Homework: The Power of Positive Consequences

At a recent presentation for parents, I mentioned the importance of providing positive consequences to motivate students with homework.

Afterwards, one mother approached and explained that her daughter has been having problems all school year. “Her teacher has been insisting that I provide a lot of punishment at home,” she explained. “I think that might be the problem…that my daughter is turned off by her negative attitude.” Wouldn’t we all?

Don’t get me wrong…punishment has its place and can be an important element of molding and managing behavior. However, we often overlook the power of being positive.

As human beings, we naturally focus on the negative and are conditioned to dole out negative consequences first. However, providing positive rewards for good behavior is usually much more effective.

For starters, positive consequences cultivate positive attitudes…and you need as much of that as you can get when it comes to dealing with homework!

Secondly, they allow you to be much more specific about your expectations, which makes your children more likely to meet them.

For example, “Stop fooling around and get your homework done,” is not as specific as, “If you can stay focused and finish your homework in 20 minutes, I will let you watch an extra TV show tonight.” The latter statement tells the child specifically what they SHOULD do and this will always result in a better response.

Finally, punishment is often NOT motivating, especially for children who have fallen into complacency. Before long, there will be nothing left for you to “take away.”

Action Plan

  • Determine realistic, yet motivating rewards. When you first start, you may need to provide rewards immediately. After a short while, start extending the time. For example, you might first offer stickers, extra time on the computer, or a small treat each evening. After a couple of weeks, change the parameters and offer weekly rewards, such as taking your daughter out to lunch on the weekend if she does her homework tear-free four nights in one week. Gradually, increase the time-span and slightly increase the value of each reward. You can guarantee motivation if you ask your children for ‘reasonable’ reward ideas.
  • Back up your positive consequences with negative ones. This creates a choice for your child. “If I do my homework on time tonight, I can go to a movie with dad. If I don’t, I will lose my video games for the night.” Which would you choose?
  • Be firm and ALWAYS follow through. The moment you do not enforce your expectations, you lose the game! Your children know if you do not always mean what you say and they will test you to the end of time. There are not shortcuts; only offer consequences that you are willing to enforce, and then ENFORCE them!
  • On a similar note, be aware of the “Four Factor.” The first few times you introduce a new routine or expectation with children, they are likely to fight it. The first time will be bad. The second time will be awful. The third time may be unbelievably awful. By the fourth time, they will start cooperating because they will KNOW you are serious.
  • Rewards of your time are most motivating. This often surprises parents, especially parents of middle and high school students, but the opportunity to spend ‘special time’ with Mom or Dad is very attractive to students of all ages. Seize the opportunity while you have it.

In Conclusion

As a parent, if your homework management strategy relies strictly on punishment, you are wearing away motivation and fighting a loosing battle.

Turn the tides by using positive consequences and reap the benefits of happier and more successful children.

-Susan Kruger


EB 083117

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