How to Get Out of Doing Your (Kid’s) Homework

by Gary E. Dudley, Ph.D.

With the new year upon us and school back in session, many parents return to the duty of helping with homework. For some parents, however, "helping with homework" has come to mean taking over the responsibility of getting the homework done. Sometimes this means loud, ongoing exhortations (nagging) in an effort to make the child get the task done. Other parents, opting for efficiency, simply do the homework themselves and save the struggle. In either case, there is a serious blurring of the responsibility involved, and parents often feel trapped between the choice of "letting the child fail" or making certain that the dreaded homework gets finished. Having an alternative would be useful!

  1. The question of homework is often a focus of power struggles between parents and children whom we see. We often recommend that parents consider that their responsibility in regard to homework is that of a consultant, rather than that of the director.
  2. Your attitude is extremely important in encouraging and motivating the child. Take the approach that you are concerned about the child and his or her well-being. Avoid preaching, judging and blaming.
  3. Explain to the child that homework is an important part of learning and education. Learning is their part of the family contract, just as your part is working and paying the bills, as well as guiding and directing them. You fulfill your responsibility to the family - doing the homework is how they can help fulfill their responsibility.
  4. Tell your child that you will help them achieve their homework by providing an environment that is free from television, phone calls, noise, games and other distractions during certain hours each evening.
  5. Tell them that you will consult with them, if they desire, as to the best places and times to get homework done but that you will not be offering advice that is unsolicited.
  6. Tell them exactly when you will be available to help them with their homework, and maintain your availability during those times. Thus, it is important to have a regular time each evening when you can assist and not offer help at any other time they ask.
  7. Then, at the agreed-upon times, ask them if your help is needed. Do not encourage or advise them to accept your help, do not chide or criticize them if they do not ask for it. When your child does not finish homework, there are consequences at school. Avoid protecting your child from those consequences.
  8. Remember, your tone of voice and the way you approach the child is the most important factor. Expressing encouragement and the expectation that your child will be successful is helpful. Praise their effort, rather than their ability, and express your hopes for their successful education, rather than your demand for performance. How you handle this will directly affect your child's self-esteem, which is the personality's sole source of nourishment.
  9. Help your child to develop an internalized sense of reward for his or her achievement. When reaching a goal, teach the child how to feel good about it, rather than to expect praise or rewards from you or someone else. If he or she fails to reach a goal, help them to feel good about their effort, and to feel OK about trying again. Blaming and "I-told-you-so's" will only discourage the child from making a second effort.

Finally, once in a great while, the teacher is part of the problem. If, while examining your child's assignment, it becomes clear that they are repetitive, below his ability level, or too difficult for your child, it's time for an appointment with the teacher. If you are working with a therapist, let him or her know about your concern, and perhaps a phone conference or face-to-face meeting can be arranged to address your concerns.

Repeated failure at following through on homework, or chronic poor school achievement, may signify other problems. If your child has had to deal with a divorce, recent death or other loss, consulting with a psychologist may be in order.