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My 12-Year-Old Still Needs My Help With Homework

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

I need information on how to get a 12-year- old to do her own homework! I am probably in the wrong school, too fast paced. But, I can't break the umbilical cord where she could work by herself, no matter how much I tell her she can do it. She has some language issues which I hope to address in my neighborhood, even though my daughter will probably kick and scream to do it. It's getting out of hand. I just don't know how to handle it. Please, if you can, make any suggestions where I can go with this problem.

Answer:

Let me begin by acknowledging that we as parents are not perfect and I for one had to learn to let go of the desire for my now 15-year-old to complete his homework and study on his own. But what I was doing by working with him everyday to get his work done was not teaching him the skills he needed to take responsibility and become disciplined enough to do it on his own. I had to let go and encourage and support his growth at his pace, not mine. For me that meant letting him fail so he could learn to succeed.

Am I saying you need to let your 12-year-old daughter fail? No. But what I am saying is to step back and look at your involvement in the situation and examine it a bit. Start with her strengths, what is she successful at completing and under what conditions is she successful? You might even ask her to help you answer that question. Her insight could help both of you create an atmosphere where she can be successful on her own. You can progressively back away from involvement to the point of just verbally checking in with her about her homework. This may mean moving from being in the room with her while she is working on homework to answer questions to being in another part of the house and being available if she needs you. Then once she experiences success she will gain the skills she needs to work on her own. This first part of my response assumes that this is the only area in which your daughter struggles with taking initiative.

If indeed this is only one area in which your daughter needs to become more independent, then you need to take into consideration her developmental stage in life. During the pre-teen/teen years our children are trying to figure out how to balance the desire to be independent and yet still need their parents. Teens still need assistance with structuring their life, support in making good choices and, most of all, open communication.

The structure that you provide your 12-year-old should continually foster and reward independence and responsibility. If indeed there are more areas in which she needs to begin to develop more independence, then work on the areas you are most comfortable with and make it an overall change rather than in just one area.

All of this said, there could always be other reasons why your daughter is not completing her homework. Make sure to rule out any environmental (school, peers, etc.) factor, medical cause or learning disability that could contribute to the problem and consult professionals in those areas. You mentioned a "language" issue that I would rule out as a contributing factor to the problem as a first step in the process.

Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.