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MOLLY: We received this question from a reader whose 10 year-old son puts in a lot of effort into sports or messing around but when it’s the mundane yet required tasks that sometimes come along with schoolwork, the effort drops out. What can she do?
MOM: She might want to approach this on several different levels. One is, she will want to applaud him for the effort that he does put in for the things he wants to do, like sports, which are important, and even messing around is an important part of childhood and is fine, too. She will want to say to him that that life requires a balance between work and play.
I would look at it in a very behavioral way. We've talked about using reward charts to influence behavior in younger children, and although you have to adjust the rewards when appealing to a 10 year-old, you can create a similar idea.
What I would do is, I would say to him: “We (your parents) feel it is important to do well in school as well as have fun playing sports. We need to see that you can put more effort into your schoolwork, because you're a smart kid and we know you can do better. We know this can be overwhelming, but we'll help you get better at managing your schoolwork by scheduling a specific time each night to get it done. If the homework doesn't get done, then we won't able to do the after-school activity the next day and you'll have to start doing homework as soon as you get home from school until it gets done. Basically, if you want to do these extra activities, you need to show us that your schoolwork won't suffer. Do you think that's fair?"
The idea is that she has to help him figure out how to have a balance between schoolwork and all the other things that he wants to do. This is a life skill! In the end, this skill of how to manage the things he wants to do with the things he has to do will really pay off for him.
MOLLY: But... Are you suggesting she takes away privileges or activities?
MOM: Not immediately, especially for a 10-year old as he will be resentful at the surprise unfairness and that will distract him from the overall goal of helping him learn how to manage his time. Always make sure the child knows the expected behaviors and the consequences of not doing the behaviors before enacting any consequences. She might have to take some days of activities away if he does not believe she is serious and does not do his schoolwork, but he should be able to earn the activities back by showing he can perform the expected behaviors. I wouldn't take away activities for longer than a week at a time as it is hard for a 10-year old to envision life much beyond seven days and he will feel discouraged.
The truth is that kids need a balance between schoolwork and sports and other activities, and in life sometimes you have to do the things you don't want to do in order to do the things you do want to do.
MOLLY: If some kids are more interested in outside activities than they are into school, how do you convince them that they need to put more effort into school?