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By "Today" contributor
updated 4/19/2006 10:31:20 AM ET 2006-04-19T14:31:20

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It’s the second semester for most kids, and if you’re concerned about your child’s performance last fall, let’s take a look at what new policies and procedures you can introduce to your child if less than adequate effort has been the norm. I suggest implementing a program of study skills and motivators that are practical, effective and reasonable. Let’s take a look at what’s necessary to discuss with your child:

STUDY SKILL TRAINING:
Set up a daily assignment sheet. Whether your child will be using a day planner, PDA or just a sheet of notebook paper, it’s imperative that he write down, for all academic subjects, all homework assigned that day or tests/quizzes announced. Kids are notorious for depending upon their memories, and aside from the sheer volume of work that may be assigned, they have lots of other stuff to remember (friends’ phone numbers, the latest gossip and the next baseball practice date). So, it’s important to mandate that all work is noted on the planner, for each subject, every day.

Review the assignment sheet at the locker. So far, so good? Great! Now, you have to convince your kid to use the planner while standing at the locker or cubby at the end of the school day. Have your daughter pull out the assignment sheet and check it when deciding what books, notebooks and folders need to be brought home.

Complete homework and study for tests in a timely manner.  Some families find that it works best if the child has some down time after school to shoot hoops, catch some TV or talk on the phone.  Other folks have greater success with the kids grabbing a quick snack and then it’s time to hit the books.  Whatever works best in your family — do it. It’s an individual decision.

Check that all work has been completed. Once the child reports that all written work, reading and studying are completed, be sure to check the planner for what has been completed and make sure that all assignments are done well. You may want to give your child a quick quiz on certain subjects to be certain that she really does understand the material studied. If an assignment is not due the next day, write it down on a monthly calendar that your kid keeps on the study desk, and be sure to review this with her daily. Plan to study at least one day ahead for quizzes and at least two days in advance for major tests. Try to get book reports and projects completed at least one day in advance — this allows for emergencies to be dealt with (the printer running out of ink, necessitating a quick trip to the office supply store). Your child will soon learn that planning ahead pays off in terms of a better product and less stress.

Organize the book bag for the next day. Needless to say, you don’t need the kid running around in the morning trying to locate paper, pencils and completed worksheets. That should be accomplished the night before when there is plenty of time and no pressure to hurry up, eat breakfast and catch the bus for school. Packing the night before is a good habit to develop not only in terms of school work, but also for preparing for baseball practice, ballet and computer class.

MOTIVATING THE UNMOTIVATED:
Okay, so now you understand the five steps inherent in organizing your child’s academic day.  But there’s always the alert parent who asks, "How do I get my kid to do this? He’ll forget to write down his assignments, or even if he does write them down, he may not remember to check the assignment sheet at the locker, and leave the books at school."

Well, yes, that does happen and all too often when it comes to working with just about any child! Many kids do not see the value in completing all of their work every day, and some even purposely leave books, worksheets and folders at school so they will not have to study that evening at home.  If your child is not internally motivated to complete homework and to study for tests — don’t fret — that’s normal. It’s just very unpleasant and usually leads to nightly arguments, parental hand-wringing and kids placed on restriction!

What to do? Well, I suggest motivating them via rewards or lack thereofin your effort to encourage completion of academic responsibilities. There’s nothing wrong with stating consequences (both positive and negative) for task completion or lack thereof. As far as I’m concerned, doing one’s best at school is one of the primary jobs of childhood. Not all kids will be “A” students, but they should give it their best effort.

Using the following five consequences to “jump-start” your child’s motivation will most likely bring success, better grades and end the nightly homework drama in your household. If the child completes the daily assignment sheet, brings home all necessary books and materials, completes written work and studies for tests, and packs the book bag for the next day, then he should be rewarded.  Daily I offer a moneyallowance (therefore no cash is given for just showing up alive on Saturday), a clothingallowance (don’t continue to cave in and buy sneakers and shirts on a whim now that your child is earning her own clothing money), a  privilegetoken that can be saved up and cashed in later to go the movies, bowling, concerts, paint ball (poker chips work well), outsideplay and use of electronics for the remainder of the day (TV, video games, telephone, computer, etc.). These five rewards get most kids’ attention, and motivate them to write down and complete assignments in a timely fashion.

For a successful second semester, it’s important to employ organizational tools that are simple to use, make sense and quickly lead to good grades. Motivating the unmotivated with rewards (or taking them away for irresponsible behavior) is a proven, effective technique that will work in most homes — but you must be consistent. Once your kid gets the idea that you only “spot check” the homework, you may see less getting completed and more time spent emailing friends or talking on the telephone. Be consistent, stay involved, and use rewards and motivators that are important and interesting to your children.

Dr. Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” For more information you can visit her Web site at www.ruthpeters.com. Copyright ©2006 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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