Homework. It may be the least favored compound word in a kid’s vocabulary and one sure to elicit groans. “But Mom, school’s over. I’m home. Why do I have to do more work?” Sound familiar? Your child hates doing homework, and you hate the nightly test of wills when you push him to complete it. But there is a better way. It starts with understanding what’s keeping your child from doing his work: a lack of motivation or a lack of skills.

“There’s a principle in psychology that states if you want somebody to like something they don’t like, you need to make all of the surrounding conditions as positive as you can,” says Sydney S. Zentall, a professor of educational studies at Purdue University and coauthor of Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide to Solving Common Homework Problems. Fortunately, striving to create a pleasant homework environment for your child involves using techniques that can motivate him as well as address some specific skill problems.

Set It to Music

Research has shown that music is a great motivator. Teens complete more homework with background accompaniment and children with ADHD show markedly better performance when they’re listening to music. Since so much of homework is rote or simply completing unfinished classwork, music can help relieve the tedium, and in the case of kids with ADHD even help them focus. But skip tunes with lyrics, Zentall suggests. It’s best to limit kids’ choices to music that’s mostly instrumental so the words won’t interfere with their thoughts.

Define a Work Space

Although a desk is nice, younger children may do better at the kitchen table, closer to you while you’re preparing dinner. Just make sure it’s clear of clutter, including the daily newspaper, junk mail, or any other distraction.

Zentall takes it a step further and suggests constructing a learning station. A trifold cardboard such as the kind used for science project displays would do the trick. On the right side of the panel hang a folder for pending homework; on the left side hang a folder for completed assignments. In the middle, post a list of activities your child can enjoy in five-minute breaks after completing a designated amount of work. That could be five minutes of her favorite prerecorded TV show or a chance to roll around on the floor with the dog after she’s worked steadily on her spelling words for 20 minutes. Once assembled, this kind of learning station can really help center a child who has difficulty completing homework.