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My 12-Year-Old Still Needs My Help With Homework

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

I need information on how to get a 12-year- old to do her own homework! I am probably in the wrong school, too fast paced. But, I can't break the umbilical cord where she could work by herself, no matter how much I tell her she can do it. She has some language issues which I hope to address in my neighborhood, even though my daughter will probably kick and scream to do it. It's getting out of hand. I just don't know how to handle it. Please, if you can, make any suggestions where I can go with this problem.

Answer:

Let me begin by acknowledging that we as parents are not perfect and I for one had to learn to let go of the desire for my now 15-year-old to complete his homework and study on his own. But what I was doing by working with him everyday to get his work done was not teaching him the skills he needed to take responsibility and become disciplined enough to do it on his own. I had to let go and encourage and support his growth at his pace, not mine. For me that meant letting him fail so he could learn to succeed.

Am I saying you need to let your 12-year-old daughter fail? No. But what I am saying is to step back and look at your involvement in the situation and examine it a bit. Start with her strengths, what is she successful at completing and under what conditions is she successful? You might even ask her to help you answer that question. Her insight could help both of you create an atmosphere where she can be successful on her own. You can progressively back away from involvement to the point of just verbally checking in with her about her homework. This may mean moving from being in the room with her while she is working on homework to answer questions to being in another part of the house and being available if she needs you. Then once she experiences success she will gain the skills she needs to work on her own. This first part of my response assumes that this is the only area in which your daughter struggles with taking initiative.

If indeed this is only one area in which your daughter needs to become more independent, then you need to take into consideration her developmental stage in life. During the pre-teen/teen years our children are trying to figure out how to balance the desire to be independent and yet still need their parents. Teens still need assistance with structuring their life, support in making good choices and, most of all, open communication.

The structure that you provide your 12-year-old should continually foster and reward independence and responsibility. If indeed there are more areas in which she needs to begin to develop more independence, then work on the areas you are most comfortable with and make it an overall change rather than in just one area.

All of this said, there could always be other reasons why your daughter is not completing her homework. Make sure to rule out any environmental (school, peers, etc.) factor, medical cause or learning disability that could contribute to the problem and consult professionals in those areas. You mentioned a "language" issue that I would rule out as a contributing factor to the problem as a first step in the process.


Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

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

11/1/2011:
"i am a 12 year old and i do still need help with my homework. The homework i ussally need help with is my math. i get piled up with homework so bad im up til midnight sometimes doin it. do you have anything to say? "
07/5/2011:
"How do you know that a child with language issues can really do the homework on her own? When a teacher assigns homework, the assignment is not made with individual children in mind. If this is a fast-paced school and you feel it's not a school that matches your daughter's learning style, then she will be given assignments that don't fall within her ability to complete on her own. In that case, you either need to approach her teachers and ask for individualized work or - help her with her work - or - stand by and watch her fail. I advise parents to help their children if they seem them struggling - whether the classroom teacher allows it or not. "
08/26/2010:
"I was happy to read this response. I was very concerned because my now 8th grader was NOT allowing me to assist her! (I'm providing assistance/support to other youths in my church.) I do ask about homework and assignments, I make sure what is required IS done, I provide guidance/help when I am asked -- but I was getting a little concerned because here I am helping other children, but NOT helping my own child. She does well, is currently maintaining an 'A' average, BUT she will ask for my help -- when and if she needs it!!! "
11/26/2007:
"I feel it is a catch 22. These days the students are required to do so much more than say 10 - 20 years ago. Why are we not questioning as a society why so many children need tutors, and hours of parental guidance after school hours? Why are we not standing up and voicing our demands that we should not be taking precious academic time with assembly after assembly, field trips, and all those money raisers. Teach the basics in elementary school so the students have a strong foundation ready for the middle school teachers and then high school. We are training our kids to be this dependent from elementary school because there is too much thrown at them at an early age. So the parents have to step in and help but are in turn developing neediness between child and parent. Until parents go to their school boards and demand that early eduation go back to the basic we will continue to see our children struggle and fall further and further behind in world education and development. Do yourselves a favor. Go into your schools write down actual teaching time the children get per day and you will be shocked and appalled. So, moms and dads. Continue to help your children. They are facing enough these days without asking for your help and you not being there for them."
11/26/2007:
"Q: Me too, my 12 yearold grand daughter need my help for Math homework, but you know, I'm 72 year old and almost forgot every things, any time i'm try to help her,it will make it wrong and she loose the point.Note that: when she was at 5th & 6th grade she was good, allway was straight A, but when she start 7gr. it's go down to F! I need help ."
11/26/2007:
"This stated so eloquently what I am tryint to do! Thank you for putting words to my efforts! "
11/26/2007:
"I HAVE been trying to do the same for my 13yo son whose in 8th grade. He wants to attend an Awesome Academically challenging Prep School, but he's been suddenly shirking his homework. I started with helping him, then went to being elsewhere in the house and have recently been checking in ie. how did you make out on your language essay tonight? He says fine, but two days later he comes to me saying he's struggling with that same assignment and now it's due tomorrow!!!! ANY suggestions for how to help this nonsense and still encourage independence? Should I bail him out and guide him or should I let him fail since he said he made out fine when I had asked. I am torn."
11/26/2007:
"My husband and I have similar concerns regarding making our 3 kids do the tons of homework they bring home everyday. One of the things that seem to be working with our kids is what I would call 'motivation by compassion'. We make sure they know that we know how 'hard' it is to have to do all those homework EVERYDAY, but we also ensure they realize the importance of completing ALL of them. Now, we've noticed that the homeworks are only 'too much' or 'too difficult' when they did not understand the lessons in the classroom or when they are cramming for an expected quiz/test. To help in this area, I make them bring home a textbook everyday (they choose which books to bring --- usually the subject they're having the most difficulty with such as science, social studies, or math). I make them read one chapter or sub-chapter EACH DAY and I review the material with them before bedtime. I also quickly scan the chapter for key concepts and create mini quizzes that I enter into a simple computer program I wrote for them. They take this 'test' the following day after they get home from school (before they can touch the TV remote or the XBox controller!). At first I thought they will not cooperate, but having to take an ungraded test seem to boost their confidence because they don't have any fears of not knowing all the correct answers the first time or receiving a low sc! ore. I'm surprised that my sons are actually looking forward to the tests because they understand the subject more after they take it. This results in higher marks on their actual tests at school. My older kids both got 100% in the recent spell-a-thon contest in their school and are honor students in their class, while my kindergarten son is able to learn his sightwords a lot quicker and is beginning to read faster. I find it unfortunate that the schools cannot seem to provide all the attention and help our kids need to achieve their academic goals. Our kids need a lot of support for them to not hate homework, and we as parents need to either find time to help them or at least be creative in making it easier for them to do it on their own. Good luck to all of us!"
11/20/2007:
"My 11 year old 6th grader may have studying for upcoming tests as homework but does not consider this as homework. The teachers post his homework online so I can doublecheck what he has. I feel as if when he should be developing more responsibily and independence - by having all of this 'back-up' to lean on. I have him do his homework on his own as 'IT IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY' but then find out from teachers...projects and homework had not been done. Do I take control and print out all homework assignments or let him 'fall where he falls' by filling in his assignment pad and following that."
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