Leadership Tactics from the Workplace Ease Homework Struggles
Your child comes home from school with a pile of homework and zero motivation. He’s supposed to finish his assignments while you prepare dinner, but you often hear the TV or the zap of a video-game bad guy biting the dust. Or, if he does have his notebook open, he’s zoned out or interrupting you every five minutes asking for help.
Regardless of how much you nag and lecture, it seems homework is the farthest thing from your child’s mind. Don’t give up.
By adopting leadership strategies common in the workplace, parents can make the difference between a child who resists homework and one who takes it on with little or no nagging, according to Jamie Woolf, leadership expert and author of Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos.
“Kids look to you as their leader, and your attitude and actions can make the difference between an apathetic student and an eager learner,” says Woolf, whose book teaches moms how to use “best practices” from the workplace to make family life run more smoothly.
Here are some of her tips to make homework time more productive and rewarding:
Change your perspective. If your boss approached every assignment with heavy sighs, eye-rolls and negativity, you wouldn’t be inspired to do your best work. The same applies to homework.
“No matter what your personal views may be, frame homework in a positive light,” Woolf says. “When you see the value in something, chances are good your kids will, too. They’ll be much more likely to cooperate.”
Enlist your child in setting goals. Setting goals keeps workers on course. Articulating a goal and committing to it focuses attention on the bigger meaning and inspires us to not lose motivation over niggling details, Woolf says.
“Ask your child, ‘If you started your homework each night without nagging and did your best work, what would you be doing differently?’” Woolf advises. Then encourage your child to come up with two or three new and measurable behaviors such as doing homework after dinner without being asked or not turning on the TV until all homework is done.
Keep a record with stickers or tally marks that monitor how many days she follows through on her new agreements. Celebrate even the smallest successes and signs of effort.
Adopt the right coaching strategy. Good leaders know when to step in and when to allow a person to struggle a little to gain self-confidence. Ask yourself: Does my child lack skills to get the job done or is the problem that he doesn’t want to do the task?
In other words, is the problem a lack of understanding or a lack of motivation? Once you diagnose the problem, you can provide the right kind of help.
If your child is both unmotivated and doesn’t understand, it’s time for hands-on assistance. Explain the concepts, provide help and gradually let her try herself, resisting the urge to complete the homework for her.
On the other hand, if your son is capable of writing his essay but would rather write messages to friends on MySpace, it’s time to foster responsibility. Go back to the big-picture goals, resist nagging and set firm limits and consequences if he breaks his agreements. Encourage neatness and organization.
Provide an organized area in which to work. Help your child create a little “home office nook” with a place to work. Keep pencils, paper and a calculator nearby. And hold her accountable for keeping everything in its place.
“When your child has an area she routinely uses for studying and homework, she becomes accustomed to switching into student mode when she is there,” Woolf says. “It is another good way to help develop a daily homework routine. And it teaches her how to stay organized.”
Teach accountability. Workplaces are filled with people who point fingers and find excuses instead of assuming responsibility. Kids also are experts at diverting responsibility.
What parent hasn’t heard, “It’s not my fault” or “The teacher didn’t explain the homework” or “I’m just horrible at math”? When you hear these excuses ask, “What can you do to influence the situation?” or “What might you do differently next time to avoid this problem?”
These questions don’t let your child off the hook. They encourage him to assume responsibility and focus on the aspects he can control.
Don’t give up. Let’s say you’ve made good progress for a few days but the novelty has worn off and now your child is back to his previous ways.
The best thing to do is refocus on the big-picture goal and calmly remind your child that he needs to follow through on his commitments. Simply restate your agreement: No TV and no computer until homework is done.
Help get him started by dividing work into smaller, manageable parts. Revisit the third strategy to see if it’s a motivational problem or related to a lack of understanding. When your child completes his homework, praise his effort.
Connect success with effort. Those who have been told how intelligent they are can give up when things get too hard. Children would rather keep their “smart kid” label than put in a lot of effort and possibly fail.
“Instead of saying, ‘C’mon, you can do it. You’re so smart,’ remind your child how she succeeded in the past,” Woolf advises. “Say, ‘I remember how you wrote out your spelling words over and over and then you did well on your test,’ or ‘You worked for days on your geography report and remember how well it turned out?’ The message is that effort and perseverance, not innate talent, lead to success.”
Both at work and at home, the aim is “to foster potential, consider individual learning styles and develop capability,” Woolf says. “Transformational leaders continue to have faith in people’s ability even after they perform poorly or make mistakes. And since we all struggle to stay motivated or get through difficulties at some time or another, there’s no greater gift you can give your child.”
Jamie Woolf is a regular contributor to Working Mother magazine and founder of The Parent Leader and Pinehurst Consulting, an organization development consulting firm. Her book, Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, $22.95), debuted in February 2009. Reprinted with permission.