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5 Ways to Teach Kids to Be Responsible for Schoolwork

January 8, 2015 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

How to help your child feel capable and confident that he can succeed in school.

Many parents often complain:

“My child never does his homework! I always have to stand over him!”
“My son’s knapsack is a mess! Nothing I do seems to help!”
“My son never gets to school on time. He is so lazy!”

We all want our children to succeed at school. We don’t want to fight with our children and create pressure and friction in the home. We want them to get out on time in the morning, stay organized, do their homework without a fuss. We also want them to feel capable and confident that they can succeed in school.

Here are 5 ways to help our kids take responsibility for themselves and their schoolwork:

1. Lose the Royal We:

I once was at a evening bar mitzvah and the woman I was talking excused herself, “I need to go. We have a science test tomorrow.” She was obviously talking about her child’s exam. There are many parents who talk about their children’s school work as if it is their own.

I have heard many parents say, “We have a social studies project due tomorrow.” Or they are similarly enmeshed even if they say, “If I don’t sit next to my child when he is doing homework, he will never do it!”

This is not how it should be. Kids often do need help but parents should ultimately encourage children to do their own work. Parents need to remember that school is ultimately the child’s responsibility.

We can do this by changing our phrasing:

You have a science test tomorrow, I am sure you can manage on your own. If you need some help just let me know.”
“Good luck studying for your test.”
“Oh, your project is due next week? You might want to get started on that soon.”
“You are playing rather than doing your homework? Oh, I hope your teacher is okay with that tomorrow…”

2. Find out what works for them:

When we are always telling kids when to do their homework, how to study and what time they need to get up for school, we send them the message that they cannot live or make decisions without our input. To encourage them to be responsible we can ask them and invite them to get involved in the planning.

“I see you have been trouble getting up in the morning. Do you think an earlier bed time would work for you?”
“When would you like to pack your lunch? Right after dinner tonight or after your computer time?”
“What do you think would help you get your bookbag organized?”

This is especially effective with homework:

“It seems as if you are having a hard time focusing on your homework:
When do you think is the best time for you to do your homework?
Where do you think the best place is for you to do your homework?
Will you need any of my help for homework tonight?”

When we talk to our children in this way, we send them the message that they are accountable and responsible for their own actions. It also encourages children to be in charge of their possessions, their time and their schoolwork. They feel capable and dependable. They may think, “Hey, if my Mom/Dad is asking me what I can do to be a part of the solution, they have faith in me that I can handle my own problems.”

Don't worry if it takes a bit of time until your child finds a schedule that works for them. Kids are just learning how to manage their time and they need some space to work it through.

3. Teach them to think positively about their academic abilities:

Many of us are familiar with the research on positive self-talk. When we have a problem in life and we tell ourselves, “I can’t cope!” we will believe it. If we tell ourselves, “This is challenging, but I will somehow manage this,” we will be more likely to solve our problems with equanimity and confidence.

One teacher, Stephanie Skelton, at Fieldcrest Elementary School, taught her students to think positively about their schoolwork and their capabilities. She taught them the self-talk they needed to take responsibility for their schoolwork and to work through the academic challenges that they may have.

She taught them that instead of telling themselves, "I am not good at this," they should try thinking: "What am I missing?"

Instead of: "I give up," try thinking: "I'll use some of the strategies we learned."

Instead of: "This is too hard," try thinking: "This may take some time and effort."

Instead of: "I made a mistake," try thinking: "Mistakes help me to learn better."

Instead of: "Plan A didn't work," try thinking: "Good thing the alphabet has 25 more letters."

4. Teach children to monitor their own progress:

When children bring home their test papers and homework assignments, it is a great opportunity to teach them to be responsible for their own work.

When they get a good grade we want to praise them for the effort they put in to get that A: “You worked hard on this math test. You studied by practicing many of the math problems and asking your teacher for help when you didn't understand the work. You should be proud of this grade.”

If a child does poorly, don't get angry, instead act curious and ask, “What do you think you need to do to improve your grade?” “Can you pinpoint where you are getting stuck?” “Is there anyone at school that you think might be able to help you?”

Sometimes parents are objective about their child’s test grade or report card but their child still wants their approval or advice. Children may ask their parents: “Are you angry about this ‘C’ that is on my report card?” Parents can respond, “There is nothing for me to get angry about- this is your report card and your responsibility. The question is, are you upset with yourself about the ‘C’?”

5. Talk about Strategies that work:

When I was in high school, I dreaded chemistry. I could not grasp the concepts. I did not how I was going to get through the year. What saved me? I did know that I was good at memorizing- and I utilized that skill. I memorized everything I could about chemistry and I got a B.

Kids need strategies that work for them. Sometimes they don’t even know that they are using effective techniques. It is up to us to point it out to them.

Oftentimes children intuitively know that they can’t sit down and focus on their schoolwork right when they come home from school. They will play outside, watch a video or have a snack. This helps them relax so that they are better able to focus on their work. This is an effective strategy. We can tell them:

“I see that you came home and you had a snack played outside a bit and then you were able to sit down and do your homework…It seems as if you need to unwind after school and then you can tackle your work…That’s a good strategy.”

One of my kids walks around the room as she memorizes the content. Movement helps some kids focus.

Another one of my children, when studying for spelling, spells the word out loud, while another needs to write it down. They have each found study strategies that work for them.

Children need to feel capable and confident when it comes to their schoolwork and our actions can help them feel that.

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