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Why Can't My Child Do Her Homework on Her Own?

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My daughter is in the second grade and I cannot get her to start her homework on her own. I always have to tell her that she has homework that needs to be completed. She is very bright and has no problem understanding the homework. How can I get her to show some responsibility and make sure her homework gets done by herself?

Answer:

By second grade, children are in their third year of school and probably their third year of having some sort of homework to do at night. Thus, it's understandable that you would hope for your daughter to initiate and complete her assignments without prompting from you.

Unfortunately, although it's understandable, it's probably not realistic. Even though she's bright and capable, she's still pretty young and will need you to help her get organized for several more years. She certainly seems to be telling you that with her behavior! Here are some tips for making the homework process less stressful for you both:

  • Be positive. If homework has become a battleground, change the dynamic. The attitude you demonstrate about homework will be the attitude your child acquires.
  • Choose a set time. Children thrive on routine, so homework should be done at the same time every day. If possible, allow her a little "down time" after school to play or have a snack before getting started, but then get things rolling.
  • Make sure she has a quiet, well-lit place to work. Whether it's in her room, or at the kitchen table, be sure to turn off music or the TV and minimize other distractions as much as possible.
  • Ensure that she has the materials she needs. Having paper, pencils, crayons, etc. on hand will ensure that work gets done and she doesn't have the opportunity to stall by scrambling for supplies.
  • When she asks for help, provide limited guidance, but not answers. Too much help teaches your child that when the going gets rough, someone will do the work for her. Be mindful of unnecessary requests that keep you involved too often or too long.
  • Watch for signs of frustration. Let your child take a short break if she is having trouble.
  • Reward progress. If your child has been successful in homework completion, celebrate her success (e.g., praise, stickers, taking a walk or playing a game together) to reinforce the positive effort.

Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

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

05/13/2009:
"My daughter doesn't have this problem, but I tell her to do her homework as soon as we get home. I also this week have told her to do her homework and clean her room and we will go to the park, since this is a nice week weatherwise. Are there any suggestions on homework with homescholers. I plan to homeschool next year."
06/12/2008:
"I know that some children are narurally intelligent but how can you boost their brain size?"
04/12/2007:
"This is all very good advice. My second grader has issues starting and completing work in class. The teacher states that she is a very smart child. Her only bad grade is in compleating class work. We have asked the teacher to seperate her from others in the class to improve this, but she has yet to do so or make any changes at all."
04/12/2007:
"It Is good to know that my 2nd grade son is not the only child that will not start his homework on his own. He is bright also and I expect him to be a little more motivated. Thanks so much for the information regarding this topic."
04/12/2007:
"Great to hear as I can relate with my 2nd grader. I too thought he should be able to get motivated (at least a little) on his own. Thanks for the great information!"
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