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How Can I Get My Child to Finish Her Work?

By Dr. Virginia Shiller, Family Psychologist

Question:

My daughter has been getting worse and worse at school. I am a stay-at-home mom and her dad is around quite a bit, too. She has been forgetting her homework.

After school the teacher asks her if she has her work and her books with her, and she says yes, even though she doesn't. She is very sneaky. She ends up not completing her homework. Now she is not finishing some work during class time. I am not sure what to do. I have taken play dates away from her and grounded her, and the situation has not improved.

Answer:

When a little bit of punishment fails to produce positive results, increasing the punishment is likely only to make things worse.

It appears that your daughter may for some reason be motivated not to complete homework. Unless she is highly disorganized, her teacher's reminders should have helped her remember to bring books home.

If she is avoiding homework, the critical question is why. Might there be a learning disability that has not been diagnosed? Children who have specific learning difficulties often would prefer to look lazy or obstinate than to show themselves to be "stupid." Alternatively, might her failure to do homework be evidence that she is responding to stress or distressing events? Might she be being bullied or excluded at school? Could she feel pressure to succeed at a level that is beyond her ability?

Sit down with your daughter and try talking about the problem. A good way to start is by stating that you know that she hates being punished, and that you want to find another way to help her. Ask her simple questions - e.g. what does she like best about school, what is the worst part? What kinds of things do the nice kids do, and what kinds of things do the mean kids do? Is it tough when her older brother always brings home "A" report cards?

Hopefully, your daughter will be able to give you some sense about what might be bothering her. If you're still in the dark after this conversation, try speaking with her teacher, the school guidance counselor or a private therapist to work on figuring out what's getting in the way of your daughter being motivated to be successful at school.


Dr. Virginia Shiller is a Connecticut-based child and family psychologist, lecturer at The Yale Child Study Center and author of Rewards for Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting.

 

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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/12/2010:
"my duaghter is in 4th quarter right now i am wondering if she will fail 5th grade because she has been getting c s on her report card. i know she doesnt want to fail.if any of you can tell me if she is going to fail please comment on this thankyou."
05/12/2009:
"Maybe she doesnt do it becuz she has something really hard to live up to like her brother getting 'A' report cards."
04/2/2008:
"I'm having the same problems with my 3rd grade daughter. We are going through some things at home stemming from my ex-husband who is out of her life. I am now re-married and my new husband is very supportive and wants to adopt my 8 year-old. I have spoken to her teacher regarding her not finishing her school work and if we can work together to help my daughter succeed in school. She has no suggestions whatsoever, instead she keeps her in from her recesses making my daughter feel stressed and not wanting to go to school to face her 'mean teacher' Help, what else can I do?? There's no communication or effort to work as a team to help my daughter. Any suggestions would greatly help"
10/13/2006:
"Base on my experience with my son (fifth grader)I'm having difficulty understanding his behavior and always ending up frustrated. Religiously I followed what was going on by talking first to one of his best friends, teachers and guidance councillor,and hopefuly figured out the steps to resolve the problem."
09/19/2006:
"For my daughter, it wasn't a learning disability that caused her to not want to do her homework, it was not being challenged enough! Plus, maturity helped. After struggling through preschool (yes preschool!) to second grade, by third grade, she was finished by the time she got home from school."
09/15/2006:
"funny thing, i have the same problem with my daughter, says she has her homework when she really doesnt, then she gets home without it and then cant do it, therefore, she cant do it and has to spend time in the mornings before school to hopefully catch up.she doesnt do without an we go out of our way to provide her and her siblings with whatever they need for school and it just boggles my mind what else can i do other than go to school for her, if she does her homework then she forgets it at home therefore she still gets a zero for not having it...she is very disorganized unless its something she is interested in doing then she completes it in 10 min.... hahaha"
09/12/2006:
"I agree that positive reinforcement works better. I have tried the alternative punishments and time outs, but none of that seem to work as well. When my child completes a task or does something 'good' for the day, I try to focus more on those things. I reward her with stickers that we put on the fridge. After she has accumulated 10 stickers(for all of her good deeds),I let her pick a prize from a goodie bag that I created of small little what-nots. It's a small reward, but it works to help her focus on what she does right, to continue it, and want to do it again! "
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