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How Can I Help My Second-Grader Work Independently?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My son does well academically, with the exception of being a bit behind in reading, but he seems to have issues with working independently. He can do the work, but constantly needs prodding to get it done. He also gets very frustrated when he doesn't think he can complete the task (self esteem issues as well) and shows his frustration outwardly. He's not a behavior problem, but the teacher feels that he is impulsive in his actions, especially when frustrated. What can I do to help him learn to do things more on his own?


Children are just beginning to work independently in second grade and there is a range of ability that varies among students. Most teachers provide a combination of group and independent learning opportunities. This helps students increase their ability to work alone, their group participation and the ability to transition between the two.

It could be that he is still learning and growing into this new role of independent learner. Find out what the teacher's expectations are. Does she want students to remain in their seat and work alone for ten minutes or 40 minutes? Some second-graders need breaks to sustain longer periods of time. What is causing his distraction? Is it his seat placement or is it a lack of understanding of the material? What does she mean by "impulsive behaviors when frustrated?" What steps does she use to help children with transitioning between activities and for learning self regulation? Understanding her specific expectations and how your child's behaviors are not meeting those, can help all three of you design a plan for both classroom and home.

Some ideas to try at home to improve self regulation and independence are:

  • Create a consistent time and place for homework.
  • Teach him how to organize his after-school and home work schedule by breaking things into small tasks to be completed one at a time.
  • When he understands and has created his routine, ask him to complete a task independently for 5 minutes at a time before he asks for help. Increase the time by 5 minute intervals until the desired time.
  • Relaxation techniques such as slow breathing and tensing and relaxing muscles can help to lessen anxiety.
  • Home chores help improve self responsibility.

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

"I have a wonderful grandson. He is a second grader. He is smart and does well in school but has trouble when it comes to focus. He told me he thought he was doing good but his teacher tells my daughter. He has trouble with focusing and concentration in class. At home he does his homework with my daughter's help and seems to do well. He doesn't read directions and key words that help him with his homework. He seems to guess by the picture or whatever else seems to be on the page. I would like to help him, I feel his frustration and my daughters as well. How can I help?"