Homework struggles

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 28, 2011 06:00 AM

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My son is 11...He can't study [by] himself, he acts like a child. If the teacher [says] that he is not doing his work, he does nothing about that. I keep telling him that he should push himself to be good; I can't keep pushing him, but still he does nothing. If I did not tell him, come to study, he wouldn't do it. He loves nothing but playing games. What to do?

From: Maya, Dubai

Dear Maya,

Many kids at this age seem to think that they are grown up enough to set their own rules. Of course, they aren't, but they likely are more capable of being charge of themselves than we give them credit for. It's important to convey a sense of respect for a child's new-found independence and to let them know we know they aren't babies and yet still to be in control. What often works with homework struggles is to write a homework contract together, where you both set out the problems -- you think he doesn't spend enough time on homework, he wants to be in charge of his own homework -- and then you both agree to some rules. Then you write them down like a contract: "Mom agrees to do x, y, z; child agrees to do a, b, ,c."

Before you begin, have a conversation about homework and school work in general. What grades does he want to see on his report card? What does he want to learn from school? Then talk about how that's going to happen. This is where the contract comes in. Here are some possible items:

He can play his games for 10 or 15 or 20 mins (that's the part you negotiate) and then he has to do homework for 15 or 20 or 30 minutes. Set a timer or use a clock so that you aren't the one saying, "OK, time's up. Get to work." A variation on this is that he does homework for x minutes and then gets to take a game break between subjects. Again, you need a timer or clock to manage this.

When does he do his homework? Does he want to do it as soon as he gets home from school? After he plays? Before dinner? After dinner?

Where does he want to do the homework? Some kids want privacy. Others want to be in the room where the family is. Either is OK.

Does he have all the tools he needs to do the homework? A desk or table? Good lighting? Paper, pencils, etc...

Child agrees to keep an assignment pad where he writes down the homework assignments for each day.

Mom agrees not to nag or ask about the homework. In return, child agrees to show finished homework before he goes to bed.

These are just some possibilities. Before you sign the contract, you also need a clause that says, "We agree to try this for one week and then to evaluate." At the evaluation, you can each mention problems you're having, but also be sure to mention what's going well.

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2 comments so far...
  1. LW, he acts like a child because he IS a child! I teach at a school full of very bright, motivated kids, but at this age most of them DO still need parental help with meeting their responsibilities, be it homework or tidying their rooms. You should be working TOWARDS less supervision, certainly, but he obviously still needs you to keep an eye on him. Eleven really isn't very mature in most cases (especially, some would say, in the case of boys). He sounds pretty normal to me!

    Posted by alien57 November 28, 11 09:55 AM
  1. I like the idea of a contract, especially the part about the parent stepping back in exchange for the child showing the homework @ the end of the evening. As a parent and teacher/ private tutor, I agree wholeheartedly with alien57 that responsibility is a learned behavior. One other recommendation I might make is to have him participate in an after-school homework club. Several public libraries in our area host them one night a week--they are staffed by National Honor Society students. Sometimes tweens are more receptive to a neutral person offering guidance (especially one that is close to them in age). I wish you the best of luck!

    Posted by jcronin428 November 28, 11 04:06 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. LW, he acts like a child because he IS a child! I teach at a school full of very bright, motivated kids, but at this age most of them DO still need parental help with meeting their responsibilities, be it homework or tidying their rooms. You should be working TOWARDS less supervision, certainly, but he obviously still needs you to keep an eye on him. Eleven really isn't very mature in most cases (especially, some would say, in the case of boys). He sounds pretty normal to me!

    Posted by alien57 November 28, 11 09:55 AM
  1. I like the idea of a contract, especially the part about the parent stepping back in exchange for the child showing the homework @ the end of the evening. As a parent and teacher/ private tutor, I agree wholeheartedly with alien57 that responsibility is a learned behavior. One other recommendation I might make is to have him participate in an after-school homework club. Several public libraries in our area host them one night a week--they are staffed by National Honor Society students. Sometimes tweens are more receptive to a neutral person offering guidance (especially one that is close to them in age). I wish you the best of luck!

    Posted by jcronin428 November 28, 11 04:06 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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