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Monday, April 4, 2011

Do your homework, or else!

Good grades are better than bad grades.  I hope we can all agree on that.  In both high school and college, the grades our kids receive are the easiest way to compare their abilities with other applicants.  To a hiring manager a new graduate with a 4.0 GPA indicates that he or she is disciplined, hard working, able to learn and motivated.  It may also indicate that your child is also willing to make an effort on something that may not be fun or immediately relevant to their future.  This is something that entry level employees get to do a lot!  Studies seem to indicate with a fair amount of consistency that students graduating from college with high GPAs are more likely to get a higher salary and are also more likely to get a job. 

And, kids who get their homework done seem to do better in school than kids who don't.  Homework does not stop with it's contribution to a better GPA though.  Additional skills gained from doing homework include:
  1. Mastery through repetition.  Doing math problems over and over again or writing out spelling words helps memory. 
  2. Skills not taught in school.  If the homework assignment requires research at the library or on the Internet then they learn something new. 
  3. Discipline.  Everyone needs to be able to push themselves to get through something they do not want to do.  This is discipline.  Without it, the path of least resistance will be your child's likely road in the future.
How do we as parents get this point through to our kids?  Telling them to, "Study hard and get good grades so you can get a good job." is probably not the most motivational choice of words you can use.  With any incentive system, a clear and desirable reward is always best.  As a young student, what are they most interested in?  Does your son want to drive a Ferrari?  Is your daughter enamored with the idea of working for Goldman Sachs?  Do they want to finish so they can go outside and play with their friends? Whatever it is, start with the goal and work your way backwards.  What does your son need in order to get a Ferrari?  Well, money would be nice.  How is he going to get the money to buy one?  Getting a good job that pays well.  How does he increase his chances of getting a good job that pays well?  Get good grades.  See how easy that was?  Just make sure the end result is actually something they desire.  This is it how it went in our house:

9 Year Old Son: 
Dad?
Dad: 
Yes son? 
9 Year Old Son: 
Why do I have to do my homework? 
Dad: 
Well, if you do not do your homework you will not get good grades and then you will not go to a good college and will not have a good job and will not be able to buy a nice car to impress your friends. 
9 Year Old Son: 
(long pause) Dad? 
Dad: 
Yes son? 
9 Year Old Son: 
What if I don't want to have a nice car? 
Dad: 
Just do your homework or else no TV! 

It is not easy imparting the value of study habits and grades to a 9 year old when the sun is out or his favorite TV show is just about to start.  As an adult, it is easy to connect that 4.0 GPA and the perfect SAT score to a dollar amount and the value of that dollar is so much more important when it needs to go to rent, food, clothing, tuition, etc, etc.  But for the kids, money is still abstract.  If it means not having to do homework or studying then most kids would do without the extra video games and new toys in exchange for more free time.  Here are a few ideas from the experts:
  1. Establish written expectations.  "I will do my homework as soon as I get home from school." 
  2. Reward them when they do something right and give that reward immediately. 
  3. Patience, it takes time to create a habit.  Yelling and screaming during homework time makes any kid fear that time of the day. 
  4. Try to ease away from the physical rewards and replace them with internal rewards.  Encourage your son when he finishes a hard project with how proud you are of his hard work.  Tell your daughter that she is awesome and ask her if she feels good finishing her homework ahead of schedule. 
  5. Patience.  Yes, I know I mentioned this one already but it deserves to be repeated.  Let's not give up on our kids! 
A lack of enthusiasm for schoolwork is not unusual.  However, if it gets to the point where your child is fighting you every day then perhaps it is time to ask why.  If the work is too advanced you may even need to consider letting him drop a year or change to a less challenging school.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers has some interesting thoughts on the benefits of dropping back a year. On the flip side, if she finds the work too easy then skipping a grade or a harder school may be best.  By the way, skipping or dropping grades offer a variety of other problems to consider so do your own homework about it before pushing your kids forward. 

1 comment:

  1. Larry,
    I think the ideal is that one has a love of learning for its own sake. Not sure how to encourage that. I still remember my father telling me his one regret in life was not having more education. That impressed me because I thought he knew a lot and I respected him. I always got good grades and I was proud of that but I liked equally the challenge and satisfaction of mastering something new and difficult.
    Dad

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