We all know parents who try to coerce their kids into doing their school work with tricks and mind games. I am sure you also know at least a few parents who bribe their kids with money or rewards for doing their assignments or earning good grades. Maybe you are one of those parents. As a parent, it has crossed my mind at some point to do one or both of these things. They seem like a logical solution when your kid isn’t that motivated. Perhaps they are just burned out on school work, having already been at school for seven hours, and you think, “Maybe offering money or a reward will incentivise them,” or “If I can just get him to complete this one assignment well, he will see how great it feels to be successful and will want to continue.” You might also think, “I get paid for work, so why shouldn’t my child?”. I think that moms and dads who try these strategies usually have good intentions. However, they quickly find that they don’t work. Manipulating or bribing your kid into doing their work usually just intensifies the problem, causing more conflict down the road.
Is There Some Way I Can Trick My Kids Into Completing Their Assignments Without the Nightly Drama?
One issue is that tricking your kid sends the message that it is okay to manipulate others or maybe even lie to get what we want.This is not behavior that we want our kids to imitate. It is also a short-term fix that does not solve the problem at hand- your kid still doesn’t want to do their work.
So What about Offering Money or Incentives?
The problem is that money or bribes can’t buy motivation or school success. In fact, numerous studies have shown that rewards DECREASE excitement about a task. So, bribing kids to get work done actually just makes them even less motivated in the future. If we treat school like work and reward children with external incentives or money for work completion or grades, we rob our kids of the opportunity to develop their own internal motivation. We are fixing a temporary frustration but we risk removing the joy from learning entirely.
You may be thinking, “Well, there is no joy in homework for my kid; They hate it!”. Paying for grades presents another problem, once a reward is offered, parents often have to continue to up the ante in order for the bribe to be effective. Because of this, financial incentives or constant rewards can cause a kid to develop a “What’s in it for me?” attitude towards completing all tasks. This can get out of hand and may leave the parent questioning where the bribery should end. Do you bribe your kid to get out of bed? To complete community service or participate in activities that will make them look like a more well-rounded applicant on their college application? To prepare for their SAT or ACT? To go to their college classes? When you have set the precedent that you will pay for performance, a kid has a hard time understanding why they should feel motivated to perform even the simplest tasks without an external reward.
So What Should I Do if Homework or Work Completion is a Struggle?
1. Praise Your Children for Their Effort
When you praise effort, your kids will view their own intelligence as something that can be developed through hard work. If they are struggling, they will recognize that they can fix it by applying themselves. This is what Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “Growth Mindset”. Having such a mindset increases a kid’s ability to bounce back when faced with academic challenges and helps them to develop the important academic and life skills of resilience and internal motivation or work ethic.
2. Don’t Hover over Homework Completion; Instead, Reward Kids with Praise and Time Together
Homework should be completed mostly independently, but kids can be rewarded with attention and time spent together once homework is done. Avoid getting too involved or taking over. Sit nearby but complete another task, something you need to get done. When your kid is having a hard time with homework, don’t give them the answers. Instead, prompt them to think through the problem on their own by asking questions. When homework is completed quickly without a fuss, celebrate their accomplishment and hard work by spending time with them doing something they like to do.
3. Make Sure You Are Modeling the Behavior You Want to See
If you want to see your kids reading, read with them or make sure they see you reading something you enjoy. If you want to see your kids set goals and follow through on them, share your goals with them and make sure that they see you working on them. If you would like to see your kid’s time-management improve, show them what good time-management looks like.
4. Set Limits and Don’t Negotiate
You many want to set a certain amount of time that should be spent on homework each night and require that homework is completed in a public area of the house away from potential distractions like cell phones. It also helps to have a routine for when and how homework is done that is predictable and the same each day. If your kid makes excuses or says that they don’t have to complete an assignment, make it the expectation that it will be completed anyway so that they can get ahead. If they don’t have homework to do during the set homework time, have them organize their backpack or binders, read, or study.
5. Let Your Kid Make Their Own Choices
It is possible for a parent to intervene too much in the homework completion process. Your kid’s choices should have natural consequences. If they work hard, complete their assignments, and turn them in, they will experience positive outcomes. If they decide not to turn in assignments on time, they may receive a bad grade. Resist the urge to save your child from negative outcomes. They need to experience the natural consequences of their actions in order to be able to adjust their actions and decision-making process next time. If you swoop in and save your child, you are also removing all opportunity for learning from their mistakes.
Homework at the end of a long day can cause stress on the entire family. Approaching it honestly and armed with smart strategies instead of bribes or tricks will reduce the struggle and drama that wears everyone down, making for a much happier evening. Good luck!
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.