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Train your kids to do homework without arguing! May 14, 2007

Posted by edukfun in add, adhd, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention training, challenged, children, concentration, discipline, education, ld, learning disability, parenting, school, underachieve, video games.

This article will, hopefully, shed some light on why homework may be necessary and provide you with some tools to motivate your kids to knuckle-down and get the job done. Without threats or bribes. Eventually.

Sometimes kids, especially kids with attentional issues or a learning disability, just won’t do homework.

It’s a national issue here in the U.S. Homework is supposed to facilitate mastery of new information and skills; all too often it becomes a focal point for power struggles at home. Many teachers have given up assigning much or even any homework, secure in the knowledge that fewer than 25% (made up statistic) of their students will actually follow through. Some parents, pressed to find any quality time with their kids, also want homework loads to be reduced or eliminated.

What good is homework, anyway?

After all, if homework isn’t good for anything then we should definitely eliminate it. The good (and bad) news is that when homework is appropriately assigned, it is vital for learning and development. Here are a few benefits of appropriate homework.

  1. Skill Mastery. New skills, especially in math and critical thinking, require practice to achieve mastery. There is not normally enough time during the school day for students to obtain all the practice they need. Once they “get it” in the classroom, they need independent practice to cement new learning.
  2. Supplementary Skill Development. Some skills that are taught in school are vital for real life, but are not part of the official curriculum. Internet research or practicing a speech (without peer commentary) are valuable skills that aren’t always practical or possible to spend time on during the school day.
  3. Self-Discipline. This is a vital skill for all students and especially for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD) or learning disabilities. Students simply must learn how to manage their time, work on their own, and accomplish lengthy, multi-step projects. Getting their homework done and on time is a great tool to practice this skill set.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: if a child does not obtain the self-discipline to complete homework consistently and on time, that child will struggle in their adult life.

Why don’t kids want to do their homework?

C’mon, are you really asking that? Some people enjoy learning and homework. Most people prefer “fun” activities. There are so many high-stimulation, low-cognitive-cost activities competing for kids’ time that homework is easily brushed aside. Television, internet, MySpace, text messaging, telephone, video games, you name it! Nobody is marketing homework. There is no California industry pushing Algebra; millions are spent pushing American Idol. You can’t expect kids, who are new to the world and susceptible to marketing influences, to make rational, adult decisions. The deck is stacked against them.

How can you get your kids to do their homework without a fight?

We have a well-behaved dog, entirely thanks to my wife. She is a wonderful dog trainer, and I’ve learned a great deal from her. For example, never use the dog’s name in a negative context. If the dog is chasing a squirrel, shout “No!” If you associate the dog’s name with being bad or punishment, then the dog won’t come when you call. Also, you have to catch the dog in the act. It does no good to punish the dog after the fact, because the dog won’t make the connection between chewing on the couch, which happened hours ago while you were at work, with your yelling and screaming now. Finally, you have to train the dog by reinforcing the behaviors you want. You can’t do it by punishing the behaviors you don’t want. So dole out cookies when the dog is laying quietly in bed instead of spankings when the dog jumps on guests. A dog training book can answer further questions.

The research shows that intrinsically motivated behaviors always win out. If your child does her homework because she expects an allowance boost, then the behavior is less lasting than if she is motivated because she feels good and proud when she gets it done.

This cracks me up because she fails to use those same skills on me. If I leave crumbs on the counter, she yells at me. But I never get a Scooby-Snack when I do remember to clean up. I get chewed out for messing something up even years after it actually happened! Ultimately, and you might want to put down your coffee before you read this, she has posted signs in various places around the house, mostly in the kitchen: Wipe Up Crumbs, Put Away Shoes, Turn Up the A/C, Shut off Lights. It may seem silly, but it works. After a month or two, they sink into the background and have to be changed.

How does this help you with your kids?

Give them a good dose of training. Forget that they “should know” or “should do it because” and just focus on training them that they will be rewarded for proper behavior, and slowly transition them away from external rewards (extrinsict motivation) to internal rewards (intrinsic motivation).

  1. Establish written expectations that you negotiate with your child. If they don’t understand what is expected of them, then they are being set up for failure. If they aren’t part of the process, then they feel powerless and are more likely to reject the expectations. Example: 90% of all homework assignments will be completed on time with a C or better grade.
  2. Spy On Them. You have to be a little sneaky, but your intention here is to catch them doing something right. Depending on your child, this may take a while. Peek in their room without knocking, email their teachers, install hidden cameras in the fridge, whatever it takes. Find SOMETHING that they did right, catch them RED HANDED, and IMMEDIATELY reward them and state exactly why you are proud of them. “Because you’re doing your homework for once (or for a change)” is not a compliment. Pretending to have a heart attack because your kid did something right may be funny, but it won’t train your kid to be anything more than a smarta**.
  3. When they screw up…and they will screw up. We all do. It is a requirement for being human. When they do, do NOT make a big deal out of it. Don’t lecture. Don’t shame or embarrass them. If you react emotionally to them screwing up, then you are reinforcing the behavior. Don’t let it get your goat. Accept that it will take time for new behaviors to become habits. In your Step 1 Written Expectations you must have some clear consequences for “screwing up.” Dispassionately follow those guidelines.
  4. Focus on Feelings. This is vital. You’ve got to help them build an internal reward system so that cookies and cell phones and allowances aren’t what motivates them. They have to–eventually–be motivated by the good feelings that “getting the job done” generates. Rewards are important in the beginning, should be less and less frequent as time goes on, and ultimately should be replaced by intrinsic motivators. You help your child create this by saying things like:
  • “Doesn’t it feel good to have this out of the way?”
  • “Great job getting this finished ahead of time! I’m proud of you and you should feel proud, too.”
  • “Remember how stressed out you felt when you left your last report until the last minute? You’ll feel a lot better if you start tonight.”

Pretending to have a heart attack because your kid did something right may be funny, but it won’t train your kid to be anything more than a smarta**.

Of course, if you are a procrastinator who never pays his bills on time, your kids will pick up on that and copy it. Live the way you want your kids to live and they’ll pick up on that instead.

I hope this helps!

Allen Dobkin



1. Michelle Siddoway - April 8, 2008

Thank -you so much for this article! I was right in the middle of telling my child about privleges he was losing, and I decided to leave the room so I wouldn’t get angrier. I looked online for help and found this article. It just reminded me to stay calm and be positive. I used it right away and my son did his homework!!

2. Denny Strecker - April 17, 2008

I have found that it is important to teach our children the skills we want them to have, and not to simply EXPECT THEM! All too often I hear a parent say, “My child is (xx) years old, they should know how to do this by now!”

I tell them, “Well, only if you have taught them how to do it.”

Make sure you have explained all of the steps involved, checked on their progress, fixed any issues that came up, and praise them for the attempt – not the end result.

3. Nitin - August 26, 2008

It’s true that students have a lot of burden of homework

4. Kiki Theuamthalaray - September 11, 2008

I am glad you posted this site. I think you have given me good advices. Every night I helped my kids with ther homeworks; I have to scream and argu with them which I feel really bad.

I will fallow your advices and let you know of my improvements.

Thanks a lot.

Kiki Theuamthalaray

5. LS - October 30, 2009

Thanks for the reminder to be positive. It is so easy to fall into nagging, especially with teens.

6. Alice - February 13, 2010

It is a tug of war. I have 4 kids, and age from 12, 10, 5 and 32 months old. When I am helping my older kids homework, the younger ones muck around. I am virtually having nervous break down. How do I coach their homework without the younger kids tear the house down.

My son just start high school. He has homework everyday with different subjects. He is quite enthusiastic about going to high school, but he is getting tired. He has to catch the school bus 7:30 in morning not finish school until 3:30. He tries to study but he just can’t remember the detail of the homework if anything related spelling and writing, he will go to piece. I am so frustrated. He thinks he is doing his homework for me. He is doing because he has to complete the assignment. This is only the beginning of the school term, I just can’t imagine to the end. Is there anyone can help me?

shiwali - July 12, 2011

i think with varied age children the best time to make elder ones study is to make younger ones sleep but one thing is sure if u dont have anyone to help it takes toll on u physically and emotionally

Naomi - September 15, 2011

Hello Alice, how’s it going? It’s been quite sometime since you’ve posted, but despite it, I hear you loud and clear ;)! I hope things have improved drastically. If you find that you continue in the same chaos, then maybe my perspective might help. First off 4 kids under the age of 13 years is quite courages and a lot O WORK. As a mother of 3 little ones who works full-time with little supports myself as my husband tends to work 6 days a week, 12 hour days. You have to, Have to!, not attempt to be perfect. So the house might get a little messy. I always tell myself, housework is never ever done. At times when I have guests over, I often find myself apologizing for the mess and almost always receive replies like, “what are you talking about, it looks great.” We are our biggest critic. My kids are 5, 3, and 15 mo of age. I help my older one with homework while allowing my two little ones to play in a designated and safe place of the house where I can see them and maintain them in the area with safety gates :)! I set a timer while i work with my 5 year old and advise her that she gets a break once the timer
goes off and we start again a little after with the timer again to attempt to complete her work before it goes off. This prevents us from having to be at it all night and keeps us focused while also allowing my time to be distributed with my other lil ones;). Much luck!

7. heba - August 20, 2010

thank you i will try that

8. Kel - October 25, 2010

My son who is 3 about to be 4 years old, loves to write numbers and letter for hours at a time. Now that he is in school and he is getting sent home with homework he won’t do it. He won’t write any letters. All he says is I can’t do it. I need help. I tried for 3 hours yesterday and still couldn’t get him to do it.

9. Ana - November 17, 2010

wow…for some reason i thought i was the only parent having problems with this. Some days hw is good, others I am screaming and threatening…I pray for patience every night..thanks for posting this…I will try your tips and thanks for the parents who have posted replies because I connected immediately and makes me feel better.

10. Darshna - February 1, 2011

I like the part you have said “no one is marketing homework” and how we have all these other very entertaining programs on TV, WII etc. We need to get into childrens world, understand their point of view to help them achieve the best then just making it happen at any cost.

11. wishy - June 17, 2011

i start my son’s homework by giving him some puzzle or maze or hidden pictures which he loves to do. He is 5. Then when i see that he is focused thats when i say lets do some letters . He says NOT NOW. But i keep saying lets finish fast then we can read the story book. Then he finishes and switch to reading …then once we are close to finishing the book , i ask him if he wants to do math. If he shows interest then i continue otherwise i would quit for the day.

12. How to Get Your Kids to Do Their Homework | Blogxoxo - July 28, 2011

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13. Sarah Lumbard - September 14, 2011

It’s the beginning of the school year and we have homework issues. Just found this read and it’s helpful. Resource for anyone else struggling to make homework part of the daily routine and not wanting to follow up all the time.

14. Naomi - September 15, 2011

Thanks for the article. My daughter just started Kinder and I thought Doing homework together would be great as I’ve always been successful with helping and tutoring other children, but now I find it’s a whole different story when your child is the one you are helping. I find myself getting extremely impatient after I’ve explained instructions to my lil one over and over again. Then I remind myself she is only 4. The homework is what is expected for her grade, but I often remind myself that what appears to be a breeze is quite challenging for her, especially because she’s still developing her ability to maintain attention. So, yes, writing practice might take an hour plus time needed for breaks, total of 2 hours to have homework completed a night, but it’s part of being a parent!

15. denise dodd - September 27, 2011

my son is 12yrs old he claims he needs help,but when you try to help him he says your doing it wrong and wants to argue .i know he can do the work and i tell him you are a very smart boy and i know you can do the work .but he says they give more home work than class work so he doesnt care anymore.he comes home with every book and has home work in every one of them i think that is way to much on my son or anyone elses child you teachers or schools expect way to much from our children and you wonder why the hate school.

16. denise dodd - September 27, 2011

im a single parent i work odd hours some times 8to4 and most of the time 1to10pm at night .i have three sons ages 17,13 and 12 i do my best to help the if the need it ,but when i come home late i cook dinner and try to help the they are so tired the fight me every step of the way. what do i do, this is so heart breaking my 12yr old is already failing school.

17. Cass - October 18, 2011

Okay. I am a step parent, my husband an I take them to an from school most days. We come home an do home work my daughter forgets her books an other home work all the time. we all set down at the table an do work everyday. Their mother wasn’t really in the picture last year an she made all A’s an B’s.. this year her mother moved back an now she has had more than 5 papers with F’s there are some with A’s an B’s but not many we do this everyday that they are with us. There is not yelling or any chaos at our house at her mothers they never know whats going to happen or go on there. could this be a reason why?

18. anita - November 1, 2011

thanks a lot. after reading, this i have come to know so many things.i have a 4 yr old girl, she is very adamnt.that she will not write her homework or she cannot write without holding hands. will try again to sit wth her & try making her write.

19. Deborah Harris - January 29, 2012

recently I had a issue with my daughter and the school she attended.My daughter had 56 missing assighnments and I asked the teacher to let me know when she didn’t turn inher homework.He agree that he would but her teacher didn’t keep to his word so she failed the first the semester and the second.I sat with the principal on this matter and she said she would not allow her teachers to write in there planners to notifiy me if she had missing assignments.My daughter is in the fifth grade and she haas a time keeping her self organized but she does ok but she can do better.I had to end up taking my daughter out of that school district and moving her into another one in which I had to quit my job in order to trnsfer her back and forth to school.My daughter at this time is doing better in her grades and handing in her homework to the teacher.She admit that she did not like the last teacher teaching methods compared to the teacher she have now,she mention that she felt the other teacher didn’t have patience with her when it came to teaching because she asked himto many times to help her to where she stoped because how he would look at her.Nothing wasn’t resolved at the other school the principal would not help me help her to become responsible and the end resultls was to remove her from thst school

20. learningryan - February 9, 2012

Great article! Kids always seem to fight homework until not pushed to do it. Thanks for bringing in extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, that was a concept I’d forgotten from days in B-school.

21. Sammy10 - February 11, 2012

I am 12 years old, and i no that i really dont like it when people push me to do my HW. But wen I get little reminders like “Im so proud that you got your last Essay done early” It makes me want to do my homework.

Hope this helps 🙂

22. Aziza - February 21, 2012

Good evening every body, my son est 6 in grade 1, every day we have the same story, he doesn t want to do his homework, he just want to play with his sister younger than him, I don t know how to get him to do it without arguing. Thanks for replaying,

23. Dustin - May 18, 2012

I have ADHD (I’m twelve), so I sometimes can’t do homework. I know where your kids are coming from.

Wise 32 yr old - January 10, 2013

Don’t let that ADHD syndrom diagnosis fool you. You’re a healthy kid that needs to release energy instead of watching TV, playing on the computer and playing video games. I’m not trying to state what you are or are not doing, however ADHD is just another diagnosis to prescribe medicine. Don’t believe the hype! I’m 32 and when I was your age, there was not such a thing…I was just hyper and needed to run around.

AWhite - April 9, 2013

You CANT??? do homework??? Or you don’t feel like doing it? There is a BIG difference. Having ADHD means that you have to try harder to concentrate on things like homework. It, in no way, impairs your ability to actually do it.

24. Angela - May 22, 2012

These are some really great tips. I have heard of this happening a lot and kids are under a lot of pressure as well as parents.

25. Zee - August 7, 2012

Thanks for this. I have a 5 year old and we are trying to do homework and it hasn’t been going well. But I will be using your ideas.

26. erika ward - September 20, 2012

i hope it works i have a 11 year old and she hates doing hers so lets do it

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I think telling kids with ADD to develop their self-discipline isn’t really helpful. Kind of like telling a drug addicts to just stop taking drugs. When you have ADD it’s not just that you’re not trying hard enough, it’s that your brain actually functions differently. Now this doesn’t mean that you’re disabled – in fact, you could be gifted! But you have to find out how to make use of your brain the right way, because using it the way other people do just doesn’t work for you. (Note: medication is NOT the solution!)

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34. Dorothy - August 25, 2013

Great advice but if you post the expectations and compliment the child when they compete their homework what do you do when the child is deviate. My child says I am not doing it. I take away privileges and my child doesn’t care. Help

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38. Tesemiyalesh - December 12, 2013

It is really great,I found the confirmation about the action, that I was decided to take. It was all right!
my husband and I were discussing about home work issues .we were reached to the point -to start motivating our children and to do our best helping them to develop the skills required!
It is true yelling,punishing – won’t make our kids to do some actions.We did all that ,but no change !we observed that ,the method what we were implementing was not working ,there was no impact on our kids . so we decided to change and choose all best methods . as you said the main point is to inspire them to do their home work!
thank you very much for the post !I will use it all and share the results.

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46. guidemywriting - August 2, 2016

Rather than blame all of the homework struggles on the child’s motivation, parents need to question the quality and value of the homework itself. Coming up with various systems to help our children learn compliance isn’t really addressing the issue (and, as Alfie Kohn has wisely argued, compliance is not the same thing as responsibility–so not only are most kids unlikely to benefit from the work in terms of content, they aren’t usually learning the “soft” skills that many people believe come from this nightly ritual). If teacher preparation programs and professional development workshops would spend as much time and energy on homework help as the parenting blogs do http://domyhomeworkfor.me/accounting-homework-help, then we might have schools that understand what the research shows about what makes developmentally-appropriate, high quality homework.

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