephone time often work well as incentives. (Also remember that an incentive is not a bribe, in that a bribe is tying to get someone to to something wrong.  In this case, you are trying to get your child to do something right.)
  6. Your children may be more willing to engage in homework if you spend some time either beforehand or afterwards letting them tell you about their day at school. Listen with interest, and provide support when appropriate. Most of the time it’s better to refrain from offering advice (which they probably don’t want), and instead, ask how they handled conflicts or problems they encountered.
  7. If you see them trying, acknowledge their efforts even when they are not entirely successful. If they need to improve, discuss strategies they could use to do better the next time.
  8. Make contact with your children’s teachers at the beginning of the school year, and participate in the parent-teacher organization at school. This will help you get to know them and give you a chance to let them know some of your values. If they are acquainted with you, they are more likely to keep you informed about your children’s progress and any difficulties they are encountering.
  9. Let your children know you value education and reading by letting them see you involved in newspapers or books, or watching educational channels on television, or getting information from the Internet. Discuss what you are learning with them as appropriate. Taking family trips to museums, libraries, and educational events (such as plays, movies, and concerts) can be another way of showing them that learning can be fun.

These guidelines will work for most children; but if they are not effective or your child continues to have learning or behavior problems, enlist the aid of a psychologist who is trained to evaluate and work with children on educational matters.

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