Getting a Handle on Homework


The Homework Dilemma

The Grief

girl leaningn over book doing homeworkOne area that causes much angst for parents is determining how to help and how much to help children with their homework.

Checking over an assignment to be sure it is complete and that your children aren’t missing any major concepts is important, but that is quite separate from finishing the assignments for them.

When parents get overly involved in their children’s work, then kids do not feel any sense of ownership or accomplishment.

Just the thought of homework conjures up many different reactions in different households. While some see assignments as a way to reinforce learning and teach responsibility, others view it as an annoyance, interrupting family time and extracurricular activities.

For some, it is a battleground. Children may procrastinate, dilly-dally, or do a mediocre job completing their coursework. Moms and dads become the enforcers, not a very “fun” part of parenting.

If parents concentrate on the negative aspects of homework, they will want to “get through it” as quickly as possible and if children can’t dispense with the work fast enough, parents may be tempted to expedite the process by helping them or doing it for them.


The Benefits

Yet, for all of its drawbacks, there are benefits to having your children complete homework assignments, including:

  • Learning to be responsible for bringing papers and books to and from school

  • Listening to instructions and taking responsibility for what is required

  • Learning to manage one’s time

  • Reaching out for help when having trouble (either by approaching us, by going to the teacher, or contacting a classmate)

  • Reinforcing learning that has taken place in the classroom

  • Developing a sense of capability that comes from mastering new tasks and skills

  • Experiencing pride in completing a project


Parental Involvement

Doing Too Much

Overdoing is a common mistake that parents make, particularly in the early years because parents want their children to succeed and do well. Therefore, their over-involvement is understandable.

But, only one person at a time can be responsible. So, the more responsibility you take on, the less your children will accept.

Despite being out of school for many years, how many of us have greeted our children with, “Hi. How much homework do we have tonight?”

Doing Too Little

Another interesting phenomenon is that parents tend to be over-involved when children are in elementary school and then pull back abruptly when children are in junior high or middle school. The feeling is “You should be responsible now!”

But how can children suddenly be expected to be accountable if they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn through small steps along the way? By giving children a chance to slip-up when they are young, we allow them to experience being trustworthy and to learn from and bounce back from mistakes.

The motivation has to come from within and as long as the adults in their lives are taking care of their tasks, they won’t.


Being Overly Concerned

Often parents’ interest rises again as children enter high school. Part of this concern is the ever-greater emphasis on maximizing our children’s opportunities.

Parents worry that if their kids don’t do it “right” (finish the paper, get good grades, have the proper extracurricular activities, get into a good college…) their futures will be ruined. There is so much anxiety about tomorrow that it is hard to get through work today.


Finding the Right Balance

Hopefully, parents will give kids some freedom (and responsibility) early on, but then not let go entirely once they leave elementary school, only to re-enter with too much intensity in high school.

Parents need to create a positive environment by focusing on their children’s strengths, not their shortcomings.

Kids still need their parents to be engaged; they need guidance as the demands on their time grow, as the decisions they make become more important, and as the social pressures and options increase.

They need parents:

  • to ask about their days, their struggles, and their accomplishments.

  • to help them uncover their talents, think about their passions, and dream about their futures.

  • to be available to answer questions, to be a sounding board, and to be a resource.

It is important to find the right level of support while not being too involved.

Spiraling Downward

a downward sprialWhen parents get wrapped up in their children’s success, children can feel additional pressure to keep their mom and dad happy.

A parent’s disapproving reaction to a poor grade can add to child’s feelings of frustration. Already feeling badly about his performance, he may find it easier to think of himself as a failure than to keep trying. From his point of view, he is already doing his best and he doesn’t know what else to do, or he would be doing it.

Parents become more concerned and more aggravated.

The child further retreats because anything he says could set off his parents. It can be easier for the student to appear nonchalant about assignments than to show his vulnerability.

Parents, worried about the child’s long-term achievements, may take signs of disorganization and lack of study skills as a reflection of their success or failure as a parent.

Negativity looms over the house.

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Homework Problems

Daily Struggles

There are times when children struggle with homework. They may forget needed materials, be unclear about assigned tasks, or unable to complete a task in a timely matter.

Everyone can have an off day, but if the issue persists, it is beneficial to contact their teachers and/ or counselor.

You’ll want to be as clear as possible when describing your concerns. For example, “At least three days a week, Sally seems to forget at least one paper that she needs for homework.”

You can ask if they notice the same sort of problem in the classroom.

  • You will want to determine if the problem is just at home. If it is, you can help remedy the situation by eliminating distractions, setting up a work area stocked with supplies, and creating a schedule for completing assignments.

  • Conversely, you may find that the teacher has made similar observations and together you may need to determine if any underlying issues are standing in the way of your child’s success.


Time to Complete Homework

Another common complaint is the length of time needed to complete an assignment.

A rule of thumb established by the National PTA and the National Educational Association is that on average children should be given 10 minutes of homework per night per grade. These guidelines would mean 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take.

If homework consistently takes your child longer than these recommended times, you’ll want to see if your child is having difficulty grasping certain concepts or has other obstacles to learning the material and completing tasks.

In addition, a teacher may underestimate how long an assignment takes to complete and your feedback can help them adjust the requirements accordingly. And, occasionally, your child may be bored – if they do not see the importance of completing the work, they will be less motivated to comply.


In our fast- paced world where people keep the television on for background noise, text message in the middle of a face-to-face conversation, and are “entertained” throughout their days, concentrating on homework can be a challenge.

One major culprit is the Internet. Particularly, when children need to use the computer to complete assignments, a quick, “Let me ask a question to a friend on Facebook” can easily become a one-hour distraction. Looking up information for a project can lead to clicking on a related link for more information that leads to another site and then another.

Some also like to listen to music while working. Here again, they can become sidetracked by the large array of online or downloaded options.

If such distractions happen repeatedly, assignments may not be completed. Staying focused is difficult for most people, but if you have a distractible child, the temptation may be overwhelming and irresistible. And while the internet enables a child to search for additional resources when they do not understand a concept, it can also lead them to avoid the hard task of buckling down and learning.


Set Limits

If you find that homework is taking too long or the quality of their work is not up to par, then you may need to limit your child’s access to the computer.

  • For many reasons, including safety concerns, you should keep computers in public spaces where you can easily check in to see which sites your children are on and to be sure they are staying on task.

  • Check for software that can block social media for a set period of time while homework is being completed.

  • You may need to monitor your children by being in the room with them when computer work, such as typing or research, is occurring.

  • It is a good idea to have your child complete non-computer based homework first. Only after those assignments are completed does he access the computer.

  • You may also consider limiting their musical selection to instrumentals, thus reducing much of the time they spend sorting through limitless options.



  • Missed assignments?
  • Torn papers at the bottom of backpacks?
  • Homework completed but not turned in?

All of these are signs that your children may need help with organization, though such skills require time and practice.

Initially, children may need help organizing their materials and they may be resistant to suggestions. After all, it seems quicker and easier to avoid sorting the day’s papers and putting the date on each.

But after they practice doing so and have the material in order for the next test, they will see that the little bit of effort each day ultimately gives them more time to study when there is an exam. They will experience less panic and have more time to socialize, to pursue interests, and, very importantly, to sleep.

Although accustomed to the adrenaline rush of procrastination, kids need to see that the stress wears them down and that the level of comfort and confidence that comes from feeling in control can also be addictive.


Teach Organizational Skills

Children need to learn how to estimate correctly how long work will take them to complete to a satisfactory level, to prioritize their time, and plan appropriately.

  • When initially assigned a long-term project, have your child brainstorm all of the steps needed to complete the assignment.

  • They can then map out all of the steps on a timeline, perhaps working backwards from the due date.

  • Teach them to leave an extra day in their schedule to plan for the worst case scenario, such as a broken printer, the internet going down, a step taking longer than expected, another test or assignment being given, or unexpected illness.

  • At the end of the project, have your child look over their initial timeline. Did they leave themselves ample time? Did they miss any steps they would want to include in the future? What worked for them? What would they wish to do differently in the future?


Quality Control

Another frequent complaint is children’s completing work quickly, but not necessarily thoroughly. After giving an assignment a cursory once over, children consider the homework completed.

One idea is to have them actively engage with the material. By making flash cards, outlining texts, or writing down formulas, students are fully involved with the material, which helps to solidify their retention of information.

Again, the ultimate selling point is that a little bit of work each day will have them better prepared when it is time for a test. As they reach the upper grades, the materials needed to study for quarterly examines or finals will already be created.

Academic Goals

To have you and your child on the same page, you can have your children set academic goals for themselves.

These should include behaviors, which they can influence, and not results, which at least at the beginning they may not be able to control. Some examples might include:

  • creating a homework schedule,

  • writing all assignments in an agenda,

  • properly filing and dating all papers,

  • reviewing all class work,

  • proofreading all assignments before turning them in,

  • or creating flash cards as work is assigned.

To keep from overwhelming your child, have them select no more than three goals. Set a period of time and review your child’s progress. By engaging in behaviors that are conducive with being a good student, your child will increase the likelihood of receiving positive outcomes.

And by concentrating on their actions, you will keep them focused on the internal motivation of learning versus doing whatever they need to achieve a certain grade.

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Seek Outside Help

If you find that you and your child are frequently engaged in battles over homework, you may want to consider outside support. Many districts and libraries offer after-school instruction. You can hire an older student or professional tutor to work with your child.

If difficulties persist, you can consider psycho-educational testing to look for previously undetected problems.

Remember that help is available for you and your child.


Yes, at the end of a long day, the last thing we may want to have our children do is more work. And we may question if it is worth the daily battles. It is important to know that it can take a while for your child to become self-motivated and use the techniques you are suggesting.

But as Thomas A. Edison said, “A genius is just a talented person who does his homework.” With your support and guidance, your children can become all that they are capable of being.


  • Approach homework with a positive attitude. Remember that there are many important lessons to be learned from completing homework.

  • Focus on your children’s strengths more than on their shortcomings.

  • Help students to break down larger or long-term projects into manageable chunks.

  • Create a homework schedule that works for your child, allowing time for physical activities, outside interests, and social interaction.

  • Limit the use of technology while doing homework. Do non-computer based homework first.

  • Remember that developing self-motivation takes time.

  • Set three academic goals – each should be a behavior your child will do, not a grade they hope to achieve.

  • Encourage your children to talk to the teacher for help. If your child is younger or the issue is not being resolved, talk to the school personnel directly.

  • Solicit outside help from school resources, older children, tutors, or school psychologists.

  • Be supportive from the sidelines – resist getting actively involved in completing assignments.




For more information about homework, check out the following books. Purchasing books from our website through supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Perfectionism: What's Bad about Being Too Good by Adderholdt and Jan Goldberg That Crumpled Paper was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and in Life by Ana Homayoun Same Homework, New Plan: How to Help Your Kids Sit Down and Get It Done by Sally Hoyle A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine

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