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Healthy Schoolwork Habits Begin at Home

By Dr. Jay Greenfeld

Establishing healthy schoolwork habits is very hard for some children to accomplish, especially early on in their schooling. There are too many distractions, too many temptations, too much to think about and avoid rather than focus on the priorities they likely need to when doing schoolwork. I have worked with many children over the years in a multitude of settings, especially with a focus on academics. One thing that continues to present as a common theme when children are struggling with establishing healthy schoolwork habits is knowing where their independence begins and the guidance from their parents ends. I speak with many parents who struggle with pushing their children to work hard and not overdo without placing too much pressure on their children to succeed. Establishing healthy study habits is not just a concept for children to learn for school, healthy habits is a life lesson that will benefit them for years to come inside and outside of school. Of course there are certain children that are born to be students and love their schoolwork regardless of how much they have to do and then there is the other end of the continuum; children who despise their schoolwork and will do anything and everything to avoid completing their homework. The key is to combine factors within their environment, an incentive based plan, and generalizing the breadth and depth of the benefits with your children.

Start by looking at the environment in which your children are surrounded by at home. Although it may not be preferable for them to be alone at a desk to do schoolwork because they want to be around others in the house or they want to be part of the goings on within the house, when it comes to doing homework or spending time on schoolwork, it will be important to set the environment up with the least amount of distractions. Eliminate all electronics unless they need their computer to do the work they are doing. Secondly, (if possible) and have them work in a quiet distraction free space (e.g., a home office or their bedroom with a desk). Ensure that all necessary supplies are within their reach (e.g., paper, pens, pencils, calculators etc.) including having them surrounded by proper lighting. Be sure though that these supplies stay there and are replenished every week or as needed. Having this type of setup will likely limit the number of avoidant tactics they may engage in. Any opportunity they can find to avoid doing the work, they likely will. Finally, if they see that this setting within the house is setup for the purpose of doing their work, they will quickly learn to become accustomed to that. If your children see that the place where they do their homework is also the place where they eat, play their Lego, surf the internet, or watch TV, they are less likely to be as zoned in when they are doing their homework. Although they may inform you that they get more done when they are lying on their bed, chances are they get more sleep done by lying on their bed not schoolwork. If you see that they are following through, reward.

Matching a certain amount of efficient homework time with appropriate rewards can benefit children of all ages, even as old as university students. Many of us benefit from rewards whether we set the rewards ourselves or we set them with our children. The key is to start each week with specific rewards for completing specific homework. Go through their homework with them for the week, match the work with the activities they may be doing so they know when they have time to do the homework. Then match the amount of time they spend doing the homework with a specific reward (e.g., more time on their electronics, more time with friends on the weekend, a later bed time by 10 minutes). Anything that will enhance and maintain their motivation the better. The more time they spend doing this type of routine, the more automatic the process becomes for them. If the rewards and incentives are inconsistent and do not have much follow through, it will be harder to have longer lasting effects. It is also important to acknowledge that any reward system will vary for each child in your home; what may work for one will not always work for another. Helping your children see the benefits of having this type of routine at home will help them see the seriousness of good, consistent, healthy work habits that they will carry with them for years, even beyond their schooling.

What we learn as children we often carry with us throughout our lives. Although some of our habits change because of circumstances, if we establish a consistent pattern as children, we likely follow through with similar tendencies as adults. Helping your children see with each task they are doing will help them become better or stronger at something else. Establishing a consistent, clean, organized study area will help them see how efficiently they can accomplish things instead of being distracted by random items within their field of vision. Helping them see that doing any type of work to better their education and learning will strengthen their brain capacity, how much more they can accomplish, and maximize their learning potential if they are able to see that doing any kind of work is a serious task. The idea is for them to see that being prepared by having all the materials they need, remaining focused on the task, and following through can be generalized to any chore or role they have within your house and away from home. If your children are living in multiple houses, the key is for the same patterns to apply regardless of the home. If you are on vacation, set up a similar environment with similar rewards as you have at home so they see that no matter where they are, they can still fulfill the same responsibilities.

Whether your children are in Kindergarten learning how to write and read, or in junior high school learning how to construct and essay, or pursuing post-secondary studies, establishing a schoolwork routine matched with an environment and incentives at home can only help them see the importance of maximizing their work time. Healthy work habits will then be mirrored to whatever job setting they are in. Transferability and generalizability is what is most important so they are not just working hard in life, but working smart with intention that all stems from how they prepare at home.

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