Q. My 8-year-old son--an extremely bright boy--reads on at least a sixth-grade level, has an incredible vocabulary and interests that range from ancient Egypt to the Titanic to Greek mythology.
He has no interest in school, however, and it almost always takes an argument to get him to do his homework.
He much prefers to stare at the television for hours, play with his friends or play on the computer. Placing restrictions on TV and the computer either ends with more arguments or sends him sneaking away to watch TV in another room or at his grandmother's house.
When asked why he doesn't want to do his homework, he says he is "not challenged" and that he is "bored." While he is clearly above grade level in reading, his math skills are average. And yet his 12-year-old sister is an overachieving straight-A student and a prize-winning athlete in several sports--the "perfect" child.
A. Don't bother to compare your children, for each one is unique. Just be grateful that your boy can read so well already, since a child should learn to read fast and understand what he's read by the end of fourth grade or he may never become a good reader. But reading isn't the only skill he needs.
A child must master his multiplication tables and the art of writing clear English, too, whether he likes it or not. And to do that, he'll have to develop the patience and fortitude to do homework--even "dumb" homework--with accuracy, speed and good grace.
The child who can do that will have the tenacity to rewrite his essays a dozen times in high school and decipher algebra problems that seem hopeless at first, and when he's grown he'll have the stuffing to stick with a dreary job until he can find another and with a marriage when it hits a big slump.
Character comes from doing hard work in childhood. It's unfair to your son to let him cheat on you or to let him blame his homework problems on a boring teacher or on lessons that don't challenge him: It's his job to learn, and yours to see that he does.
Ban TV on school nights. If he fusses about it, put your sets in a closet for a while and ask Grandma to turn off her TV when he visits or to turn him away at the door.
A little action beats a lot of arguments. Many children do their homework best if they're allowed to play outside with their friends; fool around on the computer and watch a video after school and then do their homework after dinner.
Whenever your child does it, have him first figure out how long his assignments will take; set the timer so he doesn't dawdle too much and sit at the table with him while you write letters and pay bills. If you don't nag him or talk while he works, he'll soon begin to establish a good routine.
Once he's done, invite your son to play cards or a board game or just talk with him about his latest enthusiasms. If you show a genuine interest in them--and in him--he will begin to enjoy almost every subject he runs across but if you limit your interest to his school work and his homework, he'll soon be bored by everything that has to do with school.
Since your son is fascinated by Egypt, give him a copy of "Ancient Egypt" (Kingfisher, $8.95)--a splendid sightseers guide for children in the time of the pharaohs--and for a dramatic contrast to the Titanic, give him "On the Mayflower" (Scholastic, $5.99), by Kate Waters, and "Columbus" (Doubleday, $8.95), by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire.
You'd be wise to do some reading too. "The Educated Child" (Free Press, $30), by William J. Bennett, Chester E. Finn Jr. and John T. E. Cribb Jr., is slow going but it will tell you what you should expect of your son, his school and yourself.
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