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Three reasons your kid isn’t doing homework (and what to do about it).

Does getting homework completed ever feel like an epic battle?

Or maybe it just takes a very long time for your child to get started.

Here's some tips to turn it around so that your after-school time can be a bit more stress-free.

1) They’re “lazy”

I prefer to call it undisciplined. You might have to remind a child 10 times a night to do their homework.

They may lie and say it’s already done.

They may pretend to do work but are really just playing on their phone the whole time.

I fall into this category. Guilty! For years, every report card had the same refrain: “James would be getting an A if only he were more consistent with his homework.”

I can’t imagine how crazy that made my parents to read again and again!


Eventually, what worked for me was a sterile workspace.

My parents set up a desk in a corner of the house far away from any radio, TV, or computer.

Every night after diner, I went up to my desk, took out my list of assignments, and began to knock them out, one by one. I couldn’t leave my seat until all the assignments were completed. I had everything I needed in case I got stuck: textbooks, notes, dictionary, thesaurus.

There were days I sat at the desk, almost in tears, just staring at the work I had in front of me.

An important lesson in discipline is that you have to start somewhere.

Even if you get it wrong, you learn from trying. That’s why teachers assign homework. They don’t expect every student to get every problem right. They expect students to do their best, and bring questions about the homework to school the next day. The sterile workspace is a great solution for lazy kids because it’s all about getting the homework finished. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be completed.

2) They’re forgetful.

There’s more than one type of forgetfulness. There’s the honest forgetfulness:

“I know I have homework tonight, but I forgot to bring my textbook home, so I can’t do it.”

There’s the negligent forgetfulness: “Oh I forgot to write down my homework assignment, so that must mean I have no homework tonight!”

Finally, there’s the willful forgetfulness. You can remind them 3 times a day to get their homework done, but within 15 minutes of these reminders, they have already “forgotten”. (Can you tell I’m dealing with one of these students at school right now?)


Regardless of the reasons for their forgetfulness, systems can solve all manner of memory problems when it comes to homework.

Most important is to give your child a system to write down their

homework assignments.

I have students write down their homework in a daily planner or assignment book and have them approach their teachers to get it signed (confirming the assignment).

It should be the student’s responsibility to approach the teacher and get the planner signed. A teacher doesn’t have time to chase down students to make sure they have the right assignemnts.

This is very important: if there is no homework, the student must write the words: No homework.

The signature is important because it keeps the student honest. What do they do with these signatures? For starters, they get to earn priveleges for getting their responsibilities done. For example, if they are not allowed to play videogames on weekdays, set a goal for a certain percentages of teacher signatures and let them play videogames once they finish all their assignments until a set time. For example, if bedtime is 8 oclock, they can play from 7:00-8:00. But only if they got 80% or so of the signatrues. This facilitates daily communication between teachers who assign the homework and parents who make sure the child completes the homework.

3) They just don’t care.

Motivation! We all know what this looks like.

WITHOUT motivation, your child may become listless, uncharacteristically distractable. Openly defiant, exclaiming, "when am I ever going to use this in life?!?!" This one is a tough fix, but there are some things you can do.

Intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation means getting a sticker, gold star, or cookie for getting something done.

Intrinsic motivation is more concerned with that feeling of gratification and self-accomplishment we feel when we get our work done. It’s far more valuable for an individual to be self-motivated to complete a task. Especially with older kids. If your kid needed a marshmallow every time she took out the trash or put away the dishes, imagine what would happen if you ever ran out of marshmallows. Little kids struggle to see the long term consequences of their actions, and sometimes need extrinsic rewards to encourage them to do what we know is best for them. But as adults, we don’t need special recognition for all the menial tasks associated with adulthood. We do humdrum tasks because we can see the inherent value in doing them.

Students need to connect to the passion of the subject.

This inherent value of homework can get lost on students. It feels like busy work. However, it is a vital part of the learning process. Good instruction follows this simple formula: I do, we do, you do. The teacher models the skill, helps guide the students in doing the skill, then releases them to practice the skill independently. Given that there are only so many hours in a school day, homework tends to take the vital role of independent practice.

I’ve noticed that the students who never do their homework “because it was too hard” never come in for extra help. When it comes to test time, they seem genuinely confused when I tell them: “I can’t help you. This isa test.”

They are cheating themselves of a vital piece of the learning process. Of course skills seem easier when a teacher is there to ask guiding questions. But the fact of the matter is that homework plays a vital role in the learning process and students cheat themselves out of learning when they just don’t do their homework.

They need to see a connection between their long term goals and homework

Help them see how homework can help them with their long-term goals. Homework is often graded (though not always).

If homework is graded, it is often weighted about 10% of their final grade. That means a poor homework grade could bring a students grade down as much as a full letter grade.

Help them see the long term consequences of refusing to do homework. Lower grades means less opportunities. It’s hard to qualify for honors classes with a poor homework record. If they want to get in to college, they have to compete with some very motivated people who do ALL of their homework. I know every child is unique and beautiful and special, but no one is so unique and beautiful and special enough to simply not have to do homework. If an IEP accommodation is necessary, shortened assignments will help to increase homework completion.

However, I would caution against trying to have teachers excuse a child from homework outright.

They need to know that homework is a part of life.

Homework is preparing students for the real world. I share with students the insane amount of mind-numbing paperwork I need to complete as a part of my annual evaluations. I do it not because I enjoy doing it, or even because it makes me better at my job. I do it because it is required of me. I do it because if I don’t do this paperwork, I will get pulled out of my classroom, given a stern talking to, and be assigned a “work day” locked in an office, away from students, buried in backlogged paperwork.

When all else fails, extrinsic rewards are fine.

As I mentioned earlier, younger children have a hard time understanding the abstract benefits and long-term consequences of doing homework. If that is the case, it is fair to compensate a child for doing their jobs.

How many of you would do your job if you weren’t paid? I love teaching, but if the district decided to stop paying teachers, I would not be showing up to work.

Think of going to school as a student’s job. It’s long hours doing difficult work with grumpy bosses and all sorts of crazy coworkers. Now think of all the non-essential privileges that you provide for your child as payment for their hard work at school. Video games, television, smart phones, iPads, wifi, are all privileges that students should earn. If they are not doing their jobs (10% of which is homework), they should not get paid.

Disclaimer: I am by no means advocating for punishing students for bad grades by wrestling away their digital technology. I am advocating for a reward system that gives them the opportunity to earn access to the wonderful digital accessories that you provided for them.

“What’s the difference?” You may ask.

The difference is that you control the reward.

You give it out, and they give it back when their reward is done. And if all else fails, try offering them a cookie for getting their homework done.

I want to know...

What have YOU found helps your child complete their homework? Share your success stories below in the comments.

As always, if you have any questions, email me at

Happy Learning!

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