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Homework. Does it drag on forever? Or, worse, does it not get done at all?  How can you help your child get her homework done without a lot of denial and foot-dragging  – and without actually doing it yourself?

My experience as a parent and a tutor has shown me this: kids don’t do their homework  because they believe their assignments will take so long that there will be no time left for fun or they believe that even if they do their homework they will get a poor grade. Even for kids who “forget” their homework you can trace their absent-mindedness back to one of these two barriers.

This means that we can help children do their homework by teaching them to be more efficient in doing the work and by guiding them to feel more confident of success.

Help With Time Management

The child whose homework takes up too much time needs help with time management. As soon as he gets home from school, ask him to list out what needs to be done and what else that evening he wants to do. Help him decide how long each homework task will take and the right order for doing it (the easiest stuff first or the hardest stuff first – let him decide). Together, plan out when he will do each homework task and how he will fit this in with other stuff he wants to do.

This may seem like a lot of work for you, but it’s the work of teaching. Once your child knows how to do this, you can step back a bit. But it will take time to overcome the habit of dawdling through things. For quite a while, you will have to step in to help this child move things along.

Remember, “work expands to fill the time allowed” but  also “all work and no play” is not good for any child.  Help your child have a balanced evening and feel good about himself, instead of guilty.

Help With Self Confidence

The child who doesn’t do homework because she is afraid of getting a poor grade needs a different sort of help. This child thinks that if she does her homework as well as she can but still gets a bad grade, this can only mean that she’s dumb. It’s safer to not do the homework at all. Better to be lazy than dumb, if you’re a kid. Not doing homework is a way to protect one’s self-esteem.

So this child needs help in doing the homework itself, not just in managing her time. She needs help to realize that she’s not dumb; she just hasn’t learned this stuff yet. Here’s how you can help her:

  1. Never suggest that your child is not smart enough and don’t let other people say that either. Never compare this child to another child who seems to have an easy time in school. Instead say, “This really is hard, but I know you can figure it out. I will help you.”
  2. Help your child be more successful and start getting better grades. This doesn’t mean that you should do the homework for him. Doing that will really send the signal that you think he’s too dumb to learn. Instead, help him understand the material.  It’s okay if you don’t not understand it yourself and have to learn along with him (this is great, actually). Take the time it takes to help your kid master this. Hire a tutor if that’s the only way.
  3. Focus on the subject your child finds the hardest. If your child is failing in many subjects, focus on one. Talk with her teacher and see if there is a bigger problem that’s interfering with your child’s ability to learn. But success in one hard subject will give your child courage to try harder in other, easier subjects.

Many school districts these days offer “homework hotlines” that list the homework that’s been assigned and even offer help by phone or email. If your child says he has no homework but you suspect this isn’t right, check the school’s homework site together and see what you find. Don’t check it on your own, since this sends the message you think your child is lying. Instead, check it with your child, which indicates you want to help him get it right.

And when there is homework, help him to figure out when he will do it and support him in believing he can do it well. Once your child realizes you are on his side and you believe in his abilities, he can start to believe in himself too. It will be safe to try once again.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at