Homework Hassles

Q: My 8-year-old daughter is not doing her homework by herself. I have to remind her to do it, and she is always complaining and trying to find something else to do. She can pass two hours on one line of math problems. I know that she has some difficulties, but I always have to fight or remind her to do the work. I remind her I can help her to revise her writing and math but not when I am cooking dinner and not two minutes before going to bed the night before.

It’s been that way for three years and I am sick to push her. If I don’t tell her, she will not think about the work and will not do it. I have tried for two months and no success. 

Do you have any suggestions? She is not concentrating on anything she is doing. She is bright and very talented, but she is not concentrating on anything.

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A: Until she starts caring more about her homework than you do, nothing’s going to change. You can’t make her care and you can’t make her do it. However, you can make her life uncomfortable enough that she’ll decide to straighten up herself.

How to accomplish that? By moving the homework monkey off your back and onto hers. I’d start with a chat with her teacher. Tell the teacher that Daughter has not been doing her homework on her own and that you will not be helping her complete it any longer. Explain that you fully expect teacher to give Daughter the grade and enact any consequences for not completing the work—and that you will support teacher in this matter.

Then sit Daughter down and tell her that you’re sorry you’ve been too involved with her homework, that from now on, her homework is her responsibility entirely. She must have her homework done by X time each evening (at least 90 minutes before bed would be good), that you will not sign any school papers after that time, and that she can ask you one homework-related question per week.

Then step back and let her handle it. Sure, she will likely NOT do her homework…but wouldn’t you rather her learn time management and how to motivate herself when the stakes are low in elementary school? This is a problem that will only grow bigger the longer you enable her in this matter.

One further thought: One of the reasons teachers assign homework is to see what kids are learning and retaining in class. Parents who hover and correct a child’s homework until the work is done to perfection are not allowing the teacher to see what the child might be struggling with and what the child has mastered. Teachers have a pretty good idea as to what lessons might need reinforcement when children do their own homework.

2 thoughts on “Homework Hassles

  1. This is the first time that I am reading your blog–came here from an article you wrote in 2016 for The Washington Post on the importance of having kids learn basic chores while young so they could be ready for adulthood and an independent life (I liked and agreed with your points). While I liked some of your other blog posts, I felt compelled to write after reading this one. Of course we all want our children to do things on their own and to be self-motivated and organized and independent but not everyone has those capabilities, even when your 8 year old is “bright and very talented”. The child may lack executive function skills that the parent should take the time to identify and help her develop, breaking down the task into smaller steps so the child doesn’t feel overwhelmed and probably anxious about. And, based on what the mother reports, the child was expected to do her HW on her own since the age of 5 but is still not doing it. There’s probably something else going on. Your suggestions to the mother just seem to punish the child for still not knowing how to handle things that may be beyond her current capability. You can be super bright and still get anxious or be unable to focus for a specific amount of time. I am not blaming the mom. She certainly wants her daughter to succeed and it’s often frustrating to deal with HW issues (I have two 12 years olds, one of who has learning disabilities and still finds it hard to read). It just seems that a better suggestion would be to have the mother find out why the daughter can’t do the work by herself. 2 hours on one line of math sounds crazy. The child should not be forced to stay at a table until she miraculously is able to do something she hasn’t been able to do for 3 years. Maybe something is going on that the mom has not considered and she could help the child by: speaking to the teacher and seeing how independently the child works at school; asking the child to explain what she’s having difficulty with; providing guidance to the child for a specific amount of time, after which the child can try on her own (and the mother can come back to review), or by just sitting with or by the child while the child goes through each question & working through the answer, knowing the mother will help at the end. Support, encouragement, helping the child take on a bit more each day, and taking a break from the task itself (both mom and child) is more helpful than telling the child that they are on their own and the teacher will mete out consequences starting the next day.

    1. Thanks for writing! I”m sorry that my answer came across as not considering something else might be going on with the child, but based on the information I was given, I stand by my reply. You’re right, though, that some children do need assistance in breaking down tasks but the mother seemed to indicate that her child was capable of completing the homework on her own–the daughter simply wasn’t doing it.

      I hope you will keep reading my blog and appreciate your comment.

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