A big part of life is doing things we don’t want to do — and not making a huge deal about it. But when you’re 8 or 9, having to finish your homework or practice piano for 30 minutes can feel like the biggest burden ever. Here’s how to give your child a dose of perspective while making it easier for her to manage (you’ll keep your own sanity intact, too!):
1. Think small. Breaking projects down into smaller components helps your child avoid the feeling that she’s about to climb Mt. Everest. Ways to do it: Have her study for Friday’s spelling test a little bit each day or practice piano 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes before dinner, and 15 minutes after.
2. Make like Goldilocks. Keep your child motivated and involved by setting “just right” goals together: If they’re too easy, your child might become bored — and if they’re too challenging, she might feel frustrated and give up. Don’t expect a LeBron James performance from your basketball player, but explain that he’ll need to shoot hoops a few times a week in the backyard (outside of practice) to make progress.
3. Fork over some power. Whenever possible, leave room for choice so that your child has a sense of control: Do you want to start with math or reading tonight? Would you rather sign up for dance or gymnastics? When she can buy into the task, it feels easier for her to tackle.
4. Offer up praise. By acknowledging your child’s efforts, you teach him to value and believe in himself. This type of encouragement will help him keep working when the going gets tough.
5. Try a reward. Note that we did not say bribe. There’s a difference! A reward is something you offer as incentive in advance. For instance, you might say: If you can start and finish your homework without being asked for one week, you can take a friend to the movies. A bribe, on the other hand, is usually an act of desperation and is often given before the child completes the desired task. When used correctly — offer them for one or two behaviors at the most — tangible rewards will spark your child’s natural drive, desire to please, and love of learning.