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Help! My Child Makes Careless Mistakes

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My second-grade son tends to zip through his work at school, thus making careless mistakes. He is a bright kid who knows the material; however, he is typically the first one finished and does not take time to proof his work. His math grade on his report card was a "C" because of test grades that reflected careless work. I was a bit opposed to his entire grade being based on the tests he took. They were tests that had only six or seven questions and were based on 100 points. So, in the end his scores were not very good. When we review the material with him at home, he definitely knows it. How do we help him slow down and be more careful, and proof his work after he is done?


"Proofing" is one issue I hear about over and over. Second-graders are very concrete. When they are done they are done, and the quicker the better. It doesn't occur to them that time and attention to detail is a valuable skill. Adults need to remember that it is a learned skill and not usually a priority for children.

You might want to see if your son's teacher incorporates study and testing skills into his or her lessons. If so, what are they so you can reinforce them at home? For example, does your child's teacher go over worksheets before collecting them? This practice teaches proofing skills and one that is easily adaptable to homework. Let your son finish his homework on his own and then have him "teach you" his assignment by explaining it to you. If he notices a mistake, reinforce how great it was that he noticed and corrected it. If he doesn't see his mistake, ask him more questions that may help him discover it.

Another important issue here is anxiety. Some children rush because they are afraid of failing and doing poorly. It is like swallowing foul-tasting medicine. If you swallow fast or hold your nose, you won't taste it. Doing work quickly helps alleviate the anxious feeling of failure.

Learning should be fun, not scary. The National Association of School Psychologists has a free homework guide for parents that you can try.

Lastly, you are not likely to influence how a teacher grades, but you can support your child in developing good study habits and test taking skills, which will benefit him throughout his school career.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

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 readers

"Very helpful info! My 2nd grader is a very bright student. Her teacher has told me she is at the top of the class. But, she is having a lot of trouble staying organized and completing tasks in a timely mannor (both at home and at school). Her teacher called me last night to tell me she failed to complete an assignment and therefore is getting a C on her progress report. Come to find out she had completed the work but it never made it to school. I think that the Homework Planner and Incentive Planner sheets will help us help her be the A student that she's capable of being. Thanks Sooo much! "
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