Presenting the Program:
Explain to your children that there will be some positive changes in the way homework is tackled in your home. You might review the stresses or conflicts homework creates, and explain you’re turning responsibility for homework over to the kids. You want to retire from getting after them or reminding them, and you wish to treat them like an older child or even a young adult. You want to celebrate and reward them for their hard work, rather than being on their case every evening.
Stress that everyone needs to put in self-improvement time every day (or however many days a week you think is appropriate). Stress that self-improvement includes school homework but also other activities such as reading, practising music, completing work sheets, or developing skills that will last them a lifetime. Kids may argue they shouldn’t have to do self-improvement because they’ve worked hard all day in school. Remind them they only did a couple of hours of hard work at school, and they probably spent the rest of their time in enjoyable activities such as gym, art class, recess, lunch, shop, or crafts. It’s probably the lightest work schedule they’ll have in all their working lives, so a little extra time at home certainly won’t hurt. You might also explain why school days originally ended in the early afternoon, so kids would have time to attend to their chores. Kids should recognize they get out early not just so they can play. Self-improvement time at home is part of their responsibilities, and they still work a lot less than their ancestors.
Explain the rating system and the points program.
This program will only work if you give no reminders to your child to stay on task. Once the timer is set and your child begins their shift, you cannot remind your child to get to work, stop day dreaming, or to work harder. Your job is easy. Just keep an eye on your child, and when the timer goes off provide the rating. Even if your child was not at their desk say nothing. Just give a 0 and reset the timer. This may be difficult if you’re used to taking responsibility for making your child work, but you must shift responsibility for staying on task onto your child’s shoulders. Your child may expect you to take the lead in getting them started and earning some points, so expect they may be off task for the first few days until they realize you’ve retired from being their frontal lobes. This program teaches you not to be the nagging parent; it teaches your child to be responsible for their own behaviour. If you give even one reminder to get to work, your child will rely on your brain to monitor their behaviour. They can daydream and be off task confident that you’ll cue them to get back to work and earn their points. Children with attentional issues may be less aware of their own off-task behaviour, so set a phone or watch to beep every five minutes to cue them to refocus on their work.
It’s okay to give one warning that self-improvement time starts in 15 minutes. Give the warning, and set the timer. Don’t give any more warnings or encouragement to start the shift. When the timer signals the start of the work, assign a 0 if your child hasn’t shown up. Set the timer for the first shift period, and don’t say a word more!
You may worry this program will fail because your child will ignore the program if they aren’t reminded or encouraged to do their work. These concerns will be addressed in a following section aptly entitled “My Child Ignores the Program and Doesn’t Care about Ratings and Points”.
At the end of their shift, your child is free to leave, regardless of whether their work has been completed. Even if they have all 0’s, their shift is over. Even if an incomplete assignment is due the next day, it’s up to your child to decide if they wish to work “overtime”, but you should not insist upon completion (otherwise you are back into the control battle). Let your child deal with the teacher or receive a lower mark. If your child is working consistently for their full shifts, homework will seldom remain incomplete at the end of the day. If it does, it’s likely your child has put off starting the task until the last minute.
It’s important you do not rate the quality or quantity of your child’s work. That’s the job for the teacher. Your job is to ensure your child gets to work and puts in a focused shift each night. If your child stays focused and completes their shifts, the quality of their work will automatically improve. Your child is putting in the time and has nothing to gain by rushing through their work. Even if you think their work is substandard, leave it alone. Your child will get a low mark, not you, and they’ll accept correction more readily from a teacher than yourself. Even better, the feedback from teachers will be based on your child’s work, not yours! If your child asks for help or feedback, by all means provide help, but don’t redo their assignment. Give advice and make reasonable suggestions for improvement, but ensure your child’s work is still their own.
Your child is supposed to be working independently during their shift, but of course you’re available to answer questions or provide help. Occasionally a child may become dependent upon a parent’s help or acts helpless to engage their parent. If you suspect this to be the case, you should make a rule that you offer quick advice or answer questions anytime, but if your child wants more help you’ll provide it at the end of the current shift. This gives your child an opportunity to get help, but they also to learn to work independently. They can’t use up their shift time talking to a parent. After assisting your child, reset the timer, and your child should work independently for another shift before you give further assistance.
Sometimes children ask for help but then become whiny and reject your advice. They’ll tell you their teacher doesn’t do it the same way you’re doing it. Take a break, pull out your hair, and then return and try again to offer your apparently useless help and suggestions. If your child is intent on rejecting your help and drags you into endless discussion, it’s time to excuse yourself. Explain that you can give some suggestions, but it’s up to your child to decide if they want to put your excellent advice to good use. After a break, both you and your child will have had a chance to cool off, and you can try offering some further help.
If your child says they’re finished all their work but more time is left on the clock, assign more self-improvement work. You should have some worksheets available, but usually there are projects to be started, notes to be reviewed, books to read, or music to be practised.
You and your child should be satisfied with a rating of 2. That rating signifies your child’s focus and concentration is satisfactory to good. This means your child might take short breaks, chat with a sibling for a minute, or make a chain of paper clips, but the majority of their time is spent working. A rating of 3 would be above the norm; they’d show exceptional effort staying focused and on task throughout their shift.
You need to initially supervise and rate your child. Once the ratings are in place, allow your child to rate themselves with supervision, and eventually with limited supervision.
This program encourages good work habits that will follow your child through life. It will become a habit to plan a work period each day, rather than procrastinating and ruining an evening. Children learn to break work periods into shorter, manageable chunks of time. Planning to work three, 20 minute shifts, each followed by a short break, is less daunting than planning to work an hour straight. With only 20 minutes per shift, kids feel they must get to work or they’ll get nothing accomplished. Contemplating one hour of homework, however, is discouraging, and it’s easy to slip into day dreaming and off-task behaviour. Rating oneself teaches a child to self monitor and be aware of their own behaviour. Am I on task? How focused am I? Did I just waste 10 minutes making a paper airplane? Self-ratings promote self-observation and learning to work independently without adult supervision.
Even bright children who fly through their homework need to develop self-discipline to work for a short period every day. Some bright children get by doing their homework in front of the TV or on the school bus in the morning, but they run into difficulty in high school or university. They can no longer succeed without good work habits and self-discipline.