Homeschooling Part II: How Using Consequences and Rewards Can Help
October 9, 2009 by Megan Devine
Last week, I blogged about some things homeschoolers can do to manage their kids' behavior. This week, I want to talk a little more about consequences, and how to use structure — and a reward system — to keep your kids on track.
What about Consequences?
We often hear from parents who try to force their kids to complete their work by threatening the loss of special events, or by giving them additional chores to complete if they don't behave appropriately. Remember, James Lehman says you can't punish kids into better behavior. And, if you give them an additional chore as punishment for not doing their schoolwork, you may find that you have a whole new power struggle over getting them to complete that chore! Find out what your kids value, allow them to earn that valuable item each day, and you may find that your school day goes much more smoothly.
Don't Start Your Day with a Power Struggle
Electronics are often a high interest item for kids and teens. In EP's articles on homework issues, we suggest letting your child earn time with electronics only after specific work is completed within a specific time frame. In a homeschool family, you may find that electronics are best kept off limits until the entire school day is done. Some kids have tried to convince their parents to let them play with video games or the computer before they do any school work, only to refuse to turn the electronics off when mom or dad says it's time to get to work. Some parents allow their children to take a break within the school day to play video games. Certainly, if that works for your family, you don't need to change it. But if a midday game break just makes your afternoon more difficult, you may want to find another activity for your child. Keep those high interest items off limits until the end of the day.
Use Daily Privileges and Rewards
Let your child earn their privileges – time that can be cashed in when the day's work is completed. For example, let your child know she will earn half-an-hour of computer time when she has finished the morning school work, and she has an opportunity to earn a second half hour when she completes her afternoon work. Splitting up your rewards can also help improve compliance if your child has a rough morning, remind them they have another chance to pull it together for the afternoon. You may find that your child will improve her behavior when she knows she gets a second chance. It's true that there may be days when your child does not complete her work, and does not earn her privileges for that day. Let her know that tomorrow is a new day, and she gets a chance to try again.
Too Busy for Rewards
Some homeschool families tell us their lives are so hectic, they don't really have any unstructured free time, and their kids have no time for rewards or privileges. If you've set up your daily life so that there is no free time, you may have a hard time getting compliance out of your children when they decide to dig in their heels. Remember, you need to use something that they value in order to get them to do something that you value. Is there any room for an extra half hour or so of free time in your day. Ask your children what they might like as a privilege — you may find that it is something as simple as an extra half-an-hour of time before bed.
Let Them Earn More Freedom
Homeschool parents often tell us that their child refuses to follow the family's schedule, making every day an ongoing struggle. Often, the child will say things like I'll do my work after you let me do when I want, or You can't make me do it your way. Remember, James Lehman says that power struggles are a normal part of child development. There is no need to convince your child that your way is right and theirs is wrong; you don't need to attend that fight, as James would say. Simply let your child know that doing work independently is a privilege, not a right, and they will need to earn that privilege. Let your child know that you need to see them comply with your schedule before you are willing to give them a chance to do it on their own. When they can show you they are able to complete their work consistently and appropriately for a few days in a row, let them experiment with their own schedules. If they manage to complete the work on their own, they can continue at their own pace. If they start slipping, let them know you will go back to your original structure until they can be successful for a few more days in a row. Step by step, they can earn their independence.
While we've addressed a few unique homeschooling challenges in this two-part blog post, we’d love to hear from you. What are your most difficult issues as a homeschool family, and how do you deal with them
Megan Devine is a Parental Support Line Advisor for the Total Transformation Program.