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Homework without Headache

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You can lead a child to homework but you can’t make him think. Sure, you can force your child to sit down and get out his books; you can scream at him and threaten him and make your family life miserable for everyone within earshot. Or, you can step back, way back. That’s what I’ve done.

After years of micro-managing my child’s homework, lecturing him, and forecasting a future of failure for him, I have taken a new approach. It doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, but it is way better than the alternative. Here are 5 things you need to do for homework without headache or heartache.

Get a baseline.

Before you share your new plan with your child, make sure that you’re clear on his current academic status. You’ll need this information for the next step of this plan. So email or talk with his teacher or teachers about his current grades and his behavior. Let his teachers know about your new approach and ask them to please keep you posted on his progress.

Share expectations.

Tell your child that homework is now his responsibility, but that you are available to help him if he asks for your help. Tell him that before he starts his homework each day you will ask him to share his plan for doing his homework that evening, and you will ask him when he wraps up his homework how his plan worked out.

You’ll also want to share your expectations about grades. “I expect that your grades will go up from this point on. Right now you have a 79 in math. That needs to be an 80 by the end of this grading period.” Be specific and be sure your child understands what you expect.

Share limits.

While your child is now the driver of his homework, you are still the one who manages the setting and the limits. You’ll want to present these limits as guidelines that you are putting in place, not as punishments. “Ian, during the school week there will be no video games. If you are able to bring your grades up and show that you can manage your time, we can talk about adding screen time next grading period.”

“Also, when you do your homework well and your grades show that, you’ll get to keep your social privileges and hang out with your friends. If I hear from your teachers that you haven’t done your homework or your grades fall, that will show me that you need fewer distractions.”

This is where you set limits regarding phone use and screen time. Let him know that having this privileges is dependent upon him taking care of his schoolwork.



Do your best to set your child up for success. Before you let him tackle things on his own, sit down with him and say, “I’m sure you are going to do great, but I want to show you a few ideas for staying organized…” Share your ideas and let him choose what to use or not use.

Don’t panic.

Your child will probably hit some rough spots along the way. When he does, don’t panic or go into screaming mode. Calmly say, “Ian, Mrs. Jackson said that you didn’t turn in two math assignments, what happened?” Listen to what he has to say and ask, “So what can you do next time to make sure that doesn’t happen again?”

Then, mention the limits. “So, we had talked about making sure you had time to do your school work and that you weren’t distracted. So, for now, you can focus on your homework and grades without the distraction of doing things on the weekend with your friends.”

Finally, as a mother of a child who was homework-challenged, be prepared to let your child fail. And, it’s better for this to happen in elementary or middle school than it is in high school. When your child does fail, calmly talk with him about what changes he can make in his homework approach. Encourage your child to work hard so that he can gain more freedom and independence, and celebrate his success!

Tell us! How do you think your kids would respond to this type of freedom?


“What do you think you can do to improve in school?”

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