Homework can help learn to delay reward and and develop the work ethic
adhd - Homework problems and solutions
|Two components of Task Completion|
|1. Delay of reinforcement vs. Instant gratification|
|2. Industriousness vs. Laziness|
|TV vs. Industriousness|
|Easy vs. Industriousness|
|Relationship of ADHD to industriousness and delay of reinforcement|
In fact, it really makes little difference whether your child finishes tonight’s homework, even though the child and parent often treat it as a critical life event. A week from now, you will not be able to remember what the assignment was or whether it was done. It really makes no difference a year from now whether a child can remember a battle in the Civil War, the geography of the Andes or Jane Austin’s Emma.
Nonetheless, doing homework is a vitally important task. What is important about it is not so much the content of the lessons learned, but developing habits as a rehearsal for getting life tasks done. These habits are developed by finishing homework and schoolwork on a consistent, neat, complete and accurate basis. This process of industriousness must be rehearsed and learned until it is habit.
Unfortunately, what actually happens in many homes is quite a different lesson. When the primary focus is on completing tonight’s homework and parents get too involved, the child is taught that they do not have to be responsible for task completion. They get the idea that they can count on someone else doing it for them, now and forever. This is a formula for underachievement and failure in life.
Parents are the ones who are supposed to have a long-term perspective on what is good for the child. However, in emotionally driven homework situations, parents tend to be swept into the child’s distress and urgency about completing tonight’s assignment. The purpose of homework is definitely not for the child to learn how to use emotional distress to get someone else to take responsibility for his tasks! But, this is often how it turns out.
The bottom line is that homework has to be the child’s homework, not mom’s or dad’s homework. In an attempt to make it easier for him, parents often lose track of one of the most important reasons for homework, which is to teach their child task completion: that is, being able to complete an assigned task in a quality fashion by an assigned deadline without being constantly harangued by parents to do it. This is a critical part of becoming a responsible student, employee, citizen, wife or husband. Every boss wants the employee that he can assign a task to and never worry about it again. He knows it will be done in quality fashion and on time. Spouses have to count on each other similarly.
In all these roles, one of the most important habits is to be able to take an assigned task, whether it is considered boring, fun or irrelevant, from the teacher, boss, or spouse and follow it through to completion without others having to prompt, whine, nag or threaten. The people who can perform in this manner tend to be successful in school, at work and at home. Ultimately, they are successful in life. In fact, no one is successful in life if they cannot complete tasks regularly and reliably. I personally know many intelligent, highly educated people, including those with Master’s and PhD degrees, who are failures in life because they do not possess the task completion skills to produce anything useful from their store of knowledge and skills. Their position in life is witness to it. Not only is it an essential attribute to working for others, but no entrepreneur on the planet can be successful without the ability to complete his or her self-assigned tasks toward meeting their business goals.
So, although doing homework is also about learning educational content, that content is worthless unless the child learns the essential skill of completing assigned tasks. Homework should be training in the process of taking a wide variety of tasks, pleasant and unpleasant, to completion without making the lives of those around them miserable.
Where do things often go wrong? Parents get too involved in the completion of tonight’s homework, prodding, helping, and even doing it for the child in an effort to get the homework completed. The child never has an opportunity to learn the more important task completion skills. You cannot follow your child to their college, job or marriage.
Once task completion skills are in place, then they can be applied to learning academic skills such as math, history, reading or spelling. However, if task completion skills are not learned first, and the focus is put on leaning academic skills alone, it is likely to be a battle in which no one wins. Task completion habits are what will go forward with a child in life, not the check mark in the teacher’s grade book recording that he turned in a specific homework assignment.
Two components of Task Completion
Task completion has two components, learning to delay reinforcement and industriousness (also known as the work ethic, or intrinsic motivation).
1. Delay of reinforcement vs. Instant gratification
The studies have come to be known by that name because researchers offered four-year-old preschoolers one marshmallow immediately or two if they would wait a little while. In these tests, overall, about one third of the children could not wait, and thus grabbed and gobbled one marshmallow immediately. The other two thirds were willing to wait up to 20 minutes to get the larger reward.
Here’s where the study gets interesting. When Professor Mischel evaluated these same children 14 years later as they were graduating from high school, the difference between the two groups was dramatic. Those who waited had better grades in school and their Scholastic Aptitude test (SAT) scores were on average 210 points higher than those who grabbed. A 210 point difference is very significant! It could be the difference between going to college at Tijuana Tech or Stanford University. How long they waited as preschoolers was twice as good as IQ at predicting SAT scores. The conclusion of this research is that this trainable skill is more important than native ability for success. This is good news for parents of children who may not be inherently brilliant.
“Two marshmallow” children, or “waiters,” were also more socially competent, self-reliant, assertive, confident, and goal oriented. They adjusted to life problems better because they tended to use reason rather than emotions when they were stressed or frustrated. That is, they had a history of being rewarded for productivity vs. emotional distress. Rather than giving up, they dealt with obstacles as challenges and pursued goals. As when they were preschoolers, they continued to be able to delay gratification to pursue larger rewards.
“Grabbers,” on the other hand, were less socially competent and decisive, more emotionally over-reactive, stubborn, jealous, angry and avoided confronting frustrations. They saw themselves as “unworthy” and “bad.” This means that grabbers were likely to have been rewarded for these emotional outpourings and social problems by parents who let their caring lead to over-protectiveness and overhelpfulness. Such parents were likely to have given in to their child’s whims and whining (the Darth Vader Effect). Post high school, grabbers still were not able to delay gratification to achieve larger goals. The results were true for both boys and girls.
These rather dramatic results demonstrate the importance of learning to control impulses and delay gratification at a very early age. It is such a strong predictor of future academic, emotional and social success that every parent should be aware of its power. Being able to delay gratification allows children to craft what they want to work for and thus who they want to become rather than being a slave to immediate impulses and rewards. “Waiters” learn that by delaying gratification, they can obtain the more important things that they want. Their self-control gives them a tool to become self-reliant and disciplined for the rest of their lives.
2. Industriousness vs. Laziness
What is the work ethic and where has it gone? There are three components to the work ethic:
1. Believing that working hard is part of being a worthwhile person,
2. Willingness to work hard to attain material rewards, and
The work ethic is quickly vanishing from this culture, with disastrous results. The lack of skills in motivating ones own behavior is part of a huge cultural decline in industriousness over the last half century. We live in a culture where recreation, leisure, excitement, and instant reward dominate people’s thought, rather than productivity, craftsmanship, character, ethics and pride in accomplishment.
In one study, students who had been rewarded for solving difficult anagrams, as opposed to those who had been rewarded for solving easy ones, spent twice as long solving hard ones and cheated less. That is, rewarding high effort increases persistence, reduces cheating and strengthens the personal work ethic.
Repeated reward for high effort decreases the aversiveness of difficult tasks and improves subsequent performance in both dull, repetitive tasks, as well as intrinsically interesting tasks. Thereby it makes people more industriousness in all areas.
So, what does this mean to you as a parent? It means that industriousness does not just “happen,” and isn’t something you are either born with or not. It means YOU, as a parent, can foster industriousness as a stable part of your child’s personality. What is takes is regularly rewarding gradually increasing effort in a variety of different tasks. Research has found that rewarding children for increasing effort will develop the persistence necessary to deal with initial failure and sustain the effort to succeed at tasks that take consistent, diligent effort.
There is no more valuable gift you can give your child than learning industriousness, for it is a major component of a productive and satisfying life.
Along with training industriousness, a parent should also teach children to avoid activities that undermine the development of industriousness.
TV vs. Industriousness
The ideal life is portrayed as continual sensual gratification which is the opposite of working hard at school or a job. Industrious members of working-class and middle-class occupations are portrayed as suckers.
As J.D. Owen put it, "If parents prevented their children from watching the shows, they wouldn’t be on. Parents complain about the quality of the shows, but don’t prevent children from gluing themselves to the boob tube."
As a culture, we tend to consider work and education as annoying infringements on our right to continuous fun and recreation, which is the opposite of industriousness.
Easy vs. Industriousness
Parents may also be willing to reward easy work versus hard because they do not want to face the emotional discomfort children can cause in their parents when they complain about things being too hard, or “unfair.” In the same vein, many parents wince themselves when their children appear anxious, angry, frustrated or depressed. Parents can terminate their own emotional discomfort by stepping into the culturally approved role of the tender loving parent and immediately soothe their child’s distress.
Temporarily, this allows both parent and child to feel better. The catch is that since both parents and child are reinforced by this exchange, the pattern will be repeated more often in the future. It is hard for loving parents to let their children experience these discomforts, but it is only by facing and mastering these challenges in the security of a supportive family will children be able to rise above them for the rest of their lives.
Good parenting and your children’s long-term success requires that you equip them with habit patterns to resist these pressures. Effective, straightforward ways of teaching children industriousness and delay of reinforcement are covered in the Parenting from the Learning Model chapter of ADHD: Drug Free and Doin' Fine. It is just a matter of implementing the program to make it happen.
Relationship of ADHD to industriousness and delay of reinforcement
If you think about it, this describes ADHD. For all of us, there is always a tension between wanting to escape even minor annoyances or pursue immediate pleasures and the motivation to persevere for some longer-term reward. Understanding the motivations at that point of mental tension is the secret of how to immunize your child against ADHD and LD.
In the simplest moment-to-moment reality, when there is an opportunity to avoid something noxious or find a moment of pleasure, there is no reason not to jump at it. That is what you are seeing when ADHD children space out, or jump from one focus to another. In this context free, simple paradigm, a child has everything to gain and nothing to lose if his attention jumps around.
However, a steady pattern of this leads to getting nowhere and accomplishing nothing. To avoid being pulled about by these momentary attractions and repulsions, the child’s attention needs to be primarily motivated by other mental habit patterns. The mental habits of industriousness and delay of reward are the child’s tools to resist these immediate temptations and persevere toward larger more valuable future goals. If the automatic habits of industriousness and delay of reward have not been developed, the child has little to help him resist impulses. He is tossed from one immediate gratification or avoidance of discomfort to next.
Children tend to focus on immediate sensations. They do not come with a natural tendency to resist impulses in order to focus on larger rewards in the longer term. Focusing on the longer time context of industriousness and delay of reward must be learned from parents, school and the culture.
When a child has learned to be industrious, the sensations of working hard have become a self-reward in themselves. Perhaps you have done a project that was immensely pleasurable, yet hard work: digging and planting a new garden, preparing a difficult recipe, writing a poem or figuring out dimensions for building a utility shed. You hardly want to take the time to eat! The very process of working to achieve something feels good. Thus, as one works along on a task, that effort is supplying a continuous stream of reward. For a child, it can be the same. For an industrious child, following his impulse to switch attentional focus or tasks interrupts this flow of good feelings. This loss adds a personal cost to jumping. Thus, he is more likely to resist it .
Possessing these two self-motivation habits go a long way toward preventing the development of ADHD, or to “curing” it if it is already a problem. The incidence of ADHD has risen at about the same time as these two skills have vanished from our culture and electronic media have come to dominate our lives. It is up to parents to bestow these critical skills on their children.
I am often asked why some children develop ADHD and others do not. One of the main reasons is that many children have not developed these important personality characteristics. In fact, many have actually been trained to be lazy and expect immediate gratification of their every whim. Many have learned that working for something or waiting to get it is unnecessary. They only need to become upset to get they want. Such children are very vulnerable to developing ADHD.
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