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Ask the Experts

My Child Won't Turn Her Work In

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant


My daughter won't turn in her homework. In the classroom, she knows the answers when the teacher asks questions. When she has to do a worksheet in class, she
refuses to turn it in. When the teacher asks her about it, she can't find it so she misses physical education and recess to do it, and she still won't turn it in. My husband and I have talked to her and punished her. She still doesn't turn in anything or try to do her homework. It takes her an hour and a half for one subject, and still she doesn't finish it. What can we do to change all of this?


In the description you have given regarding you daughter, she is capable of doing, understanding and completing the required work. When she is asked to

turn in her work in written form, she refuses to do so even at the risk of losing recess and physical education class. In response to this, you and your husband have made a concerted effort to support the teacher by talking with her and even providing consequences at home. These efforts have failed to change her attitude and performance.

There could be many reasons for her behavior toward homework and following directions at home and school. One hypothesis is that she has difficulty with authority figures, and this is her way of a winning a power struggle with adults. To check out this hypothesis, I would ask if this was occurring in all of the environments in which she interacts. If she is takes an opposing opinion with authority figures most of the time, then this is a good indication that this hypothesis is worth exploring.

If not, it may be that she is afraid of turning in something on paper that reflects her inadequacy to complete the work to her personal satisfaction. Is she a perfectionist? Does she get frustrated when things don't go exactly her way?

Finally, your daughter may be seeking attention from you and the teacher, even if it is negative. As you probe further, keep in mind these recommendations for homework: First, for every child, predictability, routine and consistency is extremely important. I counsel parents to find a designated homework place in the house that is free from distractions and stimuli. A certain time should be agreed upon when the child is to be in the homework routine. (I often give the child a structured choice: You can do it at 5:30, 6:00 or 7:00; the child can pick the time but not the fact that they have to do it.) Homework time is honored every day regardless of whether the child has homework or not. It they don't have homework, they should have a book that they can read during that designated time. This type of training early sets the stage for homework in the upper-grades. Be sure and build in some play time and relaxation time for your child. It is as important as the homework.

Dr. Joseph Gianesin is a professor at Springfield College School of Social Work. He has more than 25 years of experience as a child and family therapist, a school social worker and a school administrator. Along with his academic appointment, Dr. Gianesin is a program and behavioral consultant for public schools in Massachusetts, helping them develop and manage programs for children with significant mental health problems.

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 think you should look at her organizational skills. Having had a child who went through this, I know that this was a large part of the issue for him."
"I see something different in your description of what's happening that I wouldn't want to brush past. You say it takes your daughter an hour and a half to do one subject and it's still not finished? That suggests that none of her homework is ever truly finished for if she cannot finish one subject in an hour and a half, what happens to the other subjects?? And as important, why does her homework take so long and she's still unable to get it done? It could be that your daughter doesn't want to turn in unfinished work - what's the quality of her homework that took her so long? Is what she's completed neat and orderly and correct? I'd also wonder about what's happening in school - it makes no sense to me that in her school classroom she can refuse to turn in a paper. When Teacher sees your daughter working at her desk, Teacher can go over and take the finished worksheet from her. There are too many missing pieces to this problem to be able to suggest good solutions to it but my best guess would be that your daughter might have an underlying learning difference that makes schoolwork and homework harder for her. It could also be a fine motor issue. However, a most important question would be- when you ask your daughter why she refused to turn in her work, what does she say? "
"It is also possible that the child has difficulties with Executive Function skills. Executive dysfunction is most common in kids with ADHD or Autism, but can exist on its own as well. He is a bit of information on the subject."
"I read your story and it's fit my dauther description when i got to the part about her turning in her work incompleted. I learned that she is a perfectionist. we even had a talk and she told me when try to reach out for help her teacher put her down.she tell her that she not going to past and more over she is afraid to ask for help. my daughter has low self esteem about her wheight no matter how much we tell her that she is beautiful. i am running out of things to say so thats why i am reaching out to you"
"My son won't do his homework in class. He says he just wants to do it at home and when he does math he doesn't want to show his work. My husband helps him with his supervises him each night to make sure he is doing his homework but he never turns it in. He is way smart and is at least on a seventh grade reading level only in the fourth grade. I'm beside myself trying to figure out what to do to get him to care he is so smart and I thinkg it is such a waste of good talent."
"Also not turning in homework is a sign of attention deficit, especially in girls. You may want to explore this also. "
"thanks i will try the desinated are and the time. my daughter is very smart. she doesnt turn in her homework. she doesnt do her classwork, instead of doing what the teacher just gave them. she will go sharpen her pencil or wander off and do other things besides the assignment the teacher just gave. perccrastinates. i guess. "
"My son is the exact same way. But what do you do??? I have had him tested and he does not have a learning disability. We have tried everything. But it takes 3 or 4 hours to complete homework. I have 2 other children and I cannot sit with him constantly. If he goes to his room, where its quiet, he just sits there. He works so slowly, we can't afford too much play time or its 10:00 and we are still completing math, spelling or whatever it might be. How do you get them to focus, make it important to them? Do I just let him take the incompletes? He is an B+ student so he understands the material. Help!"
"My child does his homework for me fine. It's the work at school. The teacher just sent home about 20 papers that he either didn't do at all or didn't finish. Some were completed together in class - he just didn't do. Any suggestions?"
"I asked my 4th grade daughter for her thoughts and she said 'I think she's afraid it's not perfect. It doesn't have to be perfect. She should turn it in anyway and not be so worried about it being perfect.'"
"I have seen this in children that are over punished. In one case the child was constantly grounded and figured out that it made no deference what she did she was grounded. The child Begin to lie, not do her work, not turn in things, ETC. Some parents think punishment is always the answer. It can cause the child to rebel."
"I wonder if the child may possibly have reading or writing issues...does she know how to read and write? Can she read instructions on the worksheet? Is she afraid her secret will be discovered? How is her comprehension level? I would have her evaluated by a school professional as well to see if she has a learning disability, eyesight issues and hearing as well. If all is found well, I agree, this might be a stubborn child but it sounds more severe than that to me upon reading the description"