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How to Get Your Reluctant Child to Do Homework (without Yelling, Threats or a Double Martini)

By Guest Contributor

Guide to Everything ArchivesBy Christina of Fairly Odd Mother

1. Make Homework a Priority.
Set a time of the day aside for homework and don’t stray (often). If homework is something your kids have to squeeze in between karate, piano lessons and soccer practice, they’re not going to think of it as important. And, unless you really enjoy overdramatic tears and hearing every excuse in the book, avoid doing homework right before bedtime at all costs.

2. Eat Your Vegetables Before Dessert.
You need to use leverage to get some kids to do anything. Do they love television? Computer games? Guitar Hero? Unplug it all until homework is done. You can even exchange homework time for something they love: 15 minutes of effective homework time = 15 minutes with their beloved plugged-in whatnot.

3. Time It.
Time slams to a crawl for many kids when faced with a stack of papers and a #2 pencil. Set a timer for 15 minutes and, when it dings, tell your child to take a quick break to stretch, get a drink of water or collapse on the floor and moan “I hate doing homework” over and over again. Really active kids may need to run around the house before they get back to the books.

4. Sit Yourself On Down.
Doing homework can suck on its own. It’s even worse when your child is hunched over the books alone thinking that the rest of the family is having a party in the other room. Sit with your child, review the work, encourage and help (but don’t you dare do the homework yourself!). If you must get things done, at least park your child in the same room so you can answer questions as you make dinner, pay bills or Twitter.

5. Throw Them Out of the Nest to Fly, Baby, Fly.
There comes a time when kids have to accept that homework is their responsibility. So, if you’re really tearing your hair out and aging prematurely due to the nightly fighting, it may be time to let your little bird fly on its own. Let your child go to school with an unfinished assignment and accept the consequences. Collaborating with the teacher ahead of time may insure an appropriate response to “the dog ate my homework”.

Published September 29, 2008. Last updated February 27, 2012.
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  • Shannon

    September 29, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Pretty good advice from a homeschooling Mama!

  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    September 29, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    No, no, no – steps 1-4 makes homework your responsibility instead of theirs. Read Ending the Homework Hassle by John Rosemond and be set free! For instance, he advises against setting a time for homework. Instead, set only a finish-by time (say, half an hour before bedtime). Let them decide when to start. But never let them go beyond the finish time, even if it means they go to school with something not completed.
    I was able to adapt all his advice to make homeschooling a lot more pleasant.

  • mrs. q.

    September 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Good stuff! I like #4. I can’t imagine any kid that will sit still if you don’t. I plan to save bill paying, letters, etc. so we can sit at the table and do our homework together.

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    September 29, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Hi Suburban Correspondent, I appreciate your comment, but, doesn’t that assume that most kids will understand the importance of homework from the start? I stand by my thought that parents need to set up a “homework-friendly environment” for their kids. If a child is told to “do your homework before bedtime” but is then enrolled in sports, classes, etc until 7pm, it’s very hard for them to see homework as anything but an afterthought.
    I’m not saying the homework should be a parents’ responsibility, but, like making sure my child eats well, gets enough sleep and brushes his teeth at bedtime, I think I need to oversee things and make sure they get done, especially when dealing with younger kids.
    Once kids are a little older, I can see moving straight to #5, but from the get go? I respectfully disagree.

  • Issa

    September 29, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I love some of these tips, especially the timer one. Luckily mine go to a choice school, so homework isn’t an every night fill in 20 worksheets thing, but when Maya does have it (and the read thirty minutes a night thing), it is a hassle. Since she has ADHD, I think this might be really helpful. Thanks.
    Also wanted to say to Suburban Correspondent: As a parent, kids homework is our responsibility, at least in Elementary school. We are the ones who have to teach them what is important and what is expected of them. Just like I wouldn’t give my kids free rein of sugar, TV or the wii, I won’t just leave it up to them to do their homework.

  • Lee Dawson

    May 7, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    OK – I’ll bite regarding the point that a elementary school child’s homework is the parent’s responsibility, but what if absolutely nothing works at all, including any of the above ideas and hundreds more like it? Then what?
    My child simply refuses to do her homework no matter what I do. She will be reduced to tears, and she will do anything else in the world before she will do her homework, under any circumstance.
    I can literally think of nothing else she would rather not do than homework. It is that bad.

  • crystal

    September 14, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Lee my daughter is the same way, no its not bad I am relieved someone else has the same problem.

  • bm

    September 18, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    I have a five year old who refused to do work at school today (this is his first week of any schooling), and the teacher gave me his papers to do at home. He started the work so i know hes capable. so after much frustration and arguing, i had removed his tv and toys from his room. Long story short, its hours later and no work is completed. I need some good advice and quick before i screw him up with ideas of homework = bad times and an angry dad.

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    January 4, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I apologize for not checking this thread earlier than now. . .I hope things have gotten better for Lee, Crystal and BM.
    Here’s the thing: I homeschool my kids, so of all the suggestions I posted, the only one I cannot do is #5, the one where you let the teacher deal with their refusal to do homework. So, I know REALLY well what it’s like when your kids back you into a corner and refuse to do something you really want, or need, them to do.
    I think you need to try to figure out what is going on—we have friends whose daughter “freezes” under pressure due to OCD. Is your child a super perfectionist who is under the impression that all mistakes are “wrong” or “bad”? Are they bored by the work b/c it’s too easy?
    As I’ve heard others say, you need to figure out their “currency”—-maybe it’s a sticker chart with some sort of reward at the end of the week. For my kids, it helps for them to see a pie chart that represents their time at home. Homework should take X% and play time can be the rest, but if they waste it all whining and stalling, there is no play time at all.
    Or maybe if they are burnt out at the end of the day, put them to bed earlier and wake them up in the morning before school to do their work. Sounds harsh, but I’m totally burnt by afternoon, and I imagine some kids may be too.
    I also think that Suburban Correspondent’s book suggestion is worth checking out if you’ve tried everything else. As I said above, I do think it is our responsibility to insure our kids do the things they need to keep them healthy, safe and educated, but some kids do need less hand holding, not more pressure, and perhaps there will be useful suggestions in this book for you.

  • Amy

    January 7, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    My son has the same problem, he will use every excuse saying he is tired or its to hard for him. He is 9 and its getting to the point that I dont know what else to do anymore.. I need help!