The beginning of the school year is full of excitement. Most students start out with eagerness and a fire in their souls. Unfortunately, that new excitement seems to wear off quickly, which leaves parents scrambling for ways to keep their children engaged.

Sometimes getting a child to complete homework after school feels like a battle parents have to fight every day. What can we do to help keep some of that fire we had at the beginning of the year?

When discussing long-lasting motivation, a good place to start is to help your child set goals. This is also a great opportunity to define short-term vs. long-term goals. If they have a goal of making the honor roll all year, help them break that large goal down into smaller goals. They will stay more motivated with small victories when working towards a larger goal.

Rewarding your children for completing undesirable tasks is an easy way to motivate them to complete their work at home. It’s important to focus on how you word things and the tone of voice you use.

If you tell your children, “We can go to the park after you finish your homework,” it sounds a lot more enticing than “We’re not going anywhere until you finish your homework.” Your children are much more likely to respond well to a reward with a positive tone than a punishment with a negative tone.

Sometimes there is pushback on the idea of rewarding your children for things they are required to do. I like to use the analogy of an adult going to work. When an adult goes to work, they complete all the tasks that are expected of them in order to receive their reward, a paycheck.

School, and sometimes even extracurriculars, are considered a child’s job. They put a lot of hard work, time and effort into these things; in order to stay motivated they need to see some form of compensation for their efforts.

It’s also important to understand what motivates each individual child. The same type of reward will not work for all children.

Some children are super competitive, so creating some form of competition will be enough to motivate them. Some kids need to feel appreciated and hear words of encouragement, so positive reinforcement may be enough. Other kids are going to need physical rewards in the form of treats, small toys, activities (like time at the playground), or choosing a movie to watch before bed.

Every child is different, which means there isn’t one single way to motivate. Find what works for each child or use a combination of methods if necessary.

The most important thing to remember is to stay positive. Try not to punish kids for not completing tasks; rather, find ways to encourage them by rewarding the desired behavior. As the school year goes on and gets busier, it’s easier to let schedules slide. Staying consistent will help keep your family on track for a successful year.

This column is written by Jordan Beach, LSW, school social worker for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 57 Master’s level social workers to 78 schools in 10 Indiana counties. Over 38,500 youth and families per year have access to Youth First’s school social work and afterschool programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.

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