Homework Tips for Reluctant Child

Our expert offers tips and strategies for getting your child to do his homework.
My eight-year-old doesn't want to do his homework. He doesn't have too much to do and all the other kids in his class seem to handle the assignments. He just puts it off until right before bedtime. He also has a tendency to accidentally leave his reading book at school and forgets to bring his sheets home.

Both his dad and I have tried everything to get this under control. We've taken things away, given him time-outs, and even tried to leave him alone and not really push the issue. Nothing is working. What can we do?

Start by talking with your son's teacher. Buy a planner or assignment book for your son and ask the teacher to make sure homework assignments are written in it each day. (There may be a student who could be your son's "buddy" to ensure that this is done.) The teacher or the buddy can check to make sure your son has all the books and worksheets he needs for that night.

Children need consistency, so try setting a homework plan and sticking with it consistently over a long period of time. You've found that giving your son a 30-minute break when he gets home doesn't work well, so don't do that anymore. Once your son gets home, give him 10 minutes to get settled, then start on homework. Have one place in your house that he does homework every day; that might be the kitchen table, the living room floor, wherever he works best. Just as long as there is no TV on, it doesn't matter where homework gets done.

Give your son a time limit to finish his first assignment. On Mondays he can have 20 minutes (or 30, or whatever works) to get his spelling words written. Set a kitchen timer, an alarm clock, or your microwave to go off at the end of that time. When he has worked for that amount of time and completed that assignment he can have 10 minutes to have a cookie and milk or another snack, then he must get back to work. Keep doing this for each assignment.

All people respond better to rewards than punishment. As each assignment is completed, put a check mark or a sticker on a chart. When all work is completed for the night, your son can earn a walk around the block just with you or 15 minutes of computer time. When he has 20 (or whatever number works) stickers or check marks he can earn having a friend over to play on the weekend. You can ask the teacher to try a similar system to reinforce good classroom behavior.

Talk also with the school counselor. She may be able to give your son some individual time or include him in a small group on good behavior or work completion.

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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