I hate homework. Probably more than my kids do. Homework is a frustrating, time consuming, and questionable activity that children have been doing for ages.
While the science and the teachers and the parents all differ on whether homework is really necessary…RIGHT NOW homework is a fact of life.
Teachers assign it to the kids, and then it needs to get done to get through school.
But what should we do as parents when kids don’t do their homework?
Is it our jobs to make sure that homework gets done? If so….how do we do it?
After all, we’ve all been there. Nagging. Yelling. Hair pulling. Consequences.
We try encouragement, rewards, positive language.
And they still don’t want to do it.
What’s frustrating about all this is that some teachers say that the purpose of homework is not the extra learning….it is more about personal responsibility. Learning to take the work home, and then making sure it gets done on time, and returning it.
The purpose of the work should govern the consequences.
You are here because you want your child to do his homework. For whatever reason, the homework is not happening.
To figure out the best way to handle the homework issue, we need to circle back to the purpose of the work. In this instance, I might take a few moments to shoot a message to one of your child’s teachers, or get them in person for a few minutes. Ask them directly….what do you want them to learn from this homework?
If the teacher says that the child needs more work on math, or that their reading is behind, you’ll have a better idea of what sort of consequence (or action) you need to take.
Once you know why the teacher is sending homework home, you can reinforce that message as you are working on getting homework done.
As for “logical” consequences, there are two kinds. There are limits that you set (and consequences that follow naturally when the child pushes that limit), and then there are the consequences that flow directly from the action (or lack thereof).
Logically, when a child doesn’t do her homework, it doesn’t flow that she’ll lose her allowance. The outcome of failing to complete homework and turn it in at school is something that occurs at school, and not at home.
Logically, when a child doesn’t follow the home rules by leaving the television off until homework is done, it flows that perhaps the television is no longer an option after school at all.
To figure out your reaction, what is bothering you most? That your child isn’t doing what you tell her to at home, or that she isn’t actually turning her homework in? Once you have identified what’s really eating at you, the consequences (and how you deal with them) will make more sense.
Understanding the offense will also help you explain it to your child
I think we often combine the failed homework offense in with the failed to follow directions offense. If you are able to separate those out, you’ll be more likely to help your child understand what it is you are asking her to do.
Honestly, I would leave the homework discipline/consequences to the teacher.
I support my kids’ teachers 100%. This also means that I trust them to handle and work with the kids about homework and the stated importance of it.
Does this mean that I can wipe my hands of homework and forget about it? Nope. I still need to set aside time every night for homework, and help create time and space for it to be done.
If my child is sitting where she is supposed to be sitting and doing work (or at least doing something on task), I’m not going to be disciplining them. If the work doesn’t get turned in, the teacher has tools to “encourage” the child to turn it in (rewards or lack thereof, etc).
If my child is disobeying me and playing with their phone or toys during homework time, then it is my job to step in with the limits that I have set and enforce.
Sometimes getting homework done is less about consequences…
Remember…what we are hoping to encourage with homework (I think) is that personal responsibility. Initiative. Take action on your own to get stuff done. If we micromanage the child every night to make sure the homework gets done and is done perfectly, and the child has to do nothing to make it happen (aside from picking up the pencil), have they learned the skills they need to be learning?
I think overall, parents need to step back and let children find out for themselves what the natural consequences are for failing to complete their homework. The natural consequence of failing to do your school work are primarily seen at school, with low marks, maybe lost opportunities, and unrealized rewards.
Yes, the teachers talk to the parents about it. And parents feel like it is their responsibility to make homework happen so kid can achieve all of said things (grades, opportunities, rewards), so parent can feel confident and successful.
But if what we want is for kids to learn to do things on their own, it has been pretty well documented that external motivation (rewards, punishments) do very little to light the fire of internal motivation. In the short term, the child might do what you want, but in the long term, bribes to finish up really fail to help kids learn.
Kids don’t know how to do things for themselves
I think one of the reasons why kids don’t want to take charge or get things done is that it is something they do very little in their lives. Most kids are carefully watched, their activities scheduled and restricted. There’s no chance for a child to choose to do just about anything in their day.
Homework (doing it or not) might be the only chance the child has ALL DAY to make a choice. Yes, or no. And can you blame them for jumping on the opportunity?
Further, initiative is a muscle that needs to be constantly flexed and stretched. If we never let kids control what they do and how they do it (and experience the outcomes of their choices), they won’t learn to flex the initiative muscle.
And they’ll be pretty darn surprised when they get to the real world and find out there mom isn’t there to make sure the bills get paid on time.
Consequences might not work either
Let’s say that you are prepared to let your kid just find out what happens when he doesn’t do his homework. And what if he gets bad grades, loses recess, misses out on school activities, and still doesn’t care?
At that point, I think you have a deeper problem to consider.
Your child doesn’t want to do homework, and isn’t motivated at all by the loss of pleasurable activities at school.
It could be that your child is really struggling somewhere at school that you haven’t identified, which makes the whole homework thing seem less important. This could be a sign of depression/anxiety. But it could also be a sign of learning issues (dyslexia, for example) where the student is really struggling and frustrated, but can’t actually put into words what is going wrong and why.
I was working with a child at school the other day (as a volunteer) and she refused to do some work that was provided to her. Like just flat out refused. No consequence threatened changed anything. She wouldn’t do it. Turns out….she needed to see more of the information in the assignment to be able to do it.
Her immaturity and youth made it so that she couldn’t actually even understand or express to us why she wouldn’t do the assignment. If we hadn’t looked deeper at the situation, we would have just assumed she was having an attitude problem, when the problem was actually more about how the assignment was set up and presented to her.
If you are obsessed with the idea of logical consequences….
Why not just see what happens? Set up homework time, but don’t yell, nag, fuss or fight, and then see what happens. Maybe the natural outcomes of your child’s actions will be the catalyst of change for her behavior.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.