Dear Dr. Debbie,
Our first-grader has been having issues with getting work completed in class. According to his teacher, he’ll spend up to a twenty-minute chunk of time doing absolutely nothing when he is supposed to be doing seatwork. Homework is sometimes a bit of a challenge, but we’ve learned to tackle it before allowing any screen time. Although he still whines and dawdles, all the homework does get finished. So it’s not that he doesn’t understand the work. If you ask him about why he doesn’t do work at school, he says he’s distracted.
We’ve already talked with him about college (Mommy is a part-time student) and he is looking forward to studying classes of his own choosing. Do you have any strategies we could employ that might help get through first grade first?
Don’t miss last week’s column Encouraging an early love of books — Good Parenting
Your son might benefit from giving himself positive affirmations about his ability to complete his assignments. This is assuming he wants to complete them, so get that cleared up first.
Purpose of Assignments
A first grader is still of an age when adults make many decisions for him. We have mandatory education as the law of the land, lawmakers having long ago deemed an educated populace to be good for the country. You could discuss this idea with him to get his agreement that he will be a good citizen by accepting the education being given him, and all the benefits therein. On a much more personal point, the assignments cover useful information. Help him relate to spelling words as being useful for reading and writing. Point them out when you share bedtime stories. Help him compose a story of his own, or a note to a friend or relative by using words from his list. Math can be applied to daily life as well. Help him to see the practical purpose in knowing how to write and calculate equations to plan a menu and arrange the seating for dinner guests. Children are much more motivated to engage in schoolwork when they see that it is relevant to what they want to know about and know how to do.
Relevance may be a stretch for a child who finds schoolwork too easy (or too hard). Another approach for your discussion of why he should get to work is to bring his support network into focus. A child may be motivated by the thought of pleasing important people in his life. His parents will be proud and pleased that he completed his work. Think of other extended family members who would rather hear about him doing well in school than the contrary. His teacher will be pleased to see him spending class time productively. That’s the goal of her job. Help your son see that school has been set up to include daily assignments as part of a grade by grade curriculum to move students toward not only graduation, but toward an educational path of their own choosing. Ultimately, he can win the game called education by playing according to the instructions.
Once you help him figure out this best motivation, help him craft a simple statement as a mantra. Examples: I can do this. Math solves problems. This will make Ms. Teacher smile. I’m getting first grade done so I can go to college. I’m happy when my work is finished.
Review his chosen mantra a few times each day at home. Use it before homework, but also at other times as the statement becomes part of his everyday value system. Just before school is a good time. Ask him to repeat it on the ride or walk to the school building. As he’s getting ready for bed is another good time – it’ll slip into his subconscious as he’s dreaming.
Read about motivational affirmations for more ideas about using a mantra to achieve success. This simple action just helps anyone to do what was already possible.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.