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My Child Won't Complete His Work

Allison Gardenswartz
Allison Gardenswartz

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


Help! My child refuses to complete any class work. The teacher gives him plenty of time to complete his work in class. At the end of the day, she fills out what he is missing and sends it home with him with a note telling us he did not accomplish anything today.

She tells us that when she asks him to complete a task (any task) he moves with very deliberate slowness, and it sometimes takes him up to five minutes just to move across the classroom from one spot to another.

The other day, she kept him in at lunch to have him write one definition for one vocabulary word. He was unable to complete it in the 40 minutes she allotted him.

He is capable and able to complete this work, and he does not have a learning disability.

He can do it at home for us, but it takes him forever if we are not standing over him every second. When we stand with him, he is done in 15 minutes without our assistance, only our watchful eyes. We think it is laziness.

His teacher says if something isn't done about it immediately he will have to repeat the third grade. He is failing in four out of six subjects. Help! We need to motivate him before it's too late.


I have several suggestions for you. Initially, I think you should talk with your son and ask him if he can explain why he struggles to complete the tasks.

Does he lose focus? Sometimes setting up a reminder cue can be helpful - tie a colored string around his wrist and when he sees it tell him he should ask himself if he is on task.

A behavior-modification system set up with small, specific positive rewards for daily tasks completed could be very helpful. You can then add on larger rewards weekly for consistent completion of work. For example, if class work is completed at school on Monday, then your son gets a reward after school - a treat or extra playtime or whatever you decide on. Then, if it continues throughout the week, the rewards are greater - three days of consistent completion of class work gets a bigger prize, and the whole week an even bigger one. You can sit with your son and discuss the rewards so that he is a part of choosing them.

Additionally, a timer is a great tool to use with children who procrastinate. Allot a specific amount of time for a given assignment - perhaps 20 minutes for a math sheet that you think should take 10 minutes. Set the timer and have him start working. Let him know at 10 minutes that he should be half-way done with the task and then stop him at the ring of the timer. Make it into a game in which he is trying to beat the timer, and ultimately beat his own times and improve. Again, offer rewards: stickers, pencils, extra playtime, computer time. Rewards have to be dependent upon the likes of the child.

Finally, if you find that despite a reward system, a reminder system and tools to help your son stay on task, he is still struggling to stay focused and complete his work, then you should pursue the issue with a medical professional, such as a psychologist, to determine if there is something more going on.

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

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

"My son is in Kindergarten and is in a soaring program which is for kids who are not on task a little behind after the Xmas break he has regressed and the teacher says he refuses to do bus work and just gets a blank stair from him I have done every punishment I could think of but nothing has worked he keeps coming home with red notes and now tally marks in lined for swats from the principal he says I don't know why mommy but when we do homwork together he does get it done I don't understand what is going on with my 5 year old but I refuse the principal giving him a swat for incomplet work he is not bullying anyone he is well mannered yes mam no mam ext I don't think he has a learning disablitly buy I could be wrong too...Help! "
"My son who is in 1st grade refuses to do written work in class, especially repetitive written work and finds it difficult to copy from the board ( something the teacher has noticed in class) The teacher has told me that he is very capable in all areas especially maths, but can't understand why it takes him so long to complete work. When she tells him to stay in during recess he will sit and complete the work in no time. She also says that she has spent a lot of class time on him and the other kids have noticed this. ( class time wasted on him...???) Unfortunately I think the fact that the teacher has made such a big deal about it in class, the rest of the kids feel that he is 'different'. She says that he often sits on his own at recess. He is very capable and I believe he doesn't have a learning disorder but I don't know why he refuses to do work in class. He often tells me that he is bored.' I know this mum' what he says. It doesn't take him too long to do his homewo! rk when started. Sheet work is often completed very quickly. He often writes from bottom up , especially his numbers and some letters. When I ask him to write from top to bottom he says that its easier for him to write from bottom up. I have tried to be firm with him as far as school work, have used reward system. Teacher tells me the same thing every parent teacher interview. She has also asked me if there is a problem at home, no problem. When I ask my son to tell me why he prefers home he says that he enjoys home, its more fun. I really don't know what else to do. Is this just a phase? I have read on just about everything from dyslexia to Attention Deficiency disorder cases, thinking that he may have some problem.. was very close to getting him tested. Should I give him more time to adjust, or will this be a long term problem for him? Please help.... "
"my son is in 1st standard. scores more than 95% in all exams... but for the past two months is not doing his class work properly sometimes he does and sometimes he does not. he is very intelligent, sharp learner. Earlier in his previous school he used to do his class work and always scored A+, participated in sports,annual function. But now in this new school everything is changed. he doesn't want to participate, even sports teacher complains about him, does not follow orders. My son is being bullied by classmate, even class teacher is not motivating. i am really worried.Don't know what to do "
"My sister takes a long time to do her homework. I have tried giving her a time to complete her homework, I tell her that she will receive a treat, I tell her that I will give her money to buy nachos at school, list goes on. She goes to sleep late or has to wake up early in the morning to finish her homework. Another thing is following with her reading log. If I don't sit down and read with her she doesnt read at all. She gets a reading log every week and she never returns it. I approach her about it and she doesn't reply. Her teacher offeres his students pizza for lunch once a month for completing 4 reading logs and she still doesn't complete them. Can you please help me and give me suggestions?"
"Hello, my name is Allison Bly and my son is a second grader. He is having trouble focusing on his classwork. He is also having trouble staying in his seat. I was wondering if maybe the teacher took away his chair he may learn to respect the fact that sitting is a privilage. I'm not sure what to do? Just like the mother of the third-grader my son takes forever and a day to complete small tasks. He to often misses recess to complete morning work and that's not helping either. And he will most likely redo the second grade because we had very poor report cards and interim reports."