Parenting K-6 Kids/motivating my 7 yr old


QUESTION: Hi Dr. Swaby~ I have a question regarding new and innovative ways to motivate my 7 year old son.  He is basically a very intelligent, sweet,witty little guy who is strong willed and stubborn when it comes to his parents ( normal boundary pushing behavior, I know) and passive and gentle with all others.  The problem lies wherein he dislikes schoolwork or anything else that poses a challenge for that matter.  His brain is always thinking when it comes to areas that interest him, but when it comes to all things academic it is a struggle to get him to do what he needs to do Especially reading and writing). His teacher has said the same thing. Both the teacher and I know he is capable of more than he is showing us. He has trouble focusing and staying on task both in school and at home when it comes to schoolwork/homework...yet give him a video game,art project or tv show that he likes and he is so focused it's unbelievable. Homework assignments that should take no more than an hour take between 2-3 hours each night because he stalls and argues and does what he can to avoid the work. It has escalated to daily yelling matches between the 2 of us( something that I know is not helpful nor am I proud of....but it happens) I"ve tried everything I can think of as far as motivation..rewards, encouraging words...nothing seems to work.  I want to stop the yelling and negativity that has taken over our homework time together...but I've run out of ways to positively motivate him to stay on task,finish homework in a timely manner and stop arguing about things that don't require an argument.....  can you help?  Thanks so much

ANSWER: Hello Dawn,

Thank you for writing. I believe he is in the second grade, am I correct?  Ms. Dawn, don't beat up on yourself for yelling, that is what mommies do when they are frustrated:):)I am glad to see that you know that that is not the answer nor does it help the situation.

Let me ask you a few questions that will help me give you an answer that may be helpful.

Have you discussed his inability to focus with his doctor to rule out any medical issues?
What is his routine when he comes home from school before he gets started with his homework?
Have you tried sitting with him as he does his homework, sometimes that helps them to focus more. What is going on around him as he does his homework that may distract him? (TV, Music or being sent alone to a room to do his homework)

Is dad in the home? if so can he help? Are there other children in the home?  I have some ideas but I will need a little more information before I can share them with you.
If you can write me right back I will respond right away. I am leaving for vacation on 11/08/12 until 11/12/12 and I would like to answer you before I leave.

Dr. Swaby

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QUESTION: Dr. Swaby....thank you SO much for getting back to me so quickly. To answer your questions, yes my boy is in the second grade. I have not sought medical attention ( yet ) for his lack of focus for a few reasons. 1st ,when I asked the teacher if she thought it was something medical and she didn't. 2nd, I tend to jump the gun when it comes to my sons health/development only to have him outgrow whatever issue I was worried about. Was hoping this was one of those "issues"  :-)   . Our homework routine is ~ after a 30 minute drive home and a snack during the drive we come home, change clothes and get down to business. I try and leave him to do the work by himself ( in our livingroom) and tell him to call me if he gets stuck on something. That is something the teachers are encouraging us to do, in order to teach them responsibility. However, I am almost always in his view because our apartment is not that big.  When it comes to reading and spelling homework... I DO sit with him. That doesn't change his stalling or avoidance of the work. There is no TV, music,computers or anything while it is homework time. Unfortunately, dad is at work during this time and we have no other children....hope I've answered your questions and look forward to hearing your ideas. Again.....I thank you so very much for your time and attention.

ANSWER: Ms. Dawn,
Thank you so much for your quick response as well.:) Okay I have a better understanding. Thank you. I am so sorry I forgot to ask. Please tell me what you have tried thus far.  When you send me a question it shows up as a text on my phone, so as soon as I get your response I will answer. Have you asked him why he try to avoid doing his work?  What rewards have you tried? Have you used a reward chart, that would give him a mommy/ son day (one hour of just me and mommy)  after four days of getting his work done in a timely fashion. Perhaps go for a burger or whatever he wants to do. Is the homework something he learned in school? Does he understand what he is to do? I understand you want him to develop good study habits early.
If he does the work how long does it take him? If he really focused on it? When was his last vision and hearing test? I will be looking for your response. I will be available until around 11:00 PM just for you:):)

Thank you,
Dr. Swaby

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I have tried reward charts where the rewards ranged from toys to candy to extra TV time. He loses interest in the chart after several days. Also, My son is very I've tried to  challenge him to finish his homework before I finish MY chores....we do it like a race. He'll start out well,but ultimately get sidetracked. I've let him take a break after we get home and have some " down time" before we start homework. He was even less motivated to start after that.  When  I asked why he spends more time fussing about the work than it actually takes to get his homework done....his only response was that he hates doing it. Homework is the same things he has already learned in school and he does seem to understand it. His grades are great!  The work should take no more than 1 hour....but takes  1 1/2 ~ 2 hours on a normal day and on a particularly bad day can take almost 3 hours. During this time, he will do 1 math problem and then stop to tell me a long story totally unrelated to what we are doing. Then do another problem and get up to stretch and maybe tell another story. Or he reads 1 page of his book and has to stop 5 times to hug and kiss me ( something he won't normally do other than during homework time) I also,must tell you that when I try to ask my son about his day or ask what's on his mind at other times during our day.....he typically doesn't have much to say to me!  Lol.    I do know that this year the teacher has been really pushing neatness,good penmanship and better organizational skills ~3 things my son struggles with,so my son feels like she is "on him" constantly.
Hope I didn't give you more than you bargained for. :-) . And if we don't get the chance to chat again.....thanks for EVERYTHING and enjoy your vacation.  You have been a joy to correspond with!

Hi Dawn,

I am not leaving you yet:) No, you are fine, The more I know the more I can try to help with some suggestions. Okay, now I have a better picture of him he is a typical seven year old. Well, I would start by letting him know this is "Homework time" No stories, no kisses. Let him know that you know he is stalling and it is going to take him longer to finish his homework.
( He sounds adorable, but you will have to be strong:).

Most children say the same thing  You, "How was your day? Your son, "okay" Ask him questions, such as what did you learn in Studies Studies today?  Then when he tells you ask several questions, then try another subject the next day etc. I know you said the teacher wants him to work alone. I taught for 20 years. I sort of disagree with his teacher as it relates to your son. I believe he needs you near him for a while. (He has a lot of time to work independently) Every child is different.  It appears that he wants your attention. Neatness, good penmanship,organizational skills for a second grader? He just learned to write last year:)It will come with time. This may be stressing him out.

I would let the teacher do her job, which I am sure is a great job. But you have to use a different approach at home. If you can sit with him and take turns reading, when he has to read. (Use your inside voice:)) when he does his math you can sit an encourage him. Letting him know that he will always have homework, so let's get it finish it so we can do other things.  Ms.Dawn he will mature, if his grades are good I would not worry about school.
Oh! to improve his writing you can ask him to write a sentence in a journal about his day.
each day before bed, then he can read it to you if he likes. Just one sentence mommy:) not for you to check, just to encourage him to write for fun. (He can also do an illustration if he wants to.

He may get the feeling he is still in school when it is time for homework. Can you change where he does his homework? Maybe in the kitchen where you can keep an eye on him and encourage him to finish, yet not sounding like his teacher. Ms. Dawn I hope this is helpful. Feel free to write again and let me know how thing are going. Don't let him see you sweat...remember use your inside voice and be firm.

Dr. Swaby  

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Dr. Mabel J. Swaby


I can answer questions about Pre-K 5th grade. How to listen and talk to your child.Discipline that makes sense and much, how to understand your childs behavior and more. I am able to answer questions about teens,as well I have worked sucessfully with teens in foster care and a teen center, I have a great understanding of teens behavior.


I am retired teacher.(2005)and administrator. I am a Court Appointed Special Advocate(CASA) with the Juvenile Court for the past 6 years. Working with children and teens in foster care. I am a S.T.E.P.( Systematic Training For Effective Parenting) Parent Educator, and I am preparing to conduct workshops in my community.

Masters in Early Childhood Education/Certification in instructional Leadership Court Appointed Special Advocate(CASA) (Volunteer) S.T.E.P Parent Educator/Leader-(Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) Parent-Aide Oasis Counseling Center

Awards and Honors
Teacher of the Year Judical Commendation Award from the Juvenile Court

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