Top 10 reasons kids have trouble with homework – and how to help (without helping too much)

Halting Homework Hassles

By Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE

Homework is a child’s responsibility, so we need to be careful how much we help. We want to be aware of what our children are doing and be involved in helpful ways, but not help too much. We can start by avoiding the word “we” when referring to homework; it implies that homework is our responsibility. Instead, say, “When are you going to do your homework?” If they are having problems, figure out why.

Here are the Top Ten reasons:

1. If children have a time management problem, teach them how to schedule their time, instead of taking over and reminding them. Ask questions like, “How much time do you need for homework? Would you like to do homework right after school or right after dinner? How can you remember when it is time to do your homework?”

2. If children don’t understand homework, ask questions that help them figure out the answer. “What are you supposed to do here? Where in the book does it talk about this?” If children don’t understand the information, we can try explaining it. We do not have to understand what children are learning to be helpful. We just need to know the skills for helping our children find their own answers. If children need daily help, they may benefit from a tutor more than our taking responsibility for helping them. It’s a delicate balance to be helpful, without fostering dependency, rescuing, or helping too much.

3. If children forget a book, lunch, or homework, teach organizational skills and use problem solving to have children chose self-reminders. Avoid being their reminder or rescuer. Agree to deliver forgotten items no more than three times per year. After that, the child will need to experience the natural consequence of not having the item.

4. Children are distracted.
The solution here is obvious. Remove the distractions or the child from the distractions, such as no homework with the TV on. Due to learning and brain styles, music can distract or help children focus, as can studying outside or in their room. Try different options to see what works best. The goal is to create an environment that will help that child focus.

5. If children don’t see the value of homework
, avoid lectures. Instead, ask questions such as, “Why do you think the teacher wants you to do homework? How does homework help you? What will happen if you don’t do it?” Offer one brief value statement like, “School is your job and teachers are your boss. You need to follow the schools rules, even if you don’t agree with or like them. As long as teachers aren’t asking you to do something hurtful or wrong, you need to do what they ask you to do.”

When children don’t do homework on purpose
, it could be one of four reasons:

6. Children might “act stupid” so teachers (or parents) will pay attention and spend time helping them. If the parent/teacher involves the child in meaningful activities or spends other special time with the child, it can prevent or stop this behavior.

7. Children might want to prove that they have power, by refusing to cooperate. “You can’t make me.” They also might see if they can get others to take over and do the work for them. After all, if others will take responsibility why not let them?

8. Children might not do homework to “punish” a disliked teacher. If good grades are important to parents and children want to hurt them, getting poor grades can be revenge. Help children find more appropriate ways to resolve the problem with the parent/teacher.

9. Children may not do their homework because they are so discouraged they have given up. Give encouragement, not pressure, and help them break down assignments into smaller tasks.

10. Children who have given up on school
are experiencing a deeper problem. Listen closely to identify the real issue. This is what needs to be resolved. Have children brainstorm possible solutions. You may enlist professional guidance, if indicated.

    The two key points to remember about halting homework hassles are (a) you need to identify and resolve the “real issue” that’s causing the problem and (b) do this in a way that teaches children how to solve their own problems.

    Get more information from Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE, second-generation parent educator, president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, parenting expert to the media worldwide, and author of 100+ practical parenting resources, including the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop at:

    Sibling Rivalry Help


    Solving Sibling Strife

    By Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE

    Some parents “let kids work it out” by doing nothing, but if the children use insults, humiliation, or physically duke it out, then it will only make matters worse!

    Some parents will dive into the action and solve problems for their children. While this may bring peace and order quickly, it robs children of an opportunity to learn and practice resolving conflicts.

    The healthiest approach is to teach children how to work out conflicts with each other, then allow them time to use the skills. If they don’t, then you intervene in a way that helps them solve the problem themselves, but with your guidance.

    Here are some more practical tools to use:

    A Helpful Way to Look at Sibling Relationships

    Any two people in a relationship will likely experience conflict at some point.

    How children handle these conflicts and relationships determines whether they will lead to sibling rivalry, which is when the sibling relationship becomes competitive and their treatment of teach other becomes destructive.

    Our goal is not to insist that our children love or even like each other, but that they treat each other with respect, even when working out their conflicts.

    Six Strategies for Preventing Rivalry

    Many sibling conflicts are preventable if parents can address the causes of sibling rivalry. In my Solving Sibling Strife teleseminar, I offer the following:

    1. When a new child joins the family, involve the older child from pregnancy and thereafter, instead of pushing away the child out of fear he or she might hurt the baby. Too often, this reject only fuels the child’s resentment and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!

    2. Avoid the Fair & Equal Trap. Instead, give according to individual needs. For example,

    • Instead of “I love you both the same,” describe why you love that child specially.
    • Instead of buying “equal” gifts, give according to need/desire
    • Instead of spending “equal” time, give according to needs and make it quality time.

    3. Avoid Comparisons. Instead, simply say what you need to say to one child without any reference to the other.

    4.  Avoid putting children in roles and using labels — even good ones. They foster resentment and jealousy.

    5. Avoid Unhealthy Competition. In unhealthy competition, the pressure to win is more important than the fun of playing or the value of the skills we learn in the process. When parents encourage their children to race, to motivate them into action, there will always be a loser — usually the youngest or weakest child. Losing only discourages children more — and the more discouraged the child becomes the more likely the child will resent the winner and retaliate later. Instead, make an activity fun by singing a song or setting a timer to see how quickly the task can be done, with no winners or losers.

    6. When disagreements escalate into fights, it is a symptom of the

    feelings the children have but have difficulty expressing.  So allow children to have and express negative feelings about their siblings — as long as they express them respectfully.

    Two Quick Responses that Can Stop Conflicts or Fights

    1. Problem-Solving “On The Run”:

    Sentence 1: acknowledge feelings and what the problem seems to be. Sentence 2: Ask what the child(ren) can do to solve the problem.

    2. Tell them they need to solve the problem on their own, respectfully. If they can’t/won’t, tell them if you need to solve it for them, they might not like your solution AND they will have to do problem solving with you later to come up with a longer-term solution.

    If they can’t work it out on their own

    Use a 3-step process from The Parent’s Toolshop book that I call F-A-X Listening:

    1. F-ocus on Feelings

    Call a meeting and explain the purpose

    Explain the ground rules

    Write down each child’s feelings and concerns.  Read them aloud.

    Allow each child time for rebuttal

    2. A-sk helpful questions

    See if you can help them identify what the real issue is. For example, if they are arguing over the remote but when you listen to their feelings you hear the issue is really personal space, that’s the problem you want them to solve.

    3. X-amine possible solutions

    Invite everyone to suggest as many solutions as possible.

    Write down all the ideas.

    Have them decide on the solutions they can both/all agree to.

    Follow-up to see how things are working.

    All it takes is doing this F-A-X problem-solving process a few times with verbal children and they will start using the process when you tell them to “work things out respectfully.”

    Get more information from Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE, second-generation parent educator, president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, parenting expert to the media worldwide, and author of 100+ practical parenting resources, including the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop at: