Candida Fink M.D.

Homework Struggles May Not Be a Behavior Problem

Exploring some options to understand and help..

Posted August 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

  • Mental health challenges and neurodevelopmental differences directly affect children's ability to do homework.
  • Understanding what difficulties are getting in the way—beyond the usual explanation of a behavior problem—is key.
  • Sleep and mental health needs can take priority over homework completion.

Chelsea was in 10th grade the first time I told her directly to stop doing her homework and get some sleep. I had been working with her since she was in middle school, treating her anxiety disorder. She deeply feared disappointing anyone—especially her teachers—and spent hours trying to finish homework perfectly. The more tired and anxious she got, the harder it got for her to finish the assignments.

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

One night Chelsea called me in despair, feeling hopeless. She was exhausted and couldn’t think straight. She felt like a failure and that she was a burden to everyone because she couldn’t finish her homework.

She was shocked when I told her that my prescription for her was to go to sleep now—not to figure out how to finish her work. I told her to leave her homework incomplete and go to sleep. We briefly discussed how we would figure it out the next day, with her mom and her teachers. At that moment, it clicked for her that it was futile to keep working—because nothing was getting done.

This was an inflection point for her awareness of when she was emotionally over-cooked and when she needed to stop and take a break or get some sleep. We repeated versions of this phone call several times over the course of her high school and college years, but she got much better at being able to do this for herself most of the time.

When Mental Health Symptoms Interfere with Homework

Kids with mental health or neurodevelopmental challenges often struggle mightily with homework. Challenges can come up in every step of the homework process, including, but not limited to:

  • Remembering and tracking assignments and materials
  • Getting the mental energy/organization to start homework
  • Filtering distractions enough to persist with assignments
  • Understanding unspoken or implied parts of the homework
  • Remembering to bring finished homework to class
  • Being in class long enough to know the material
  • Tolerating the fear of not knowing or failing
  • Not giving up the assignment because of a panic attack
  • Tolerating frustration—such as not understanding—without emotional dysregulation
  • Being able to ask for help—from a peer or a teacher and not being afraid to reach out

This list is hardly comprehensive. ADHD , autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety , generalized anxiety, panic disorder, depression , dysregulation, and a range of other neurodevelopmental and mental health challenges cause numerous learning differences and symptoms that can specifically and frequently interfere with getting homework done.

Saharak Wuttitham/Shutterstock

The Usual Diagnosis for Homework Problems is "Not Trying Hard Enough"

Unfortunately, when kids frequently struggle to meet homework demands, teachers and parents typically default to one explanation of the problem: The child is making a choice not to do their homework. That is the default “diagnosis” in classrooms and living rooms. And once this framework is drawn, the student is often seen as not trying hard enough, disrespectful, manipulative, or just plain lazy.

The fundamental disconnect here is that the diagnosis of homework struggles as a behavioral choice is, in fact, only one explanation, while there are so many other diagnoses and differences that impair children's ability to consistently do their homework. If we are trying to create solutions based on only one understanding of the problem, the solutions will not work. More devastatingly, the wrong solutions can worsen the child’s mental health and their long-term engagement with school and learning.

To be clear, we aren’t talking about children who sometimes struggle with or skip homework—kids who can change and adapt their behaviors and patterns in response to the outcomes of that struggle. For this discussion, we are talking about children with mental health and/or neurodevelopmental symptoms and challenges that create chronic difficulties with meeting homework demands.

How Can You Help a Child Who Struggles with Homework?

How can you help your child who is struggling to meet homework demands because of their ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD , school avoidance, or any other neurodevelopmental or mental health differences? Let’s break this down into two broad areas—things you can do at home, and things you can do in communication with the school.

child won't focus on homework

Helping at Home

The following suggestions for managing school demands at home can feel counterintuitive to parents—because we usually focus on helping our kids to complete their tasks. But mental health needs jump the line ahead of task completion. And starting at home will be key to developing an idea of what needs to change at school.

  • Set an end time in the evening after which no more homework will be attempted. Kids need time to decompress and they need sleep—and pushing homework too close to or past bedtime doesn’t serve their educational needs. Even if your child hasn’t been able to approach the homework at all, even if they have avoided and argued the whole evening, it is still important for everyone to have a predictable time to shut down the whole process.
  • If there are arguments almost every night about homework, if your child isn’t starting homework or finishing it, reframe it from failure into information. It’s data to put into problem-solving. We need to consider other possible explanations besides “behavioral choice” when trying to understand the problem and create effective solutions. What problems are getting in the way of our child’s meeting homework demands that their peers are meeting most of the time?
  • Try not to argue about homework. If you can check your own anxiety and frustration, it can be more productive to ally with your child and be curious with them. Kids usually can’t tell you a clear “why” but maybe they can tell you how they are feeling and what they are thinking. And if your child can’t talk about it or just keeps saying “I don't know,” try not to push. Come back another time. Rushing, forcing, yelling, and threatening will predictably not help kids do homework.


Helping at School

The second area to explore when your neurodiverse child struggles frequently with homework is building communication and connections with school and teachers. Some places to focus on include the following.

  • Label your child’s diagnoses and break down specific symptoms for the teachers and school team. Nonjudgmental, but specific language is essential for teachers to understand your child’s struggles. Breaking their challenges down into the problems specific to homework can help with building solutions. As your child gets older, help them identify their difficulties and communicate them to teachers.
  • Let teachers and the school team know that your child’s mental health needs—including sleep—take priority over finishing homework. If your child is always struggling to complete homework and get enough sleep, or if completing homework is leading to emotional meltdowns every night, adjusting their homework demands will be more successful than continuing to push them into sleep deprivation or meltdowns.
  • Request a child study team evaluation to determine if your child qualifies for services under special education law such as an IEP, or accommodations through section 504—and be sure that homework adjustments are included in any plan. Or if such a plan is already in place, be clear that modification of homework expectations needs to be part of it.

The Long-Term Story

I still work with Chelsea and she recently mentioned how those conversations so many years ago are still part of how she approaches work tasks or other demands that are spiking her anxiety when she finds herself in a vortex of distress. She stops what she is doing and prioritizes reducing her anxiety—whether it’s a break during her day or an ending to the task for the evening. She sees that this is crucial to managing her anxiety in her life and still succeeding at what she is doing.

Task completion at all costs is not a solution for kids with emotional needs. Her story (and the story of many of my patients) make this crystal clear.

Candida Fink M.D.

Candida Fink, M.D. , is board certified in child/adolescent and general psychiatry. She practices in New York and has co-authored two books— The Ups and Downs of Raising a Bipolar Child and Bipolar Disorder for Dummies.

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5 ways to help your child focus (based on science!)

by: Carol Lloyd | Updated: October 6, 2022

Print article

Ways to get your child focus

Many young children have trouble sitting still and staying focused. Even older kids can sometimes struggle after a long day at school. If you’re having trouble getting your child to start their homework or stay focused at school, try these tips.

Here are some ways to help your child settle down and concentrate:

Get the ya-yas out first (aka exercise), turn off screens and cell phones, make a to-do list, use signals, take breaks..

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Homework Help for Reluctant Children

  • Posted October 15, 2018
  • By Heather Miller

mother and two daughters doing homework at kitchen table

It’s hard to fault the child who resists doing homework. After all, she has already put in a long day at school, probably been involved in afterschool activities, and, as the late afternoon spills into evening, now faces a pile of assignments. Parents feel it, too — it’s no one’s favorite time of day.

But despite its bad rap, homework plays an important role in ensuring that students can execute tasks independently. When it’s thoughtfully assigned, homework provides deeper engagement with material introduced in class. And even when it’s “just” worksheets, homework can build the automatic habits and the basic skills required to tackle more interesting endeavors. Finally, homework is a nightly test of grit. Adult life brings its share of tasks that are both compulsory and unenjoyable. Developing the discipline to fulfill our responsibilities, regardless of whether they thrill us, begins in middle childhood.

So how to help the avoidant child embrace the challenge, rather than resist it?

The first step, especially with kids 13 and under, is to have them do their homework at a communal space, like a dining room or kitchen table. If other children are in the home, they can all do their homework at the same table, and the parent can sit nearby to support the work effort. This alleviates some of the loneliness a reluctant child might associate with assignments. The alternative — doing homework at a bedroom desk — can result in the child guiltily avoiding the work for as long as possible. Like all forms of procrastination, this has the effect of making the entire process take much longer than it needs to.  

When parents turn the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they work better and more efficiently.

Many parents are under the impression that they shouldn’t have anything to do with their children's homework. This comes from schools emphasizing that homework is a child's responsibility, not the parents'. While it is absolutely true that parents should not do their children's homework, there is a role for parents — one that's perhaps best described as “homework project manager.” Parents can be monitoring, organizing, motivating, and praising the homework effort as it gets done. And yes, that means sitting with your child to help them stay focused and on task. Your presence sends the message that homework is important business, not to be taken lightly.

Once you’re sitting down with your child, ask him to unload his school bag and talk you through his various assignments. Maybe he has a school planner with all his homework listed, or a printout from school, or perhaps his work is listed on the classroom website. Many children attend an afterschool program where, in theory, they are doing homework. They’ll often claim that they’ve done all their homework, even though they’ve only done some. Together, make a quick and easy “Done/To Do” list. Writing down what she has finished will give her a sense of satisfaction. Identifying what she still needs to do will help her to focus on the remaining assignments. Over time, this practice will help your child build an understanding that large tasks are completed incrementally.

Next, ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking. Doing this helps a child feel in control of the evening’s tasks and prompts him to reflect on his work style. Discuss the first task of the night together. Ask your child to think about the supplies he is likely to need, and ensure they’re at the ready. This “pre-work” work helps a child think through a task, understand it, and prepare to execute it with gusto.

Last but not least, introduce a timer to the evening’s proceedings. Challenge your child to estimate how long the first assignment will take. Then ask, “Do you want me to set the timer for the full amount of time you think you’ll need, or a smaller amount?” Then, set the timer with the understanding that the child must work without interruption until the timer goes off. Even questions are verboten while the timer runs. The goal here is to enable the child to solve problems independently, through concentration. This not only builds concentration powers, it builds creativity, critical thinking, resilience, and resourcefulness. In my experience, the theatricality of being timed helps relax children who would otherwise feel daunted by a mountain of homework.

As each piece of work gets done, parents can add meaningful positive reinforcement. Exclaiming, “Another assignment done! And done well!” helps your child feel like what they are doing matters.

By turning the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they complete the work much more efficiently and at a higher standard than they might otherwise.

Helping the Homework Resisters

  • Have children do their work at a communal table. Stay nearby, to alleviate the loneliness that some kids feel — and to prevent procrastination.
  • Ask your child to unload her backpack and talk through assignments.
  • Help your child make a "Done/To Do" list.
  • Ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking — fostering a sense of control.
  • Use a timer. Challenge your child to estimate how long an assignment will take, and ask if she wants to set the timer for that full amount of time, or less. 
  • Your role: To monitor, organize, motivate, and praise the homework effort as each piece is done. 

Additional Resource

  • More about Heather Miller's work to help parents create healthy routines on weeknights

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How to Get Your Child to Focus on Homework and Stop Procrastinating

child won't focus on homework

It happens every day. There’s the ever-piling list of things to do, usually accompanied by the not-so-willing student who needs help staying motivated.

As a parent, you know too well that every decision in school impacts your student’s future. Better grades mean more opportunities, after high school and even in elementary school.

Getting your child to focus on homework can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a few easy changes you can implement now to start seeing improvements today. Check out the tips below.

Tips to Help Your Child Focus on Homework

Tip 1: start with a small exercise.

child won't focus on homework

Studies show  that cardio-based exercises boost memory and thinking skills. Cardio based means doing something that accelerates the heart rate.

If you get your child moving before starting schoolwork, it will get the blood flowing. This will help the brain become more active and ready to focus on homework.

Some exercises could be jogging, riding a bike, playing a sport or even just dancing a bit to some fun music. Anything your student likes to do that’s fast-paced can certainly help the motivation and focus.

Tip 2: Help set a routine

In Elite’s homeschooling and virtual academies, there is the added benefit of a more flexible schedule. With that added benefit comes the need for discipline.

To be successful in courses, it’s best to create a daily schedule for your child. Ideally, your child would put this schedule together with your help where needed. Keep the schedule realistic, including breaks where necessary.

Once a schedule is in place, there’s less guessing. Routines can also lead to reduced stress, as some studies have shown .

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1. Get a planner, or use a free online application

Some tool for your child easily view the daily schedule is important. This can be a physical planner or an app, but either way, it’ll make sticking to a schedule much simpler.

2. Think about the week; include every plan

Have your student list everything they plan to do that week. Does she like to fit in some time to skateboard? Great! Schedule it in. Besides, it might be best to do that skateboarding right before homework. 😉

3. Be Realistic

If your child is more of a night owl, you don’t have to force them to be an early bird and vice versa. Adjust free time and homework time accordingly. Your student might be one who needs frequent breaks in order to work efficiently. If that’s the case, then set a timer for 30 minutes of work with a 15-minute break immediately following.

Whatever works best with your child’s learning style will be a routine you both can stick to. You’ll be able to figure that out as you try new things and test them out.

Tip 3: Gather the necessary items before starting homework

Small disruptors go a long way (we’ll explain that more later).

If your child stops homework to grab a snack or a notebook, he’s going to get distracted.

Make sure your student has all the necessary materials ready to go before starting schoolwork.

If your student is an independent learner or homeschooler, keep a list of teacher’s and guidance counselor’s phone numbers on hand. Also having note-taking materials, the daily schedule and a glass of water will help your child be better prepared to focus.

Tip 4: Establish a workspace

We’re not saying you have to go to the store right now and drop hundreds on a desk, chair and supplies. The workspace doesn’t have to be traditional. But it should be a designated place in order to better focus on homework.

Maybe that place is an office in your home. Or perhaps your child has a fuzzy bean bag in your room that she loves. Whatever you both decide, make it a habit, and make sure it’s a place that’s comfortable to work. After all, that bean bag might be comfy to relax in, but might not be best once your student has a laptop and notebook to juggle.

It can be a good idea to incorporate some fun items to the workspace to help your child be excited to work there. These can be items like photos, music, lotion, candles or a favorite drink.

Whatever is decided, it’s a great idea to separate the workspace from sleep space.

If your child does homework in your bed where she sleeps, it’s likely going to make her want to take a nap rather than do homework. Make sure she studies somewhere you know he won’t get distracted until she finishes homework.

Tip 5: Remove all distractions

child won't focus on homework

A distraction includes anything that deters your student from focusing on homework. This can range from music to a loud sibling.

Let’s take a moment to talk about those smartphones. They’re more detrimental to homework than you might think.

A  study showed  that having the phone on silent isn’t enough. Small disturbances like a screen notification could increase errors in your work. It also could prolong the time it takes to complete assignments. Here’s why:

As a researcher from the study stated, “Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt… mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance,” ( PsychCentral ).

Even just being aware of a missed call, an unread text or another notification causes the brain to lose focus on homework. It knows there is something else to do, and it diverts attention.

We recommend setting all smart devices (phone, tablet, etc) in another room. If your child is able to forget about it, he will likely finish his homework quicker with fewer mistakes.

Tips to Help Your Child Stop Procrastinating

Tip 1: create rewards for motivation.

If you know your student has six assignments to complete in a day, then set aside a small reward for each.

Know your student’s weaknesses and turn them into rewards. If she likes to surf YouTube videos or SnapChat with friends, then allow these activities AFTER she’s completed schoolwork, but not until then.

Tip 2: If your child gets bored easily, incorporate more breaks

If your student has a hard time staying focused (like most students), it can cause stress or negative associations if she thinks he has to do his homework all in one sitting. And if your child experiences high stress before starting homework, he’s probably going to have a difficult time not procrastinating.

If that sounds like your child, then implement short breaks. Let him take a short break and color, or turn on a favorite YouTube music video and have a dance fest.

Getting the blood circulating will help your child’s brain and spirit.  Nothin’ like rockin’ out to a favorite tune!

Now this is the way to do homework, right?!

By breaking up coursework with small, fun tasks, her brain will have more positive associations. This might help your child dread starting homework less.

Tip 3: Reach out to your guidance counselor

It’s often a forgotten fact that your guidance counselor’s job is to help your student with any academic struggles. If your child has trouble starting her coursework, reach out to your counselor for help. They are state-certified and dedicated to you.

Elite is also readily available to develop personalized learning plans for your child.

Helping your child stay on track with homework is never easy, we know. But by following the tips above, it can become less stressful, and your child will hopefully be able to stay more focused. Learn more about Elite’s faculty and staff here .

We’ll leave you with one last quote:

“You have the power to be as successful as you want to be. Never let others dictate who you are destined to become!” – Brent Woodard, Elite CEO

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How To Help Kids Focus And Pay Attention

Here are some common mistakes parents make attempting to get kids back on task — and some better approaches to try.

A dad with his hands on his kids' shoulders while they are studying at a table.

So, your child isn’t focusing. Maybe they’re just wowed by the world around them. Maybe they’re completely zoning out during a Zoom lesson, staring into space instead of at their school assignment. It can be frustrating when a kid veers off task, but a well-meaning “Hey, listen up!” probably won’t do the trick. Parents have an important role in helping a kid focus and pay attention — and how you respond in that frustrating moment makes a big difference in what’s harmful and what’s helpful.

If your goal is to foster a longer attention span in your child, keep in mind that focus is a skill. With a bit of strategic help (and, of course, patience), your kids can develop and improve that skill over time.

Here’s what child development experts have to say about common mistakes parents make attempting to get kids back on task — and better approaches to try.

1. The Mistake: Forgetting Your Child’s Focus Issues Are Developmental Or Situational, Not Purposeful

The Better Approach: Notice and explore.

There is something triggering about having to remind your child for the millionth time to focus on their chore, start their classwork, or finish their latest homework assignment. “Parents can sometimes jump to shaming or expressing disappointment, anger, or annoyance without stopping to think about our child’s viewpoint,” says school psychologist Rebecca Bransetter, Ph.D.

Keep in mind that because focus is a skill, younger kids don’t always have the brainpower to hone in on a task. Bransetter points out that the part of the brain responsible for focus doesn’t develop fully until early adulthood. And in older kids, stressful situations can make it more difficult to pay attention.

So before you respond to a child who’s having trouble focusing, Bransetter suggests reminding yourself that your child is not giving you a hard time; they are having a hard time. When you see your child unfocused, stop and remind yourself that there is likely a lagging developmental skill or a situational reason that your child is struggling.

Try the “notice and explore” technique. First, observe your child’s struggle, then try asking questions like: “I notice you’re having a hard time starting on your math. What’s going on for you? Are you okay? Can I help in any way? What thoughts are popping into your head right now about this math worksheet?”

2. The Mistake: Jumping Into Problem-Solving Mode Too Quickly

The Better Approach: Teach your kids to problem-solve themselves.

When we see our kids unfocused, our instincts are usually to jump in with our great strategies. (Have you tried putting your phone on airplane mode? What about earplugs?) But Bransetter says jumping in too quickly to “fix” is glossing over an opportunity to teach your children problem-solving techniques.

Instead, start by asking questions: “What have you done in the past to ignore texts from your friends to finish your work? What ideas do you have for staying focused while your little brother is playing nearby?”

Keep in mind that with older kids especially, the best strategy is the one they came up with on their own, because they’ll have more buy-in. Frame it up as an “experiment.” Then, you can look at the “data” to see if that strategy worked.

“If listening to music drowns out their brother and they get their homework done, then it works,” Bransetter says. “If not, then you can have a discussion about other strategies.”

3. The Mistake: Telling Your Child What To Do

The Better Approach: Ask questions with empathy.

Seeing their kids toggle over to YouTube when they’re supposed to be working on an assignment or listening to their teacher on Zoom during distance learning is frustrating for parents. You might be tempted to raise your voice in frustration, but Bransetter says stressed-out demands will likely trigger a stress response in your kids — a counter-productive approach if calm focus is your goal.

Instead, aim to calm yourself down (deep breaths) then ask questions. For example, “I notice you’re on YouTube. Is that what your teacher assigned to do right now?” or “I can’t see your teacher on Zoom. What do you think you can do to make sure you see her?”

“Questions bring focus back to your child’s frontal lobe, which is where rational thought can occur,” says Bransetter. “Kids can’t problem-solve if they feel stressed or judged.”

4. The Mistake: Focusing Too Much On The Work

The Better Approach: Build in “brain breaks.”

After a summer of playing outside all day, you might expect your kids to seamlessly transition to work-mode. But, like any other human, your kids need breaks.

Nermeen Dashoush, Ph.D. , an early childhood education professor at Boston University and Chief Curriculum Officer at MarcoPolo Learning , recommends leaving gaps in the day for your kids to discover boredom and play. “These gaps and breaks will help your kids focus better when they return to the curriculum,” Dashoush says.

For younger kids, encourage physical play (think gross motor skills) during brain breaks. Katie Rosanbalm, Ph.D. , a senior research scientist at the Duke Center for Child & Family Policy, says physical activities help kids release pent-up stress, which will ultimately help them focus later on.

“When we’re sitting still, focusing on something stressful, all those stress hormones build up in our bodies,” she says. “The best way to process those hormones is to move, to get all that energy out.”

Keep in mind that if you host a kitchen dance party, you’ll need to help your kids settle back into work mode when the time comes. “Kids have to get their brains and bodies back into that lower-energy space,” Rosanbalm says. In such cases, try pretending you’re going down an elevator with your kids as you sink into your chair, getting quieter and slower as you count down from 10.

5. The Mistake: Providing Too Much Support

The Better Approach: Give instructions, then give space.

Pediatric occupational therapist Marissa LaBuz says she commonly sees parents and even teachers provide too much support to kids struggling with focus.

“Helping a child to focus and attend so they understand the instructions and task is great, but sitting on top of them and providing them with a ton of help and guidance can actually do more harm than good,” she says. Helicopter parenting will only make the child more dependent on your support, prompting, and reminders, so they may not be willing to do the work on their own.

Instead of hovering over your kid’s chair, give instructions and walk away.

“Provide them with just enough support so they understand what’s being expected of them, but give them the tools to independently work on their own,” LaBuz suggests. “I like to ask the child questions to make sure they’re focused and listening, for example, ‘what was the last thing that the teacher said? What page should you be turning to?’”

If the focusing issue comes during independent work, LaBuz recommends using a visual timer to keep your child on task. Whether it’s an egg timer, visual clock, or simply a stopwatch on your phone, a concrete reminder may help children to stay working independently for a short period of time.

6. The Mistake: Forcing Your Child To Focus On Material They’re Not Interested In

The Better Approach: Figure out if the task is too easy or hard.

If you’ve tried everything and your kid consistently resists working on a task, you may need to do some sleuthing to figure out if the task is either too easy or too hard. Rosanbalm says kids quickly lose interest when material (or a chore!) isn’t correctly aligned with your child’s abilities.

You may not have total control over your child’s second grade curriculum, but if you think the material isn’t challenging enough (or vice versa), it can’t hurt to talk to your kid’s teacher about other options. The goal is to find a “sweet spot” that will engage your kid’s brain fully for age-appropriate increments of time.

This article was originally published on Sep. 18, 2020

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Five tips to get kids to focus on homework

child won't focus on homework

When my daughter began the routines of first grade and its attendant homework assignments last fall, my husband and I girded ourselves for this new thing to work into our scrambled evenings. Assigned on Monday, due back on Friday, supposed to be completed by doing 10 minutes a night. Reasonable enough, right?

We celebrated her efforts and her commitment to homework, for, after all, she’s being raised in the era of “ NurtureShock .” But as the weeks went on, I was feeling increasingly inept at steering her back on track when she started doodling or lying down on her chair. When sitting still was the last thing she wanted to do after a day cooped up inside. When her little sister was noisily, happily, inviting her to build a fort.

There had to be a better way than this tug-of-war that frustrated everyone. So I talked with a few teachers, study-skills educators and a school counselor, and I asked them how to get an elementary school-age kid to focus on her homework (and maybe her piano practice, too). Here’s what they said:

1) Talk to the teacher . Huh? My daughter was getting her homework done, so why bug the teacher, I thought. However, if things are always turned in on time and correct, the teacher won’t know how long it really takes and how challenging it is for kids, says Amy McCready, the founder of . Ask teachers: How long should homework take? (And let them know how long it’s taking your child.) What is the goal of homework? Is it “completion, learning, grading, a hoop to jump through?” asks Mark Wallace, who teaches third through fifth graders at Highlands Elementary in Edina, Minn. Is it okay for parents to check homework so that kids can fix any mistakes before turning it in, or do teachers want to see those mistakes so they can get an accurate sense of how well kids are understanding the lesson? If your above-grade-level kid breezes through five math problems, does she really need to do all of them? Finally, be clear with the teacher that in your house …

2) … Your kid’s homework is her responsibility, not the parents’ responsibility . This one took me a little bit to buy into. It’s a big leap of faith to let kids choose how to manage their time, and to allow them to face the consequences if they don’t. The corollary is establishing the new ground rules for how you help up front so you can support them while letting them work independently. McCready coached me through making this change: “Sit down ahead of time and talk about the assignment: ‘How do you think you’ll go about answering these questions?’ Then you can say, ‘Sounds like you’re on the right track,’” leave them to work uninterrupted and then check their work when they’re done. McCready also recommends being clear about your boundaries, for example, “I am available to help you after dinner from 6:30 to 8 p.m.. After that, the help desk is closed,” and reminding them that help desk hours and bedtime don’t get extended just because they didn’t get their work done yet. If getting started is the biggest hurdle, “start out by giving them a choice,” suggests Susan Kruger, the president of SOAR Learning , a study skills company based in Lake Orion, Mich. “‘Would you like to do it now or in 10 minutes from now?’… It puts them in a position of feeling they have some say, and that goes a long way of getting cooperation with homework.”

3) Set a timer … and take a break. Time management is hard, especially for kids who are just learning to tell time. Many of the experts I spoke with encouraged using timers. McCready likes ones that help kids visualize how much time is left, such as Timetimer . You can use timers for the scenario Kruger describes. “When you work in small increments — uninterrupted focused time, with breaks in between — you’re able to get more done,” says Zac Stowell, a fifth grade teacher at Northgate Elementary in Seattle. Breaks might include a snack, but ones with physical activity are good, too: a set of jumping jacks, a walk up the street, running up and down the stairs. And if the break is dragging on too long, Stowell says, “you let them know, ‘The more we extend it, the less time we have to do other fun stuff.’”

4) It’s okay to fail. Homework anxiety affects kids and parents, and so does this mantra. “Early elementary school, that’s a really safe time to fail,” says Wallace. If kids don’t get their homework done, he says, “I’d like them to walk in and say, ‘Here’s my plan for finishing it, and here’s my plan for next week.’” There may be all kinds of things you’d like kids to improve upon when you’re looking at their homework, from not bringing it home all crumpled to using capital letters, punctuation and proper spelling, he says. “I always tell parents, ‘Pick one thing that you’re going to go after that night.’” When kids feel overwhelmed by criticism, they tend to shut down, just like adults. To boost their spirits when they get into the “I’ll never get it/I’m no good/It’s too hard” doldrums, point out all the things they used to find hard that are now easy, such as tying their shoes, says Gerry Rice, a Suzuki violin and viola teacher in Haddonfield, N.J.

5) Get help. If homework is still a struggle or taking longer than the teacher expects, get an outside perspective and find out what’s going on. “You can get a neighbor kid who’s four or more years older who can sit down with them to do homework” or swap kids with a neighbor, Kruger says. In other cases, she says, consider a tutor or other professional to uncover what’s behind some learning challenges. Kids are all different, and so are their optimal learning styles and study environments, and parents can help by shaping homework settings to meet their needs. As you’re feeling your way, remember, “we want our students to make mistakes,” Kruger says. “It’s the only way they’re going to be able to innovate and adapt to the world and the way the world changes.”

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Stay on Task And Reduce Homework Distractions

child won't focus on homework

For students, the ability to reduce homework distractions is not always easy. Many parents wonder how to help a child who can’t seem to concentrate on his or her school assignments.

Many kids see homework as tedious or boring, so it’s easy to understand why they often become off-task.

How can parents help to reduce homework distractions? It starts with understanding where these distractions are coming from.

Why Are Children Distracted?

Children often don’t understand why homework is important or that there are consequences for not doing it. However, in most cases, students simply lack the experience and self-control to stay on-task.

The “home” setting of homework can be a major source of homework distractions. It’s filled with toys, internet access, and family members doing their own things. With all these homework distractions happening around them, children can find it hard to sit down and tackle homework in an effective way.

What Other Problems Cause Distraction?

Other issues can cause children to lose concentration. Stress, frustration, and simply not understanding the material can have a big impact on a student’s ability to concentrate, as well as his or her ability to master the material being taught in class.

How To Help Your Child Focus On Homework And Reduce Homework Distractions:

If you’re a parent with a child who needs some help staying on-task, try these tips to reduce homework distractions:

1. Schedule Small Breaks

child won't focus on homework

It’s important to give your child enough breaks so that he or she doesn’t get overly frustrated, bored, or start drifting away from the material. Take a 5-10 minute break every 20 to 30 minutes. These small “brain breaks” will help your child refresh his or her mind and return to the material more invigorated. Take a short walk to help get rid of any extra energy so your child will be ready to get back down to work.

2. Create a Learning Space

child won't focus on homework

Having a space to work is crucial for homework and studying. Ideally, this space should be used be for homework only, but that may not always be practical depending on the space you have in your home. The most important thing that is this space remains distraction-free and has all the supplies your child needs to work (like pencils and paper). A good study space – also known as a study studio – can have a great impact on helping your child concentrate more effectively on his or her homework.

3. Help When Needed

child won't focus on homework

It’s perfectly acceptable for parents to work with their kids—especially at a young age—when it comes time to do homework and study. Just make sure you are encouraging your child to find the answers to questions him or herself, and not doing the work for your child yourself . Work together, but work toward self-management so your child gets stronger each time.

4. Have a Homework Plan

child won't focus on homework

Approach each homework session with a plan of attack. Help your child make a checklist and stick to it. Include what homework assignments your child has each night and any extra materials needed. Creating structure can be extremely helpful to students. It can also help you make sure your child has what he or she needs for each homework session and keep track of how your child is spending his or her time.

5. Mix Up Subjects

child won't focus on homework

A major factor in distraction is often boredom. A good way to combat that boredom is to switch subject focus every so often. Mixing it up can help keep the mind engaged and focused. If your child has hit his or her limit with math, switch to another assignment. Come back to any unfinished homework questions later and tackle them with a clearer mind.

6. Offer Rewards

child won't focus on homework

If your child just doesn’t want to complete his or her homework, offer him or her a little incentive for getting tasks accomplished. This doesn’t need to be a big reward. A small treat or a trip to the park can be enough to motivate your child to complete his or her homework and move onto other exciting activities.

Concentration is Key!

Concentration and focus are not the easiest techniques for students to master, especially when it comes to homework. However, with these tips you can teach your child how to become better at concentrating on his or her homework. Once your child develops better concentration and homework skills, it’s easy to become an even better student.

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10 Reasons Your Child Can’t Concentrate In School (That Aren’t ADD)

child won't focus on homework

Many children have trouble paying attention in class at some point in their academic career.

When this happens, especially with young students, it leaves parents wondering why their child can’t focus—and whether he or she could have a learning difficulty.

It’s important to know that not every student who has a hard time focusing in school has a learning difficulty such as ADD or ADHD.

In many cases, the concentration issues children have in school can be caused by a number of different reasons.

Signs Of A Concentration Problem

Common signs that your child is having trouble concentrating in the classroom include:

  • A dislike of school
  • Disruptive behaviour in class

These signs don’t automatically mean your child has a learning difficulty. Before you start looking for solutions, the first step is to identify the reasons your child is having trouble focusing in school.

Find out some of the biggest reasons students have a hard time paying attention in class (that aren’t ADD/ADHD).

10 Reasons Your Child Is Having Trouble Focusing In School

Lack of practice.

Many young children have a hard time focusing in the classroom simply because they are in a new environment. This can also happen to older children after a break from school, such as March break or summer holidays.

Doesn’t understand the material

What might look like a lack of concentration could actually be a lack of understanding the material. This lack of understanding can lead to students to stop paying attention, and consequently falling further behind.

Isn’t being challenged enough

For some children, what is being taught in class isn’t challenging enough. Children who are not challenged at a high enough level can lose interest in the material and stop paying attention altogether.

Distracted by external stimuli

The classroom can be a place full of distractions, from chatty classmates to a cluttered workstation. Some children have a harder time than others filtering out these distractions making paying attention to the teacher more challenging.

Lack of motivation

In some cases, your child’s concentration problem may actually be a motivation problem. This lack of motivation can lead to a number issues in the classroom—including disinterest in the material.

Mismatched learning style

Different students have different learning styles : some learn best by seeing, some by hearing, and others by doing. If your child’s teacher emphasizes a learning style that doesn’t match with how your child learns, this can result in a lack of focus and understanding.

Not getting proper sleep or nutrition

If your child is not getting the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep each night, he or she won’t have the energy needed to concentrate in class. Skipping breakfast is another big cause of lack of focus in class. If your child is heading to class hungry, he or she is more apt to be distracted than learning-ready.

Disorganization Problems

A disorganized notebook or workspace can be a cause of distractions for students. Coming to class disorganized means your child is spending time searching for the tools and material needed to learn rather than paying attention to what is being taught.

School Anxiety

Anxiety about school or grades can be another deeper issue leading to lack of focus in the classroom. Students who are overwhelmed or stressed by a subject may simply check out, leading to dropping grades and confidence.

Learning difficulties

If your child is having severe problems in the classroom, such as constant disruptions, distractions, or poor grades, and you have ruled out the other items on this list, it could be time to look into possible learning difficulties.

In some cases, these children may have learning difficulties such as ADD, ADHD, or Dyslexia. He or she may also have auditory issues such as CAPD (Central Auditory Discrimination Disorder). Each of these can be addressed with the help of a tutor and learning plan, so your child can improve his or her focus and succeed in the classroom.

Start Overcoming Distractions

Once you know what’s causing your child’s focus issues, you’re ready to start making a plan to overcome it. For more tips on how to help your child improve his or her concentration skills, check out these tips from the experts .

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Focusing — Focusing

Focusing problems in children.

Boy at desk looking at his paper airplane instead of books.

Anna Kroncke


Last modified 05 Sep 2023

Published 22 Mar 2022

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What are Focusing Skills in Childhood?

Focusing skills in childhood are about paying attention to information in the environment. For example, kids need to pay attention in the classroom to perform well in school. They need to be able to focus on their peers to make friends on the playground. Finally, the ability to pay attention is needed to follow directions at home and to navigate the community.

Focusing problems include challenges with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. If your child is hyperactive, they may be fidgety and move around constantly. Impulsive children often act without thinking. Children who are inattentive tend to drift easily off-topic, daydream, and lose focus often. Both hyperactive and inattentive children may have trouble sitting still and seem to bounce from one activity to the next, lacking direction. In the articles that follow, we will review all of these types of focus issues in more detail. Wondering if your child’s focusing challenges are a sign of ADHD? Cadey courses are taught by licensed child psychologists and will walk you through the symptoms of ADHD and how they may be presenting in your child. Sign up today .

Attention and focus problems are often evident both at home and in the classroom.  

At home , a child with limited attention skills may seem to space out a lot. They may not look up when you call their name. They may require 3-4 prompts before following your directions. Children who struggle with attention often take a long time to get ready for school in the morning.

At school , the teacher may note that your child does not adhere to classroom rules and routines. They may seem to be in their own world, two steps behind classmates to gather supplies, finish work, and line up for recess. You might find yourself saying, ‘he could do great work if he could focus long enough to finish it.’ In the articles under this facet, you will learn about various types of attention; identify where your child may be struggling, and understand what you can do to help.

In the articles within this facet, you will learn the types of attention problems and the relative level of concern associated. Sometimes at-home interventions are enough to help your child improve their attention. Other times, they may require clinical help. These articles will help you discern which attention areas may be problematic for your child and what you can do as a parent to help.

General Categories of Focusing Problems

  • Hyperactivity – excessive movement, acting as if driven by a motor 
  • Impulsivity – acting without thinking, acting first and thinking about consequences later
  • Joint attention – social attention, noticing something interesting to something else and sharing attention, or vice versa, pointing out something of interest to you to another person
  • Focused attention – being able to focus on something that may be relatively boring for an extended period of time, like a textbook, a lecture in school, a program, without being super interested in the topic
  • Internally focused – focusing on your daydreams and internal thoughts and missing some of what is going on around you, hard to shift from something interesting internally

Children who struggle with focusing may have a hard time ‘shifting attention.’ It may be hard for your child to stop doing one activity and switch to another. This challenge may be evident during center time in the classroom when your child refuses to put down the iPad and change over to the writer’s workshop. There may also be problems with sustained attention. Sustained attention, also known as focused attention, is the skill of sticking with something or staying on task. Children with poor sustained attention might be able to shift to a new task but cannot stay with it for very long.

Although many children with these challenges may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), there are various other reasons why a child’s attention may be impaired. 

Some children with poor attention have emotional problems such as anxiety or depression. Children with anxiety often ‘freeze up’ and cannot focus as well. Children with depression may not focus because they may lack the motivation to complete tasks, not care as much about the outcome, and tire out quickly. 

Other neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, impact attention skills. Children with autism tend to be able to sustain their attention with adequate reinforcement but struggle with shifting attention.

Symptoms of Focusing Problems in Childhood


  • Your child is off task: instead of doing their homework, you find your child playing with their pencil or has taken the piece of paper near them and created a toy. 
  • They are easily distracted: by someone walking by the classroom, hearing the rumble of an old car, or even by their thoughts!
  • You find your child will start something to be quickly lost in something else: your child will begin their homework, think of something funny, which makes them think of laughing at lunch today, which will make them think of grabbing a snack, which makes them wander aimlessly into the kitchen.
  • Drifting constantly when the smallest thing catches their eye: You may hear family members say, “Look, squirrel!” jesting that your child is easily distracted by the smallest thing 
  • Having trouble finishing homework: avoiding their homework and generally can’t tell you how they got off task in the first place
  • Challenges with working memory: your child has trouble holding information in their head long enough to use it. For example, if you say ‘first get your shoes and then brush your teeth,’ the second step is forgotten before they leave the room


  • Acts wound up: seems to have boundless energy
  • Moves constantly: always out of the seat in school, at the dinner table, when reading a book with parents
  • Fidgets more than other children: constantly moving, tapping, playing with something, drawing, chewing, etc.
  • Gets in trouble at school: talks when the teacher is talking, moves around the room, disrupts other children
  • Bumps into other kids: may have trouble staying in their own space in the classroom, on the playground
  • Makes a mess: when your child leaves the room, the toys and activities and household items are everywhere, like a tornado
  • Too loud: loud voices, constant singing, talking, banging, jumping 


  • Failing to stop and think: Acting now and thinking later
  • Accidently breaks things or hurts people: Making mistakes and feeling remorse afterward
  • Failing to reflect: Never thinking about their actions or the consequences
  • Unsafe in public: Running away from you at the grocery store or in a parking lot
  • Taking frequent risks: Seeming to have no concern for safety
  • Bothering others: Acting hyper and intrusive, even when another child has had enough
  • Overly physical with others: Liking to hug and roughhouse, even with kids who do not appear to be having fun
  • Teenagers taking unsafe risks: older kids and impulsive teenagers may take uncalculated risks, resulting in trouble with the school or the law. It is important to understand that there are treatments for impulsive kids that could result in improved behavior and better outcomes

Causes of Focusing Problems in Childhood

Causes of inattention.

  • Neurological differences: differences in the brain’s prefrontal cortex are associated with ADHD, which is often a disorder with a genetic predisposition. Inattention is the primary symptom of ADHD.
  • Due to a disability: your child might be unable to pay attention due to another disability and would be responsive to other associated treatments. For example, some children with poor attention may have a trauma history, anxiety, poor cognitive ability, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Trauma or anxiety: Severe childhood trauma and anxiety can mimic the symptoms of ADHD. Anxiety and stress can make it hard for kids to focus or pay attention when their mind is worried about what could happen.  Trauma changes the neural pathways in the brain. If a child does not feel safe after school or on weekends, it may be hard for them to focus in class. This focusing issue may not be due to trauma, not ADHD.  For a kid who is not in a safe environment, their focus and attention are about keeping themselves safe.  For example, a kid who goes home to a parent who struggles with alcohol and yells or becomes violent has a nervous system is set to look for and scan for danger. Their fight/flight/freeze system is constantly activated, and they cannot relax or focus. You may say they are hyper-vigilant. Hypervigilance can present as not being focused. 

Causes of hyperactivity

  • Excess energy: some children have a higher energy level than others. They need more opportunities to move and release energy to pay attention and be successful
  • Poor diet and exercise: children need to eat a healthy diet and get regular movement and exercise. It can increase hyperactivity if a child is not provided with these outlets.
  • Low birth weight: often, a history of low birth weight has led to more hyperactivity in childhood. A low birth weight could be influenced by the use of substances like cigarette smoking during pregnancy.
  • Sensory processing differences: children who are more sensory seeking, which is sometimes related to ADHD or an autism spectrum disorder, can be hyperactive
  • Mood difficulties: children who have mood or anxiety disorders may exhibit hyperactivity or restlessness.
  • Poor sleep: children who do not sleep well can have issues with dysregulation, and that may relate to hyperactivity
  • Other medical causes: children with other medical issues can be hyperactive. Talking with your child’s pediatrician to rule out other causes of hyperactivity is a good idea. Share your child’s medical history with a knowledgeable doctor.

Causes of impulsivity

  • Brain wiring & immaturity: The root cause of impulsivity is generally different brain wiring. Your child’s judgment and reason aren’t fully mature until about 20 years. On top of that, many children simply have naturally less developed impulse control and will need help learning to manage their behavior and decision-making.

Here’s a sample situation. A child sees the cookie on the table and knows that mom has said to wait until after dinner. The child instantly grabs the cookie and devours it, much to their own surprise. When mom enters the room, wagging her finger and asking, “Why did you do that,” the child has no idea. 

  • Attention problems : Impulsive behaviors could be related to attention challenges and a genuine lack of impulse control. It may seem like the child or teenager has no mental brakes. If a child cannot slow down, stop and think before acting, then bad decisions may result. 

These symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity may be related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If you are wondering about this, most primary care doctors and pediatricians can diagnose this disorder and provide recommendations and referrals for treatment.

  • Inhibition : To inhibit responses means to stop oneself from being pulled away by not talking to the person, not walking toward the distracting object, or not looking at the distracting situation. 

In medical terms, inhibition is the ability to inhibit prepotent responses. A prepotent response is a response you would naturally want to do. 

For example, to practice inhibiting your own prepotent response, you might try looking at a picture of the sun and saying ‘night’ and then looking at a picture of the moon while saying ‘day.’ 

  • Emotional regulation : Some impulsive behaviors have an emotional origin. That is, your child may be somewhat out of control in terms of managing their feelings, leading to regrettable behavior.

Impulsivity in the context of irritable mood or frequent mood swings might indicate a Mood Disorder. Your child’s tendency to be grouchy, angry, or moody may lead to erratic and unpredictable behavior.

  • Social skills : The underlying problem here could also be related to social awareness, social perspective-taking, or social understanding, which are challenges commonly associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Failing to read other children’s cues effectively can lead to social mistakes. Children with ASD may have an impaired ability to read social space or refrain from giving a bear hug to a shy classmate. Thus, your child’s behaviors may seem impulsive when they are actually lacking social savvy.

  • Behavior problems : Impulsive children may act in a certain way without understanding the ramifications of their actions. For example, the child may push a child out of their way to get to the front of the line at the playground.

What to Do About Focusing Problems in Childhood

The ability to pay attention is extremely important to your child’s development. 

DO obtain an accurate diagnosis: it is important for parents to be aware that attention and related problems can significantly impact a child’s functioning and that an accurate diagnosis by a doctor who has experience with mental health diagnosis in childhood is important. 

Some pediatricians feel uncomfortable making these diagnoses. Ask your child’s pediatrician if they have training in diagnosing attention issues and prescribing. If not, ask for a referral.  

DO consider combined treatments: Most psychologists and medical doctors agree that psychological and medical treatments are required for ADHD. It may be that your child’s diet, sleep, or neurological differences impact their ability to focus in school. If this is the case, your child is at a disadvantage in the classroom.

An assessment of these difficulties should shed light on the severity of the challenges and determine if they are related to ADHD. It is important to note that children with ADHD often have significant problems in school, socially, and in the community.

If ADHD is indeed diagnosed, your family will still be in control of any decisions made regarding your child’s medical interventions and supports.

DO consider other disorders: it may be that your child is unable to pay attention due to another disability and would be responsive to other associated treatments. For example, some children with poor attention may have a trauma history, anxiety, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Accommodations are key for focusing issues

If your child has ADHD or a related issue, accommodations at home and in the classroom can make a huge difference and encourage growth in skills. 

School accommodations: extra time, a quiet space to work when distracted, the opportunity to take breaks, to use fidget toys, and to stand up during work time.

Home accommodations: having a quiet designated space for work, using a timer to keep homework sessions manageable, and offering rewards like game time for completing assignments. Use a sticker chart and a visible schedule for the daily routine.

At-home parenting strategies for focusing issues

  • Provide many outlets for your child’s energy. Activities like swimming, horseback riding, and gymnastics can be therapeutic for a very active child.  
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation in everyday life. You may find that taking time to relax and recognize feelings in their body can help your child be more aware and less impulsive. This practice may be best to do right before bed as a way of calming down and getting to sleep.
  • Think carefully before taking your child to a tea party, movie theater, library, storytime at the bookstore, or adult birthday party. Your child may not be able to maintain their composure in quiet places, so set them up for success with activities where they can excel. Climbing gyms are fun. Bounce places, the zoo, or an engaging and interactive museum are great options.
  • A list of kids’ books, such as Personal Space Camp [1] and Ms. Gorski, I Think I Have The Wiggle Fidgets [2], is provided below. Reading these books with your child can help ‘put a name on’ their challenges. They can learn that many children have the same struggles.

When to Seek Help for Focusing Problems in Childhood

If your child is struggling with attention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, it is extremely important to seek professional help. If these challenges are clinically significant, they can have a pervasive impact in many areas of your child’s life.  

If at-home strategies do not fix the problem, your child will likely need some support. Children who are highly distracted tend to have challenges at school and home because they often miss key instructions and information.

Unfortunately, this symptom is often linked to poor behavioral inhibition, which leads to getting in trouble at home and at school.

Research has shown the challenges inherent in significant attention problems. The largest scale study ever to be conducted (to date) by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) investigated the impact of ADHD on children and families. The study involved over 600 students with attention problems in six sites across the country [3]. 

Findings were as follows:

  • “Two-thirds of these children had at least one other disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or learning disabilities.”
  • Medication alone was more effective than behavioral interventions alone
  • Medication alone was almost as effective as the combined treatment of medication plus behavioral interventions
  • Many students may be receiving medication doses that are too low for maximum improvement in school work and behavior” 
  • The authors of this article have been involved in a meta-analysis of ADHD interventions. This meta-analysis, a report on a group of studies, found that although many behavioral interventions for ADHD are effective, the individual studies themselves were typically not as systematically conducted (that is, involving pre- and post-testing, ‘dosage levels,’ and effect size), as were the medication studies.
  • This difference may be why it sometimes appears that medication alone can be more effective than combined treatment. Most psychologists and medical doctors agree that combined behavioral and pharmaceutical intervention is best.
  • In addition to the above research on the under-identification issues for ADHD, there is a large body of evidence to show that girls are specifically missing out on an ADHD diagnosis and the associated supports. This lack of diagnosis and intervention further expands the gender gap in education and employment for girls.

Taken together, parents need to be aware that attention problems can significantly impact a child’s functioning. Providing an accurate diagnosis and psychological and medical interventions can bring lasting positive change.

Further Resources for Focusing Problems 

Psychologist or neuropsychologist: to conduct a full assessment and to examine symptoms for a relevant diagnosis as indicated

School psychologist: to determine learning needs based on your child’s neuropsychological profile; perhaps an IEP, 504 plan, or RTI is warranted to help your child. Perhaps tutoring is recommended, and your school psychologist can help you locate resources.

Psychotherapist or play therapist : to treat emotional symptoms that arise at different ages and to help with social skills training, planning, and organization

ABA therapist : to treat behavior; to conduct an analytical Functional Analysis of the function of the behavior that can help guide treatment

Psychiatrist : to prescribe and manage psychotropic medication for inattention or impulsivity; stimulant medication for ADHD is effective in a high percentage of children with focus and impulsivity challenges

Developmental pediatrician: to help guide behavioral and medical treatment. These doctors specialize in children with developmental concerns. They can be a helpful resource for diagnosis or treatment

Executive functioning tutor or coach: to help your child focus and organize school work and keep up with study skills 

Resources for Focusing Problems

[1] Cook, Julia (2012). Personal space camp . 

[2] Esham, Barbara (2015). Mrs. Gorski, I think I have the wiggle fidgets. (New edition) (Adventures of everyday geniuses.)

[3] Zeigler Dendy, Chris A. (2011). Teaching teens with ADD, ADHD & executive function deficits: A quick reference guide for teachers and parents.

Books for clinicians

ADDItude Editors (n.d.) Focus the Attention of Distracted Children  

Linder Ed.D., Toni & Petersen-Smith Ph.D., Ann (2008) Administration Guide for TPBA2 & TPBI2 (Play-Based Tpba, Tpbi, Tpbc). Paul H. Brookes, Inc. 

Lewis, Ph.D., Jeanne, Calvery, Ph.D., Margaret, & Lewis, Ph.D., Hal (2002). Brainstars. Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams and Re-education for Students. US Department of Education: Office of Special Programs.

Books for parents

Zeigler Dendy, Chris A (2003). Teaching teens with ADD and ADHD . Woodbine house.

Zeigler Dendy, Chris A. (2011). Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents.

Cooper-Kahn, Joyce & Dietzel, Laurie C. (2008). “Late Lost and Unprepared” : A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning.

Barkley, Russell A. (2013). Taking charge of ADHD, 3rd edition: The complete, authoritative guide for parents.

Giler, Janet Z. (2011). Socially ADDept: Teaching social skills to children with ADHD, LD, and Asperger’s.

Siegel, Daniel J. & Bryson, Tina Payne (2012). The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind.  

Greene, Ross W. (2001). The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.  

Smith, Bryan & Griffen, Lisa M. (2016). What were you thinking? Learning to control your impulses (Executive function). 

Books for kids

Cook, Julia (2006). My mouth is a volcano.

Stein, David Ezra (2011). Interrupting chicken.

Cook, Julia (2012). Personal space camp . 

Esham, Barbara (2015). Mrs. Gorski, I think I have the wiggle fidgets. (New edition) (Adventures of everyday geniuses.) 

Is Your Child Not Looking When Someone Says, “Look at That!”?

Is Your Child In Their Own World?

A Fine Parent

A Life Skills Blog Exclusively For Parents

Child Not Doing Homework? Read This Before You Try Anything Else

by Tanith Carey . (This article is part of the Be Positive series. Get free article updates here .)

Child Not Doing Homework? Read This Before You Try Anything Else: Introduction

Instead, Lily had just scribbled all over her homework worksheet, thrown her pencil on the floor and was now yelling at the top of her voice: “ I hate Math! I suck at it!”

With my younger daughter to put to bed, Lily in a melt down and me exhausted after a day at work, the tension was rapidly rising.

But even if I could calm ourselves down , there was no end in sight. Even if I could persuade her to finish her math homework, Lily still had the whole book reading to do.

So I was facing two choices –

Should I stand over her and insist that not doing homework was NOT an option?

Or should I tell her to put the books away, write a note to her teacher and just let her unwind and play in the lead up to bedtime?

Have you been there? What choice would you make?

The choice I would make now is very different to what my choice would have been a few years back.

Back then, I’d try to push through with a mixture of cajoling and prompting and assurances that she did know how to do her Math  really .

If that didn’t work then maybe in despair and frustration that she didn’t seem to want to try, I would have gotten angry and tried to explain how serious I was about this.

A Game of One-Upmanship

Child Not Doing Homework? Pushy Parenting May Not Be The Right Choice

After all, what choice did I have? From the very early days in the private nursery she attended, I found myself surrounded by lots of other mothers locked into the same race to make their children the brightest and the best.

As Lily got older, I came to learn how insidiously contagious  pushy parenting is.

If one of the mothers spotted another parent with a Kumon Math folder, we all rushed to sign up too – for fear our children would get left behind.

Neurosis underpinned every conversation at the school gates – particularly as all of us were aiming to get our children into a small handful of selective private schools in the area.

Bit by bit, the parenting journey which had started off being so exciting and rewarding, was turning into a stressful game of one-upmanship .

But children are not products to be developed and put on show to reflect well on us.

child won't focus on homework

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Depending on what happens on the night, every child is conceived with a unique combination of genes which also maps out their strengths, weaknesses and personality traits before they are even born.

Lily may have been bred into a competitive hotbed. But as an innately modest and sensitive child, she decided she did not want to play.

The alarm bells started ringing in Grade Three when, after I personally made sure she turned in the best Space project, she won the prize. While I applauded uproariously from the sidelines, Lily, then seven, fled the room in tears and refused to accept the book token from the Head.

When she calmed down, she explained she hated us making a fuss. But what is just as likely is that she disliked the fact that her successes had become as much ours as hers. Even at that young age, no doubt she also realized that the more she succeeded, the more pressure she would be under to keep it up.

Over the next few years, the issues only deepened.

The Problem of Not Doing Homework

Child Not Doing Homework? Don't Let it Turn into a Daily Battle

The increasing amounts of homework sent home by the school gradually turned our house into a war zone – with me as the drill sergeant.

Homework is one of the most common flash points between kids and parents – the crossroads at which academic endeavors meet parental expectations at close quarters – and behind closed doors.

Surveys have found that homework is the single biggest source of friction between children and parents. One survey found that forty percent of kids say they have cried during rows over it. Even that figure seems like a dramatic underestimate.

Yet more and more, it is recognized that homework undermines family time and eats into hours that should be spent on play or leisure.

A straightforward piece of work that would take a child twenty minutes at school can easily take four times as long at home with all the distractions and delaying tactics that go with it.

As a result, children get less sleep , go to bed later and feel more stressed .

Homework has even started to take over summer vacations.

Once, the long break was seen as a chance for children to have adventures, discover themselves and explore nature. Now the summer months are viewed as an extension of the academic year – a chance for kids to catch up or get ahead with workbooks and tutoring.

But ultimately homework abides by the law of diminishing returns.

Researchers at Duke University found that after a maximum of two hours of homework, any learning benefits rapidly start to drop off for high school students.

While some children will do everything to avoid doing it, at the extreme others will become perfectionists who have to be persuaded to go to bed. Some moms I spoke to had to bribe their children to do less!

Given the cloud of anxiety hovering over them, no wonder some of these children perceive education as stressful .

Pushed to the Brink


While all of us would say we love our children no matter what, unfortunately that’s not the message our kids hear. Instead, children become angry when they feel we are turning them into passive projects. Rather than feel like they are disappointing us, they disconnect. Early signs may be they become uncommunicative after school, stop looking parents in the eye, become secretive or avoidant.

But we need to remember that unhappy, stressed kids don’t learn.

Over the next few years, Lily’s insistence on not doing homework kept getting worse. To try and get to the bottom of it, my husband Anthony and I took her to see educational psychologist who found strong cognitive scores and no signs of learning difficulties.

But what the report did identify was how profoundly Lily’s self-worth had been affected .  Even though I had never once told her she should be top of the class, she still felt she had to be good at everything. If she couldn’t be, she didn’t think there was any point trying at all.

It was clear despite our best efforts to support her, Lily constantly felt criticized . She was becoming defensive and resentful.

Most serious of all, by claiming she couldn’t do her homework – when she could – she was testing if my love for her was conditional on her success.

I had to face up to the painful truth that unless I took immediate action – and killed off my inner Tiger Mom – my child and I were growing apart.

So for the sake of my daughter, I realized I had to change direction and take my foot off the gas .

When her tutor rang to tell me Lily needed a break, I was delighted to agree. Since then, I have let her focus on the subjects that really matter to her – art and music – and have let her decide what direction to take them in.

I also made a deliberate effort to spend time with Lily – just the two of us – so we can simply “be” together. Now instead of trips to the museums and classical concerts, we go for walks in the park and hot chocolates.

The Difficult Journey Back

girl school tired book

To help her recognize and dismiss the voice that was bringing her down, I took her to see a Neuro-Linguistic Programming coach who teaches children strategies to untangle the persistent negative thoughts that undermine their self-belief – and replace them with positive ones.

Before we began, Jenny explained that Lily’s issues are not uncommon. As a teacher with 30 years’ experience, Jenny believes the growing pressure on children to perform from an early age is contributing to a general rise in learning anxiety. The youngest child she has helped was six .

It’s children like Lily, who don’t relish a contest, who are among the biggest casualties.

At home, some have been made to feel they are not good enough by parents or are intimidated by more academic sisters and brothers. Some may develop an inferiority complex simply because they are born into high-achieving families.

Once established, failure can also become self-reinforcing. Even when they get good marks, children like Lily still dwell on the pupil who got the higher one to support their negative views of their abilities, making it a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

It’s when children start to see this self-criticism as fact that the negative self-talk can start.

As she sat on the sofa, Jenny asked Lily if she had ever heard a nagging voice in her head that put her down. Lily looked surprised but answered that yes, she had. Asked who it was, my daughter replied: “It’s me, but the mean me.”

Asked to draw this character, Lily depicted an angry, disapproving female figure with her hands on her hips, with a mouth spouting the words “blah, blah, blah.” When asked to name her, Lily thought for a moment before coming up with the name Miss Trunch-Lily, so-called because the figure is half herself – and half the hectoring teacher from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

Now that Miss Trunch-Lily had been nailed, Jenny and Lily agreed an easy way to deal with her would be to talk back and tell her “Stop it, you meanie” one hundred times.

But that would take a long time, so Lily and Jenny came up with a quicker solution; imagining a canon which would instantly send a shower of 60 candies into her mouth so she couldn’t say another word.

Next time Lily heard her nagging voice, all she had to do was press an imaginary button and her nemesis would be silenced.

In the months that followed, Lily seemed to relax. Gradually the procrastination about homework started to vanish – and Lily was much more likely to open her books after school and quietly get on with her homework.

A Fresh New Start

Child Not Doing Homework? Don't Try to Catch Up During Vacations

Instead my husband, my daughters and I went on long walks with our dog. We examined different types of seaweed and examined crabs in rock pools.

Back in the cottage, we sat around and read books that interested us. I let the children play upstairs for hours, not on their phones, but in long elaborate role-plays, without feeling the need to interrupt once.

I would wager that Lily and Clio learnt more about themselves – and what they are capable of – in a single week than in a whole semester at their schools where they hardly get a moment to stop and think.

Taming the Tiger Parent - Tanith Carey

Of course, for the child born with a go-getting personality, teaming up with turbo-charged parents can be a winning combination – to start with at least.

But as adults, we have to start asking – how high we can raise the bar before it’s too high for our children to jump?

After all, a bigger picture is also emerging : a rise in anxiety disorders, depression and self-harm among children who have grown up with this continual pressure – and the emergence of a generation who believe they are losers if they fail, they’ve never done enough if they win.

Even among children who succeed in this environment, educationalists are finding pushy parenting creates a drive towards perfectionism which can turn into self-criticism when these young people can’t live up to such high standards.

I’m happy that in the midst of this arms race to push our kids more and more, there are changes afoot. Around the world, parents and educators are drawing up a blue-print for an alternative.

Whether it’s slow parenting , minimalist parenting , free-range parenting – or the more bluntly named Calm the F*** Down parenting , there is recognition that we need to resist the impulse to constantly push and micro-manage.

As a mother to Lily, as well as my younger daughter, Clio, I’ve decided I don’t want to be a part of all those crushing burdens of expectations. I want to provide a relief from it.

Apart from the fact it makes children happier, it’s also so much more fun.

Now I love the fact that when Lily messes around in the kitchen making cupcakes, I no longer have to fight the urge to tell her to hurry up – and badger her to finish her homework.

Of course, not doing homework is not an option – but these days in our house the aim is to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. If a concept is not understood, I don’t pull my hair out trying to be the teacher and trying to play ‘catch-up’. If Lily, now 12, genuinely does not understand it, I write a note to the member of the staff to explain that it may need further explanation. It’s a simple system and is working perfectly fine for us.

I like it that when she comes home from school, and I ask her, ‘How are you?’ I really mean it.  It’s no longer code for: ‘What marks did you get today, darling?’ and I’m not thinking ‘Hurry up with your answer, so we can get on with your homework.’

Most of all I love the fact that I can finally appreciate Lily for the person she is now: a 12-year-old girl with an acerbic sense of humor who likes Snoopy, play-dates and kittens – and not for the person I once wanted her to be.

The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

For our quick contemplation questions today –

  • Imagine meeting your child in 20 years times. Ask them to describe their childhood. Do they describe it as magical? Or do they look back on it as a race from one after school activity and homework project to the next?
  • Ask yourself what do you want for your children? When you say you want your children to be happy, what has that come to mean to you?  If you really analyze it, has it drifted into being interpreted as professional success and financial acumen? Furthermore, have you come to judge success by a very narrow definition of traditional career achievement and earning power?
  • Now check again. If you look around you, what do the happiest people you know have in common? Is it material goods, high-flying jobs and academic qualifications? Or is it emotional balance? If you approach the question another way, are the wealthiest people you know also the most satisfied with life?

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

Spend some time sorting through any conflicts related to your kids not doing homework.

To start with, train your children in good habits and place time limits on how long homework should take from the start.

Ask the school how long a child should spend on each subject at night. Then you can help keep those limits in place by telling kids they can’t spend a minute more – or a minute less – than the allotted time.

Find the time of the day after school that works best for your child – either straight after arriving home or after a short break. Agree a start time every day so that the rule turns into a routine and there is less room for resistance and negotiation.

Don’t finish their homework for kids because you are desperate to get it off the evening’s to-do list. That will just mask the problem and get you dragged into a nightly conflict. Help them instead to take responsibility for their homework, while you provide guidance from the sidelines on an on-need basis.

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About Tanith Carey

Award-winning parenting writer Tanith Carey is a mother-of-two who writes books which aim to address the most pressing issues for modern families – and how to build strong, resilient kids in today’s challenging world. Her latest book Taming the Tiger Parent: How to put your child's well-being first in a competitive world has been called a big picture book to ‘re-orientate our parenting’, ‘highly readable’ ‘well-researched’ and ‘ beautifully written’ by teachers, parents and professionals. The book has received global coverage from outlets ranging from the NBC Today Show to the New York Post to yahooparenting, the Guardian and Her seventh book 'Girls Uninterrupted - A manual for raising courageous daughters' - will be published in February 2015.

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December 22, 2014 at 9:14 am

This is interesting to me because it doesn’t match our experience at all. We are struggling with my daughter doing homework, but it’s more of an adolescent rebellion/lethargy thing.

My kids attend a Montessori school which generally does not assign homework. What homework they tend to get in the elementary levels is a packet of assorted reading and math that they have an entire week to do at whatever pace works for them. My son’s homework is optional and he always opts out. (He’s very busy at home drawing and playing piano and he’s already reading at a high school level in second grade, so we never worry about academics with him anyway.) But my oldest is in seventh grade and they are trying to transition the kids into what will happen in high school, and my daughter has balked at all the homework.

But we have never approached our kids’ homework as our responsibility. We are always available to help and answer questions, but I explain that I passed whatever grade they are in already, and this is their turn to learn and show what they know. It’s been much harder clamping down on my oldest and making sure she knows what the homework is and has it ready. I explained to her recently that I remember those rebellious feelings, but the only person she’s hurting is herself. She’s limiting her choices later by not doing homework. Her teachers care, but in the end it doesn’t impact them, either. It’s all on her. I also told her the worst case scenario is she ends up at the local high school by default instead of following her friends to better places, but that the local high school is good too, so it’s not the end of the world.

I actually worry when I read about other parents monitoring elements of their kids’ lives so much more closely than I do that I’m not doing enough, but my kids are smart and happy and kind and I think they will do fine in the world, so I suppose we will stick with what we are doing. Because all of us are getting some part of it wrong, regardless.

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December 22, 2014 at 11:07 am

Thanks so much for sharing that perspective, Korinthia. I love your calm and collected approach to everything parenting, so I’m not entirely surprised with the way you approach home work 🙂 That said, in the circles I hang out, very few parents (if any) would be as calm about this as you are! I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact that most of us are first generation immigrants and are quite fanatic about education…

Even among our friends, we are a bit of an extreme case. Our daughter goes to a private school. She’s had to do daily homework on weekdays (Mon – Thu) since Kinder. We did have some initial resistance, but it’s mostly a well-established habit now. When she comes home, we take a short break, and then she sits down for homework while I get dinner ready.

Most of the days, it happens without any issues. Some days, she tries to change the rules by wanting to play before homework. I understand her want to do that, but having come from a middle class family in a developing country, my perspective on this is very different. We are where we are, quite literally, due to the discipline we had in regards to education. That discipline is a very powerful thing and like many things the earlier you get it instilled the easier it is. I see it as my job to instill that discipline in my daughter. What she wants to do with it when she grows up is up to her. (In my own case, I’ve shelved a Ph.D to be a stay-at-home mom now and pursue what I really want to do. But that’s been possible only because my degree allowed me to get a high-paying job where I was able to save enough that I don’t have to worry about money for a few years. In those years, if I can find a way to earn a modest income from this site without selling my soul, great. If not, I’ll go back to my old job and repeat the cycle. It’s an amazing freedom to have!)

Anyway, so to me, it boils down to this: this is another case of the intricate balance we parents have to strike — we need to nudge our kids to reach their full potential, but without making it stressful and hopefully in a way that they actually enjoy the process. It’s not easy, and like you I wonder sometimes if I’m making the right choice. And here, I’ll defer to your wise words, because I can’t say it any better — my [daughter is] smart and happy and kind and I think will do fine in the world, so I suppose we will stick with what we are doing. Because all of us are getting some part of it wrong, regardless. 🙂

December 22, 2014 at 3:36 pm

I’m endlessly fascinated with how many ways there are to do things as a family. And it’s always interesting to know what others think of as normal.

I guess for us it comes down to the idea that learning is important, but grades are not. I had a horribly unfair incident in college concerning a grade, and I remember my grandmother smiling and saying, “No one ever asks me what my GPA was.” And it’s true. MIT was threatening to withhold my brother’s Master’s Degree over a deadline on a signature he had nothing to do with, and he just shrugged it off and said, “They can’t take back what I learned.” (They did finally give him his degree, but he really didn’t care.) Grades don’t really mean much. A “B” for one student may be a mark of a lot of effort, and evidence of slacking off for another. I’m more interested in what my kids actually know.

I think that’s why Montessori has been such a good fit for us. They teach to the individual, they don’t give letter grades, and there is no sense of competition, only striving to learn more about the world. We know by comparison to other schools around the city that ours is one of the highest performing, so we feel confident that they are getting a good education, but it’s their education, not mine.

Maybe because I grew up in a family of artists? We were always busy, always making things and learning something new. That’s what I want for my kids. I like that they are never bored, and that they LOVE school. They love it. They pretend not to be sick when they have a cold just so they can go. I guess in my mind that’s what school should be. Someplace to be excited about.

December 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm

It is fascinating, isn’t it? I think the way we grow up, and what we have experienced, colors the lens through which we see the world.

I agree with you that at the end of the day, learning, and the love of learning, are more important than everything else.

I think differently about grades though. Grades to me, are a reflection of how well you can apply that learning. Knowledge by itself isn’t enough. You need to be able to apply it in some way – either to earn a living, or help make the world a better place, or whatever. For kids, getting good grades are a way to practice applying/expressing their knowledge… it’s a very narrow and imperfect way to do it, but it’s what we have, nevertheless.

And, I look at absolute grades… not relative ones. In other words, I don’t care how many other kids did better or worse than her in any given test… I’m interested mainly in what she did or didn’t do well.

Just like us, she will sometimes be successful in applying that knowledge. Sometimes, not as much. The question then is, what can I do to help her better retain what she has learnt and apply it more effectively?

Now, if her grades aren’t good because of something outside her control, she is off the hook. If not, we hold her accountable, and work on it together to try and figure out what she can change/improve to do better next time.

So far, this seems to have worked and I haven’t beat the joy of learning out of her, yet 🙂 But, we’re still at the beginning of her learning journey… we’ll have to see what happens as we go along and things get more demanding and more complex…

PS: This is one of the more interesting discussions I’ve had on this blog in a while — Thank you! 🙂

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December 23, 2014 at 4:10 am

Thanks for the very considered and calm discussion of this issue that is happening here. This piece is not about Lily so much as it is about how great it can be when we parents discard our baggage and come to our children afresh. My book Taming the Tiger Parent has been called ‘a book to re-orientate’ parenting – and really it is about one thing: Finding empathy and connection with our children without letting the world (which does not always want the best for our kids) to get in the way. Please share so that we get other parents have the confidence to do the same – and enjoy their parenting more..(and that’s just the adults!)

December 23, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Sumitha, I’m probably biased about grades because my own history with them has been so unrepresentative, and I think people place too much stock in them. In my kids’ school they work on preparing a portfolio of all kinds of work rather than relying on letter grades, and that works better for us. But as far as using grades simply as a barometer of whether a child is taking care of responsibilities that seems completely reasonable.

That’s one of the discussions I’m continually having with my daughter at the moment, that she needs to provide evidence for her teachers that she’s done the work. She feels the magic of a book, for instance, is marred by her picking it apart for an analysis. She’ll read the book, and she’s a good writer, but she resents the type of work assigned about it and sometimes won’t do it. (I used to do the same thing, so I get it.) I tell her she just has to pick her consequence. She can either suck it up and do the work, challenge the work by coming up with a different assignment that maybe meets the same criteria the teachers are interested in, or not do it. The first two improve her report card, and the third hurts it. The report card is a means to more choices about her future. (As her mom, I’m actually just happy she read and loved the book.)

In the end, I’m not worried. For her, bad grades at a good school are probably worth more than good grades at a bad school, and she will still have more choices than the average child. Wherever she ends up she will make it work, but that’s up to her.

I acknowledge we are in a privileged position, because she’s got enough talent and charm and resources and family that she will not starve, she will not be homeless, regardless of grades. I think the real key to success is figuring out your passion if you can, so you know what you’re working toward. As soon as she figures that out I’m convinced she has the skills and discipline to build a good life for herself. I did. (And my report cards would have given you a panic attack!)

December 23, 2014 at 9:24 pm

I have to agree with you and your daughter about the book reports — we did our first one a few weeks back, and it was decidedly much more unpleasant compared to just reading and enjoying the book!

Good luck convincing your daughter to pick one of the first two consequences. But it is clear that even if she picks the third you’ll take it in your stride — which is what I find so admirable about you 🙂

December 25, 2014 at 8:11 am

Such an interesting discussion, thank you!

One more piece to toss in there if you have time for it:

I know it’s an article about practicing music, but it’s the same idea about grades as a reward, and how that backfires.

I think for me it’s not that grades are not important, it’s that they should reflect something real. If my kids are learning and working hard, the grades will follow. But their focus should always be on their education, not their grades.

December 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

That is particularly true in music where racing from one music grade to the next, as kids do here, can destroy enjoyment of music for its own sake – and that is a very sad. It just becomes about teaching to the test. In my view children should have music as another language – and another outlet for emotion, not just as a way to build CVs

December 25, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Well said. Couldn’t agree more.

December 26, 2014 at 8:37 am

@Korinthia, sorry for the late reply — busy with the holidays.

Love that article you pointed to. Some time back, I came across several articles by Alfie Kohn and got very confused about this whole rewards thingie. At that point I was just starting to move away from threats, punishment and screaming, and thought I was doing good by using rewards and positive reinforcement instead, and Kohn’s articles turned that notion on it’s head.

Things eventually started to fall in place when I read the “Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg.

My very unsubstantiated, unproven, non-scientific conclusion (which I wrote about here ) is based on this observation mentioned in that article — Kohn and his colleagues would admit that rewards, bribes and praise do indeed work in the short term — and Chales Duhigg’s observations that once a habit is formed, you can remove the reward completely from the habit loop and the habit will continue.

So in my opinion, if you use rewards as a way to establish a habit and not as the end result, they still have a place.

In the case of grades for instance, grades are a way to get into a consistent study habit which is — pay attention in class, learn what the teacher is teaching, review at home if necessary, let’s talk about it as much as you want or you can look things up in books/Net, apply in a test. At 1st grade it’s very hard to make learning *all* subjects fun, but a habit like this will apply to all subjects universally. Grades are a great way to get that habit started initially — they are tangible and there is recognition. As we go on, we focus the message on the learning — for instance, like me, grammar was not my daughters favorite subject. By looking at the test results and saying “Hey, you did well in your grammar test. You’re learning a lot for a first grader! What is this you’ve done here? Diagramming? We never did that in India. Will you teach me how to diagram a sentence?” implicitly acknowledges the grade on that test, but the grade isn’t the focus. When she draws on her white board and teaches me how to diagram a sentence, there is pride and joy in her and now she is a lot more interested in grammar.

I am not a music person (I know, sorry :)) but I would think that using a reward to get a child to practice until the child’s first performance isn’t a bad idea. Once the child performs in front of an audience, and enjoys that sense of accomplishment, the practice habit will likely carry through, even if you remove whatever temporary reward you used. If the child has an inclination towards music, they will learn to enjoy the practicing part of it too as they go along — it’s just a matter of getting them to do it for long enough to recognize that.

December 26, 2014 at 8:54 am

@Korinthia, I’m still thinking about it 🙂

The latest discussion reminded me about the marble jar experiment you shared on your blog some time back ( here ). At first your kids may have done the chores to earn those marbles to get the screen time or other things (rewards). But once the system (habit) was established, the marbles (or the things they could buy) is not necessarily a motivator to do the chores… it is “just how things are done” — a simple habit/system that removes the need for verbal negotiation, arguing, reminders, cajoling, power struggles etc from the picture and hence makes what needs to be done tolerable/fun for everyone involved.

December 27, 2014 at 3:48 am

To be honest on music, I think you also know your child is playing the right instrument when they do want to practice. I know that sounds idealistic but they will be much drawn towards that instrument if it’s the one that lights their ‘spark.’ Lily and Clio both do play the violin to a very high level – but as I explain in my book, that doesn’t mean I have had been to be an Amy Chau tiger parent to get to them point. Also music has become a way of life in our house, and they play music together, which helps.

January 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

(Sorry to keep this discussion dragging on forever, but it’s the kind of thing I really enjoy!)

Sumitha, I agree about using some rewards for forming habits. When my kids first started violin we got into a routine of combining practice with dessert. We don’t often have dessert, but to get them in a habit of practicing after dinner they would get marshmallows for each little thing they played. Then just at the end of the practicing. Then not at all and they didn’t notice. They were four and six at the time and that helped because it was easier to catch their attention with marshmallows than with some abstract sense of musical improvement, which on violin is painfully slow.

The hardest part about teaching beginning violin is to keep students essentially distracted from the fact that they don’t sound like anything for a long, long time, while they put in the necessary work that will improve how they sound. I used to use small stickers with my students to mark when songs were done, but it wasn’t much of a reward. My kids’ violin teacher uses toys and candy as incentives week to week, and I can see how it backfires. It takes the focus off the work and onto the treat, and not getting the treat feels like punishment. My son’s piano teacher doesn’t even use stickers–just checks things off so he knows not to keep working on them, and that’s working much better, but there is a lot more instant gratification to piano than there is to violin.

In terms of grades, we just view them differently. They tell such an incomplete story that they don’t interest me much. You know a little something if a kid gets all good grades vs. all bad grades, but beyond that, nothing useful. When I was in 7th grade I had a notoriously sexist shop teacher who would NOT give a girl an A in mechanical drawing. I know my first drawing in that class was better than the boy’s sitting next to me, but he got all A’s. I complained to my mom who told me when she was in college absolutely no woman could get an A in her advertising class, and she was far and away the best artist there. (Also, some agencies flat out did not hire women, which still blows my mind.) I got alternating A’s and failing grades in reading in 6th grade based purely on whether I handed in the assignments. The quality of the writing didn’t matter to the teacher. Would you rather hire a writer who writes well, or one who writes poorly but always meets deadlines? Depends on the need.

When I think about grades I always think about the valedictorian from my brothers’ high school class. One of my brothers spent his senior year at USC. He was second in his class because he got a B in one of those college courses. Number one? A girl who spent all of her high school experience striving for perfect grades. Her brother was the valedictorian of my class, and she felt she had to match that. It was expected. So she took courses purely based on what she could get an A in. She did not risk taking physics, or calculus. She avoided English and History classes taught by the more challenging teachers. She wasted her chance at an interesting education so she could say she was valedictorian. For myself as a parent, that would not make me proud at all. If as a family we were disadvantaged and that status would provide important opportunities my child wouldn’t otherwise get, then sure, that would be a worthy (if distorted) goal. It’s all relative, and again, every family is different.

Tanith, I agree that kids have to play an instrument that speaks to them. I wish more parents knew that. I had a sample lesson once with a really hostile boy who had a ton of talent and ability, and his mom was making him play. I asked him what he would rather do, and he wanted to play guitar. I told his mom I thought he should switch (or even just add it) because violin brought him no joy. At it’s core, music should be about joy. His mom had a sense of “violin is better” and it was a status thing for her. She was shocked I suggest he be allowed to play guitar and said, “You think guitar is okay?” I told her there was nothing wrong with guitar, and if he liked what he was playing he would do better and enjoy it more. Glad your children like playing violin! One of my projects for the new year is to start building a full size one for my oldest and have her help. (Not many kids get to play a violin they literally had a hand in making, so that should be fun!)

January 2, 2015 at 11:02 am

I love this discussion, too Korinthia! Thank you so much for it. Both writing about it, and reading your’s and Tanith’s points of view has been great for me for sorting through what I want/stand for, in terms of grades, homework etc. for my daughter. With our choice to send her to a private school, these are a part of our everyday life and being more clear about it sure helps!

Your words “If as a family we were disadvantaged and that status would provide important opportunities my child wouldn’t otherwise get, then sure, that would be a worthy (if distorted) goal.” — this describes my life quite literally. While I can see your perspective on grades and it makes a ton of sense, it is hard for me to actually be that cool about it, simply because I am where I am because of the grades, degrees etc (I had written a guest post a while ago that may provide some background here – on money and happiness ). Even though grades/degrees haven’t brought anything of real substance to my life, they nevertheless are the tickets that opened a lot of doors for us and so I simply can’t bring myself to totally break free from them — but I am happy that through these discussions, I am broadening my perspective a bit and hopefully my daughter will benefit from it!

About music, most Asian kids end up in piano classes by default, but my daughter didn’t quite show any interest in a play keyboard she had as a kid which I took as an indication that it’s not her “thing”. I’ve talked to her a couple of times about guitar classes — while she shows interest in it for the novelty of it, she didn’t pounce on it like when I mentioned art class. A lot of my friends argue that kids can doodle and paint at home and there’s no need to spend on classes, and that money is better spent on music so we can introduce something ‘new’ to our kids. I see that point, but I am a believer of the 10,000 hour rule and if she loves art, and doodling, I’d rather pay for her to just take classes in that and hone that craft. Again, no idea if that is a good choice or if it will come back to bite me in the future… we’ll see 🙂

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December 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

I really like what you have to say. It converges well with what I have said in my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.

December 23, 2014 at 8:41 am

Thanks for sharing that, Dr. Goldberg. Sounds like an interesting book. I will try to grab a copy of it.

December 24, 2014 at 3:51 am

Thanks Dr Goldberg. I will be definitely checking out your book and sharing it. I think it’s so important that writers in this area band together so others can see there there’s a strong movement forming, questioning where the current educational ethos is leading us.

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November 20, 2019 at 7:28 pm

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January 2, 2018 at 10:44 am

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October 17, 2018 at 1:18 pm

So what was the title of this BOOK I didn’t read !?!? Guess I overlooked it !!! Just look for a few good pointers not a book to read !!!

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May 15, 2020 at 9:36 pm

Thank you SO much for these words….

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December 22, 2014 at 10:12 am

Ooh Tanith, excellent article, thank you for sharing this with Sumitha and the rest of us. It was more than I expected. At first I thought, “Well, my kid doesn’t really have issues too much with homework . . . but I’ll look it over.” Very glad I did, it’s much more than homework!

Yes, the delays and distractions, that’s what I have here with my 9 year old. Despite our questions to the school, we never got a complete answer as to how kids were “sorted” each year into what class. Turns out they did it by testing scores and not the “mix-up” of kids to juggle things up from year to year as I was originally told years ago. Of course this created a bit of hurt pride and friction about the subject with my husband and I towards the school as we of course thought our child should be in with the other kids. Even now, with a friend’s child being in the other class, there is a pressure for our own child to do better, push harder, get into that class. Luckily my husband is more level-headed about it than me and this article gave me a good wake-up call. The amount of work they had was more than her class and gave me some concern as to whether she was learning enough. Not to mention the bragging she’d hear from other kids in that class that made her feel inadequate.

Not every child is going to be the next Einstein and we know our daughter is a smart girl but has a stronger pull, like your Lily, toward art and other subjects. We have to enhance their skills and passions and not just push, push, push for the grades and I feel I was like you as well, nervous with the report card. I was proud of her but wanted her to do better but my husband would say, she’s done well, you can’t compare her to so and so and I couldn’t and shouldn’t have. It hit home quickly last year when at the end of the school year, she had two awards and was so happy and I saw a few grades and felt a bit disappointed. I could see it took the wind out of her little sails and I told myself to get my act together and stop it. There was the summer project already spread out on the last day of school, which is a bit discouraging as not all schools do it and it’s a yearly thing for us but we took it in stride.

It also made me wonder about kids that are pushed, some take it out in frustrations and others, it seems to us, do the opposite and just push themselves to the point that they even feel that’s what matters most and I feel sorry for them. I wonder if that bragging isn’t covering up insecurities or worries.

I was worried about her starting to read as a preschooler when I found out one of the teacher’s kids was particularly gifted and rolling along at a very fast rate. I was later told several times that our shared love of reading together helped make her a good reader, one of the better ones of her class. When I took the pressure off of making her read, when often she didn’t feel like it, other than sitting with me while I read, it was more enjoyable and her reading progressed along just fine. Last year it was math that was the issue and now she’s doing very well in math but her language/vocabulary aren’t what they were. A cycle of some kind, who knows but we work on what needs tending to and I try not to push her to where she feels there is nothing else. She still needs that down time, that play time, enough sleep for certain and a chance to be a kid still, she is one, after all.

We have an allotted time for homework and I contact her teacher if something is a problem. I don’t help her like I used to but guide her and she takes pride in her work and getting her corrections done in school with the teacher.

Parenting is an everyday learning course. Obviously this article hit home, thank you. I look forward to more of your work Tanith and thank you as always Sumitha. A blessed holiday season to you both and a break that’s filled with fun and not work!

December 22, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Thank you so much for sharing that, Bernadette. There’s nothing like listening to stories from other parents and finding that common thread to feel normal again 🙂

We have the opposite combination in our house – my husband’s really fanatic about how my daughter does in school, while I am a little more level-headed.

I think the biggest eye opener for me were these words from Tanith – “for the child born with a go-getting personality, teaming up with turbo-charged parents can be a winning combination – to start with at least. But as adults, we have to start asking – how high we can raise the bar before it’s too high for our children to jump?” Our daughter has a very competitive streak, and at first it did look like my husband pushing her to be the best was really a good combination. But then she messed up one test and the fall out was beyond ridiculous. I couldn’t believe my husband’s (over) reaction or that overnight, my daughter was turning into a liar right before our very eyes. Where she thrived on competition before, she started to make excuses and make up stories. I had to put my foot down and set some explicit house rules about what is acceptable and what is not, on both their parts. It took a while but we have a working system now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that we can nourish her strong natural tendency to try to be the best and the joy she gets from accomplishing things, without letting it take over or be the only thing! Like Korinthia said above, it is almost guaranteed that we won’t get it all right all the time… the key is to do the best we can, and like you said, keep on learning!

December 23, 2014 at 4:17 am

Dear Bernadette. I think you hit on a very interesting point here. “It also made me wonder about kids that are pushed, some take it out in frustrations and others.” I have been exploring this point because I believe that one of the unacknowledged knock-on effects of competitive parenting is sibling rows and tension. The children don’t just compete to win in the outside world – they do it at home too, leading to many more squabbles and less happy home. My girls Lily and Clio, for example, have never got on better – they collaborate and help each other with music, homework etc Yet I hear other parents proudly trumpet how they have children dead set on beating each other as if they was making them excel further. Instead is sets up a template that I believe can ruin sibling relationships into adulthood Another reason to take the foot of the gas….

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December 22, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Really liked the article. Parenting is like walking on a razor’s edge and very rightly said, ‘all of us are getting parts of it wrong’…. Regardless :)..

Stay happy, keep the kid happy and let them be!

December 23, 2014 at 4:18 am

Thanks Anshu. Please share if you can to give other parents the confidence to take their foot off the gas!

December 23, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thanks Dr. Anshu. Stay happy, keep the kid happy and let them be! — that’s a great mantra to live by 🙂

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February 8, 2016 at 7:38 pm

This could not polbsisy have been more helpful!

February 21, 2016 at 6:54 pm

Great. I am so pleased you found it constructive.

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February 21, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Encourage him to express his opinion, talk about his feelings, and make choices. Show enthusiasm for your child’s interests and encourage her to explore subjects that fascinate her. Provide him with play opportunities that support different kinds of learning styles — from listening and visual learning to sorting and sequencing. Ask about what he’s learning in school, not about his grades or test scores. Thanks!

February 21, 2016 at 6:53 pm

‘Ask about what he’s learning in school, not about his grades or test scores.’ Exactly

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February 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Hi Tanith Carey,

I agree with you because it can be hurt child mind. Rest other motivation way very good from Evelyn W. Minnick. Also, I have written a blog for helping kids and it’s related to this article. “Best Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Homework Without All the Drama” To read this article visit at

I hope my answer will help more readers of this article.

Thanks Nancie L Beckett

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February 25, 2016 at 5:05 pm

This is a great article with lots of quality information about handling homework with kids. I’m a Tutor, you don’t believe “My kid Refuses to Do Homework Assignment.” After lots of research I got a solution, but it takes time. So I’m sharing with you.

Here’s How to Stop the Struggle:-

1. Try to stay calm 2. Set clear expectation around homework time and responsibilities. 3. Play the parental role most useful to your child. 4. Keep activities similar with all your kids. 5. Start early and Offer empathy and support. 6. Use positive reinforcement and incentives.

I used those. Meanwhile, I have written a blog about “How to Make Studying Less Stressful and More Fun?” visit at

Let me know if you have questions

Thanks Arlene B. Morgan

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August 2, 2016 at 3:46 am

The reality is that every kid is different and what works for one child may not work for another, even with kids in the same family. When our children were small, our goal was to make the actual work process and homework help as pleasant as possible. This was most commonly accomplished by placing a fuzzy, lazy cat on the lap of the student. Very few children (or adults for that matter) will rise from their chairs when there’s a cat sleeping on their lap. The cat also provides company without interfering with the actual thinking process.

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September 21, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Very helpful information, my son who is 7 is not the biggest fan of homework. It does depend on the evening and last night was a doozy! He usually has Math every second day which is a review sheet from what they did in class. He acts out, lack of focus, complains that he is tired etc.

Last school year after Spring Break I had finally had enough, and decided homework would get done on my terms, I wanted my happy go lucky son back, so some nights we did not do homework, knowing that on nights that we did there would be more. That seemed to work.

This year my husband and I are working harder with our son, as he struggles with reading and writing. He is in Grade 2, but not at a Grade 2 level, we have support from his teacher, but last night when he was kicking up a fuss about Math, which he does well with I wondered if the subject he struggles with is the cause of the fuss. He even refused to read last night.

We know he feels like we are always working on learning, and we feel the same, but at the same time want to do what we can to support his learning development. I feel helpless at times, as I know he is aware that he struggles, especially when he says things like “I can’t read Mommy”. I try and keep it positive and that there are things that everyone struggles with, and we have to practice to get better.

I am always searching different ways to aid with his learning that will keep him engaged.

I know I rambled….

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March 31, 2017 at 10:41 am

>>Of course, not doing homework is not an option – but these days in our house the aim is to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Well, I have to disagree with you, kids in Finland do not do homework and their schools simply gave up giving their students homeworks and nothing happened, Finland is still on first levels of education ladders. So it’s optional for everyone , however if it is not optional for you child you can always ask other people for math homework help or chemistry homework help.

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April 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm

This article was helpful. While I don’t push my kid to be perfect or ask how other kids did compared to her I constantly get push back from my child with anything she doesn’t want to do. It can be very frustrating. She doesn’t like my input on solving problems at all so I have to just back off or deal with her covering her ears and tuning me out.

She fortunately listens to her teacher, but if she gets tired of something, she loves to tune people out. She is 7 now and has been this way since she was about 4. Example, she got tired of listening to her swim instructor at age 4 and would submerge herself under water so she didn’t have to listen. She is a CHALLENGE and if you give her the option to slack off with work she will do it. Not quite sure how to even go about it. She could care less if she got no credit for missing work. To her, it’s no consequence so it’s been difficult to figure out a workaround with her. She isn’t a spoiled child and if you took the few things she does have away from her, she is fine with that. I don’t like threatening to take things away though. I feel it solves nothing. Challenging!

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November 4, 2017 at 9:59 am

Any advice for people who aren’t wealthy? The amount of time and money required for your solutions are absolutely not available to the vast majority of Americans. Neuro linguistic training and private schools? Impossible for all but a few. Most of us are *not* in some insane competition with other parents to push our kids into Harvard by starting waiting lists for preschool. Most of us just want our kids to be able to take care of themselves someday and be successful enough to be happy. Not doing homework is a problem for most kids, rich or poor, competitive or not, regardless of personality, regardless of parenting. This advice is about your child at all. It’s about what you did to your child and then had to undo. Not all kids have been conditioned to internalize the overbearing voice of their type A parents. Some just don’t want to do homework.

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November 6, 2017 at 2:42 am

Thank you for this article. Wow, I relate so much to this article. I struggle with my 11 yr old to do homework. She’s exactly like Lily, a soon as she starts doing homework she calls for my help that she doesn’t understand. She’s very bright and learns right away, but I do see she’s stressing. She feels that she’s too slow and takes to long to finish her homework. I know is me without realizing I am pressuring her too much. I must change.

I’m going to change our schedule. I just realized that I didn’t make enough quality time. I need to change that and not pressure my princess about homework.

Thank you so much.

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December 23, 2017 at 11:14 pm

Hi folks! My son is older, in 10th grade, and thus it is a very delicate time. That said, up until recently, he was working hard but generally doing well in Honors classes, AP Biology, and AP US History. He is also in band and very intererested in Congressional Debate in Forensics Club. He’s developed a forceful personality, and pursues his goals fearlessly.

Then, it seems a single English research paper broke the camel’s back. It was a walk-thru project: Do basic step A, use A to do 3 days of research in the library, identify a list of relevant quotes, analyze the quotes, develop a rough draft, etc. During the first stages, he always had a reason why it wasn’t done. The grading structure required every step to be completed before the next step started. So, he sat. Supposedly, he had a paper step written in Google Docs…but now he doesn’t remember the “dashed off” name (“stuff2958749.doc”, for example) so he considers that..and the previous steps useless. Why do I need to do this stuff, when I can just write the paper? Why?

My wife is an experienced special educator, and the teacher is engaged and working with us to give our son more options. Still, he pushes back. We’ve done so far as to negotiate him just working on the rough draft, and accepting the zeros on the skipped stages. Somehow, that devolved into him retreating into his room, slamming his door. He has proposed that the teacher “simply” nullify the assignment without a set of grades. If we accept this multiple zero, it will possibly wreck his entire class, possibly causing him to fail 10th grade English. In NJ, that means you don’t move forward to 11th grade.

I’ve had a couple of long discussions with him, away from his mother. He mentions a desire for a more intense structure. He references his stay at an advanced debate camp, where he engaged with other students…who were attending very expensive private schools. “One you see the outside world, you can never be satisfied with being trapped indoors”…he has restated this concept in multiple ways. These schools are beyond our reach financially, and in any case, they aren’t an option in the middle of a school year. And it is unlikely that he’d be accepted, if he wrecks his class grades.

Part of this scenario seems to be a desire to force us to engage with him, in an attempt to work around the school structure. He does have an IEP and 504, which in middle school once allowed him to work independently. Somehow, he thinks that is an option in 10th grade honors English.

Engaging is a real challenge. He’s confident in his ability to argue, and is fully willing to ignore our facts and predictions of fallout. He even discredits his mother’s deep educational knowledge and experience, and then criticizes my perceived lack of business success as ad hominem attacks. (I’m doing fine, but it forces me to defend, and thus is successful distraction.) So far, laying out consequences has been entirely ineffectual. He requires an answer to his “Why?”, but disregards the answers as inadequate. He demands an academic answer to why the teaching technique (the walk-thru research paper) is required or effectual, then derides it as “not a real answer”.

It ends up with a closed door.

The teacher is running out of patience, and we’re running out of ideas. I don’t think the teacher is even allowed to give more that she’s allowing, and might be bending the rules as-is. Our son spent 2 hours with counselors….not guidance counselors…counselors…giving them the same run-around. I think they (2 of them at the same time) gave their best, but they fell back to asking what he wanted: more time maybe?

I’ve read other sources. I see that a full-on psych eval was recommended. At this point, I’m fine with that if it helps. I suspect we’d need to get our son to buy into it. But would that still result in his English grade cratering? Are we risking a cascade failure into other classes?

It’s a very delicate time, and this scenario is not an easy one. I’d like to have simple, pat answer: he’s looking for attention; he’s stressed out over the sheer amount of work; he’s frustrated at the forced slowness of the curriculum; the class is group and can’t move at an accelerated speed (ans: it’s Honors.). But I’m guessing it’s more complex that 1 root-cause.

Given this, I’d not mind some considered advice. Thanks!

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May 28, 2018 at 9:19 pm

O my, I do get this. My son pushes back a lot these days, partly the teen and hormones? Right now we are working with setting boundaries, coping with meltdowns and spending time each day bonding over something other than work. It’s horrible to have to walk on eggshells and think you cannot just talk to your kid and resolve something…so simple. My heart goes out to you. A lot of listening is required, and prayers. And in the end, we let him slow things down by an entire year. Take care!

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March 17, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Oh my land, thank you for this. I found it today when my kid dissolved into tears after she dragged her homework on for 4 hours on a Saturday, while I nagged her and then snapped at her.

I left the room, googled “child won’t do homework”, found this and read it, went back into the room, hugged her and asked her if trying to make her homework perfect was slowing her down. She said yes, then we talked about that, and her inner critic, and what she could do about that awful little critical voice in her head.

Amazing – thank you.

May 28, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Just found your comment. So pleased it helped.

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July 13, 2018 at 8:57 am

I think that if the child does not want to do homework, then everything is fine. I still do not know a single child who would like to do homework. I read the article that homework kills creativity, and I quite agree with that. After all, the child instead of spending time for something really interesting, should do boring homework. When I have a son, I will allow him not to do homework, but in exchange I will tell him that he must be interested in something that really will benefit him in development. Thank you for this article!

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October 31, 2018 at 1:07 am

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November 12, 2018 at 3:23 am

I am brother of a 12 year old boy studying in seventh grade.I find him not getting interested in studying or doing homework after coming home from school.He is worried more about video games and TV.He get to do his home works only after continuous pressure from parents.He is very attentive,obedient and performs well in school.But at home , he says he need to rest from studies. I hope this tips will help him to get more involved in studies!

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December 7, 2018 at 3:16 pm

The issue is process vs. results. By letting your daughter skimp on her homework, she’s going to pick up bad habits … such as doing what she wants to do instead of taking care of her responsibilities. We teach “Work hard, then play hard” in our home. Our goals are process-oriented, like show up for class and turn in your homework, rather than results-oriented, like why don’t you have an A in this class. By teaching our children to work, even when they don’t feel like it sometimes, they can build a foundation of responsibility that will “result” in a more successful, well-rounded experience. Some kids may be different … they may be given all the freedom you are preaching turn that into tremendous happiness. But I’ll build my foundation on discipline, and my children will earn their self-worth by taking care of their responsibilities … not throwing a fit until an authority finally gives in.

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April 18, 2019 at 6:22 am

This is good

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April 25, 2019 at 3:11 am

Thank you for sharing this article, you are very interesting to write, your blog is really interesting to read!

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June 24, 2019 at 6:44 pm

This is really good and helpful. Thanks for sharing this article. 🙏

August 10, 2019 at 1:57 am

I think that the real reasons why the child does not do their homework can be very many of them all of their parents will never know. The main thing is to be able to find a common language in your child!

October 16, 2019 at 6:37 am

I have to agree with you and your daughter about the book reports — we did our first one a few weeks back, and it was decidedly much more unpleasant compared to just reading and enjoying the book!

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October 20, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Children do not do their homework because they watch a lot of TV shows and play on the phone.

October 23, 2019 at 3:35 am

All parents want their children to be successful, successful and happy. Schooling is one of the important components of a child’s life. The school will be the main part of its reality for 8-10 years. Therefore, the baby needs to help adapt, feel comfortable and learn how to succeed

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February 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm

nice tips, I hope it will help

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February 22, 2020 at 11:50 pm

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April 8, 2020 at 3:15 am

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is where that max effort comes into play. It’s another form of cardio in which you should only be able to sustain activity for about 30 seconds before you need a break. It should feel pretty difficult for you to catch your breath while you’re doing this type of training (anaerobic meaning “the absence of oxygen”). Explosive exercises like plyometrics, sprinting, and even heavy weightlifting are all examples of anaerobic exercise. “The body uses phosphocreatine and carbohydrates as fuel [for anaerobic exercise] because they can be broken down rapidly,” Olson explains. “Fats take too long to break down as an energy source.”

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May 5, 2020 at 2:53 am

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Hi, there! Great article! I heard that web design is now one of the most sought-after professions and if your children do not know who they would like to work, then go to the site and they will see how great this profession is!

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October 24, 2020 at 6:16 am

Nice post! I’ve been looking for a site like , with a lot of useful information about children! thank you for your work, I’m going to read your articles

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November 7, 2020 at 12:07 pm

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January 29, 2021 at 6:04 am

wow, cool good meterial

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February 25, 2021 at 6:06 am

Thank you for the article. This is a really powerful method. I don’t know what I would do without him. Homework and children are created in different universes, I think. Thank you for the blog, I will follow you.

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December 27, 2023 at 6:12 am

Thank you for sharing this heartfelt journey. It resonates with many parents striving to find the right balance between academic expectations and their child’s happiness. How do you navigate the delicate task of encouraging achievement without overwhelming your child? #ParentingInsights

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Connected Families

  • December 7, 2022

3 Ways To Help When Your Child Refuses To Do Schoolwork

child refuses to do schoolwork

What can you do when your child refuses to do schoolwork? For a variety of reasons, kids sometimes (or often!) are unmotivated to do what needs to be done. You know the importance of schoolwork, so it can feel frustrating when your child digs their heels in and flat-out refuses to do it.

You can bring more joy to your child’s educational experience. No matter what your schooling situation is (homeschool, private, public), here are some practical ideas to empathize , encourage , and empower ( problem-solve). Before we dive deeper, it’s important to first check what’s going on in your own heart.

Check what’s going on inside you first

Effectively helping your kids starts with learning to navigate your own anxiety , so you can lead your children calmly. Ask yourself, “Why does this bother me so much? What is underneath my frustration?”

  • Are you simply overloaded with responsibilities, and you just want your child to do this without all the fuss? 
  • Are you frustrated that your co-parent isn’t as involved as you’d like them to be? 
  • Are you anxious about your child’s future ? 
  • If you struggled, are you determined to prevent the kind of discouragement you experienced? 
  • Or if you were a high achiever, are you determined that your child has the same success? 

With that insight, what are some beliefs based in the rock-solid foundation of God’s truth? 

For example, you might be thinking, “If my child fails this class, I have failed her, and she may fail in life,” Instead, try to embrace this freeing truth: “If my child fails a class, it’s a class. That’s it. It doesn’t define either of us or limit God’s purposes for my child.  “

Remind yourself and your children that there is plenty of grace for this struggle, God is with you in it, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Try to embrace this freeing truth: “If my child fails a class, it’s a class. That’s it. It doesn’t define either of us or limit God’s purposes for my child.  “

Empathize when your child refuses to do schoolwork

It is important to empathize with your kids before you try to solve the problem. Step into their shoes as you ask yourself:

  • What’s it like to be them?
  • What are they feeling? 
  • Are there basic needs (nutrition, sleep, outside stress) that could be causing them to struggle? 

Your child might be experiencing overstimulation, boredom, low blood sugar, fatigue, or lack of exercise and/or sleep. Whatever the stressors your kids are experiencing, it’s helpful to express, “ I get what it’s like to be you! ” 

Some kids’ brains are like a microscope – easily dialed in on a specific focus, while others are more like a kaleidoscope of bright, distracting thoughts that are constantly changing. And remember, compared to you as an adult , your child doesn’t have the same maturity and development. Research confirms , “The development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is fully accomplished at the age of 25 years.”  

The ADHD child refusing to do schoolwork

This is especially true of the child with ADHD : “there is a global delay in ADHD in brain regions important for the control of action and attention.” One blogger describes the jumbled thoughts of ADHD as being like a busy, unregulated intersection . Tough to concentrate on homework when there’s a “traffic jam” in your brain!  

Ever seen that glazed-over look in your child with ADHD? That’s the traffic jam. The child with ADHD refusing to do schoolwork especially needs your empathy! It’s not fun or easy to do things when you feel you’re not good at them. That’s something everyone can empathize with.

Whatever your child’s learning style or brain development, do your best to step out of your adult brain into theirs to sincerely express compassion for them.

Encourage your child 

Empathy helps kids open their hearts to your sincere encouragement. If discouragement is at the core of your child’s refusal to do homework, they might not feel capable of completing their assignments.

Let them know, “I see and enjoy good things in you!” The word “encourage” literally means “to fill with courage.” So fill your kids with courage about who they are as you dwell on what is good instead of focusing on what isn’t good. Fist bumps, humor, and thoughtful affirmation can provide needed encouragement. 

Remind your child of previous successes at persevering and working hard : 

  • “Let’s write down the things you’ve already finished today and cross them off with a big, black marker!! That’s such a good feeling.” 😉  
  • “Remember yesterday, when you got upset, went for a little bike ride, and then came back and worked hard? You felt really good about your work.” 
  • “You worked so hard at soccer this summer, even when your team lost. You’re growing in perseverance, and that can help you now.” Or even, “When you’re playing your video game, you are so determined to get to the next level! Even if it’s not as fun, you can also learn to apply that determination to homework.” 

Create a “just-right-challenge”

Maybe your child is good with the first three problems on the math sheet but loses steam or gets distracted by #4, or maybe your child just cannot get started with a large project. Some evidence-based strategies might include “chunking” a project down into steps or setting up an agreement with their teacher for them to complete shorter assignments.

This parent-teacher team  used a novel approach to help a child with ADHD build  resilience  for complex challenges and even failure, and grow a sense of  competence  and accomplishment.  If your child’s teacher doesn’t want to go as far as this teacher did, that’s okay. You can try your own at-home variation with the same goal: that your child discovers the joys of doing something hard, even making mistakes, and finishing it.

Build a biblical identity

If your child is an out-of-the-box, creative, distractible kiddo, remind them that although school is an easier match for brains that like predictable sequences, their qualities will serve them well in the future in a creative-oriented work environment. Especially if they learn to work hard in the meantime. God created their brain in the womb in a unique way for His good purposes!

Empower: problem-solving together increases motivation

Once you have empathized with and encouraged your kids, they will feel safer and calmer with you. Then you can then work to solve the problem.

It’s important to watch for what your child naturally gravitates toward: What picks them up? What helps them? When it goes better, how does that happen? Teach them to advocate for themselves by asking for what they need to be successful.

Checklists can help with problem-solving

One mom, Julia, wrote Lynne about some helpful solutions she discovered with her 9-year-old daughter during a struggle over schoolwork:

“We had a couple of great victories recently. Last Wednesday, Ashley started falling apart because she was struggling with schoolwork. I made a little written list for her of what she might need in the moment to calm down:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I tired?
  • Do I need to switch subjects?
  • Do I need something to drink?
  • Do I need some ice water?
  • Do I need a break?
  • Do I need help?

My natural impulse was to get frustrated and anxious, but instead, I stayed calm and helped her in a compassionate way.”

In this list, Julia sent a new and powerful message to Ashley: “I care about why this is hard for you. With a little help, you can figure out what you need in order to be successful.” The tide had turned. 

“Ashley filled out the list by putting four checks by “I am tired.” So I suggested some ice water (which I hoped would energize her!) in a fun cup with the crazy straw and then tickled her back while she drank it. She returned to work, turned her attitude around, and did great!

A couple of days later, she started falling apart again while doing homework, but she didn’t want to put the work aside and do something different. I took out the list again and reminded her of how great we both did on Wednesday.”

Can you feel the difference? Julia’s approach became encouraging instead of discouraging. Ashley was still accountable for doing her work but in an environment of support instead of criticism .

The impact of laughter and fun

Julia’s note wasn’t finished.

“I snuggled with her, tried to make her laugh, and reminded her that she is ‘my sunshine girl. ’ I also added some silly humor from a movie that we watched recently.

When we had a little playful momentum going, I said, ‘Let’s add to the list ‘ :

  • Do I need to tell my mom how awesome she is?
  • Do I need to do something nice for my smart, beautiful, awesome mom?

Then Ashley wrote:

  • Do I need my mom to sing opera and dance like crazy?

We turned it around again with a little dancing and singing, and she got through her schoolwork, with both of us really having fun and enjoying each other.”

This mom’s realization of what was happening beneath the surface of Julia’s behavior helped her to empathize with and encourage her daughter. This paved the way to empower her daughter to ask for what she needed to be successful. Notice how Julia also incorporated laughter and fun! In tension, laughing together releases serotonin and communicates, “Everything’s okay; we’re safe with each other.”

A key question: What helps schoolwork to go better?

Marilee, a homeschooling mom of five, was struggling with her 7-year-old son Timmy, who was very distractible and resistant to schoolwork. Every day he would run outside instead of doing his work. Thus began his regular morning power struggle with mom. 

In a coaching session , Marilee realized that the commotion of four siblings around him probably felt overwhelming to Timmy. When asked the question, “When does it go better?” Marilee realized that on days he was alone outside all morning, he was both regulated and motivated to get his schoolwork done quickly in the early afternoon so he could join play with his siblings. His “defiance” about morning schoolwork was actually his attempt to get what his brain and body needed to focus well. 

Timmy and Marilee problem-solved together and adjusted his schedule to put his schoolwork at the optimum time. Timmy also told his mom, “I really like rewards!” and chose rock tumbling . Marilee reported since these changes, Timmy is doing much better and has now lined up the rocks he’s earned.

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Practical ways to set your child up for schoolwork success

Whether you are with your child all day doing schoolwork or only a couple of hours in the evenings, there are many creative and practical ways to empathize, encourage, and empower your child. Here is a list of creative ideas from other parents: 

  • Start schoolwork with purposeful movement or something fun: a joke book, fun poems, singing silly songs together, big movement activity ( 60 Creative Ways to Get Kids Moving ), or a short story time.
  • Plan a different activity each day to look forward to after work is done: a big coloring poster, puzzle, board games, obstacle courses, a half-hour classic TV show (i.e., Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy), or a video chat with a grandparent. 
  • Occasionally hide healthy snacks or stickers in their work for kids to discover. 
  • If things start to get tense, line up and give back rubs for 3 minutes, and then switch directions
  • Use a timer , so kids know how long until a fun break comes. ( 60 Creative Ways to Get Kids Moving ).
  • Put stickers on completed work and correct it together.
  • Kids can do their work in creative places! (Hammock, play tent , deck/patio, or even a treehouse!) 
  • Kids bugging each other? If possible, provide them with some private space in different corners or rooms. Be creative if you are in a tight area: try a big box or fort with pillows; under a table; behind the couch, your bedroom floor. 
  • Do math or spelling on the sidewalk or driveway in chalk. The bigger arm movements give more sensory input to speed up the visual motor learning process. Younger kids can make letters from masking tape and then drive toy cars or walk on them. 
  • Give kids more ownership. One mom invited her complaining kids, “Do you need to stop for the day?” Since they were reasonably motivated kids, that freedom was all they needed to decide they wanted to complete the assignment. 
  • Ask kids to make up their own “character report cards” and grade themselves daily for things like creativity, perseverance, focus, or cooperation. Ask questions about any successes to help them understand how they did it. 
  • Remember the importance of routine. Try to find ways of putting whatever ideas are most helpful into a predictable flow each day, so that empathy and encouragement are what your kids come to expect.

As you incorporate these ideas, expect lots of ups and downs and give yourself plenty of grace . God’s grace is much deeper than your homework struggles when things are tough, you’re exhausted, and your best efforts seem not to be helping your child. And when you blow it, model do-overs and remind each other that the Spirit of Jesus invites you and your children into His comfort and rest! 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Please reach out if you are feeling stuck! Let us know how we can empathize, encourage, and empower YOU as you parent. You might want to consider coaching , and, as always, we are praying for you.  Contact us with your prayer requests. 

Download our FREE in-depth list 60 Creative Ways to Get Kids Moving and Laughing .

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Jim and Lynne Jackson

Home / Expert Articles / Child Behavior Problems / School & Homework

7 Ways to Stop the Parent-Child Power Struggle Over Homework

By debbie pincus, ms lmhc.

child won't focus on homework

Do you find yourself in full-on homework battles most nights of the week? It’s no surprise that most children and teens will dig in their heels when it comes to doing schoolwork. Think of it this way: How many kids want to do something that isn’t particularly exciting or pleasant? Most would prefer to be playing video games, riding their bikes or driving around with friends, especially after a long day of school and activities.

As long as you believe you are accountable (or to blame) for your child’s outcome, you are under her control.

The underlying truth here is that you and your child might already be caught in a power struggle over this. Like most parents, you probably want your children to do well and be responsible. Maybe you worry about your child’s future. After all, doing homework and chores are your child’s prime responsibilities, right? Let’s face it, it’s easy to get anxious when your kids are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing—and when you know how important doing schoolwork is. And when you believe you are ultimately responsible for the choices your child makes (and many of us do, consciously and unconsciously), the ante is upped and the tug of war begins.

Nagging, Lecturing and Yelling—But Nothing Changes?

If you’re in the habit of threatening, lecturing, questioning your child, nagging or even screaming at them “do the work!” (and trust me, we’ve all been there), you probably feel like you’re doing whatever it takes to get your kids on track. But when you’re in your child’s head, there’s no room for him to think for himself. And unfortunately, the more anxious you are, the more you’ll hold on in an attempt to control him and push him toward the task at hand. What happens then? Your child will resist by pushing back. That’s when the power struggle ensues. Your child, in essence, is saying, “I own my own life—stay out!” Now the battle for autonomy is getting played out around homework and chores, and exactly what you feared and hoped to avoid gets created.

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This is very aggravating for parents to say the least. Many of us get trapped into thinking we are responsible for our child’s choices in life. As long as you believe you are accountable (or to blame) for your child’s outcome, you are under their control. This is because you will need your child to make those good choices—do the work—so you will feel that you’re doing a good job. Your child’s behavior becomes a reflection of you. You are now at your child’s mercy as you trying to get him to do what you want him to do so you can feel validated as a good parent. Your child does not want to be taking care of your emotional well-being, so he will naturally resist.

When kids are not following through on their responsibilities, it can easily trigger a number of feelings in parents. Note that your child did not cause these feelings, but rather triggered feelings that already belong to you. You might be triggered by a feeling of anger because you feel ineffective or fear that your child will never amount to anything. Or you might feel guilt about not doing a good enough job as a parent. Here’s the truth:  You have to be careful not to let these triggered feelings cause you to push your kids harder so that you can feel better. One of the toughest things parents have to do is learn how to soothe their own difficult feelings rather than ask their children to do that for them. This is the first step in avoiding power struggles.

Why are power struggles important to avoid? They inadvertently create just what you’ve feared. Your child is living his life in reaction to you rather than making his own independent choices. Learning how to make those choices is a necessary skill that develops self-motivation.  How can you avoid ending up in these battles? Here are 7 tips that can really help.

1. You are not responsible for your child’s choices

Understand that you are not responsible for the choices your child makes in his life. It’s impossible to take on that burden without a battle for control over another human being. Measure your success as a parent by how you behave — not by what your child chooses to do or not do. Doing a good job as a parent means that you have done all that you can do as a responsible person. It does not mean that you have raised a perfect person who has made all the right choices. Once you really get this, you won’t be so anxious about your child’s behaviors, actions, and decisions. You will be able to see your child from objective, not subjective, lenses and therefore be able to guide their behavior, because you’ll have seen what he actually needs.

2. You cannot make someone care—but you can influence them

You cannot get a person to do or care about what they don’t want to do or care about. Our kids have their own genetics, roles, and ultimately their own free will. So focusing on getting your child to change or getting something from her will not work long-term and will most often turn into a power struggle. What you can do is try to influence your child using only what is in your own hands. For example, when it comes to homework, you can structure the environment to create the greatest probability that the work will get done.

3. Think about the “fences” you’d like to create for your child

Take charge of your own best thinking and decisions rather than trying to control your child’s. Pause, think and decide what fences you want to create for your child. What are your bottom lines? Know what you can and can’t do as a parent. Recognize that what will make the biggest difference to your child (and helping him become a responsible kid who makes good choices) will be learning how to inspire him, not control him. Building a positive relationship with your kids is your best parenting strategy. Children want to please the people in their lives that they have loving feelings toward. You cannot ultimately make them accept your values, but you can inspire them to do so. Getting a child to listen to you is primarily about setting up the conditions under which they choose to do so. In order to do this, make a conscious effort to sprinkle your relationship with more positive interactions than negative ones. Hug, show affection, laugh together, and spend time with one another. Point out your appreciations most instead of constantly correcting, instructing, teaching, yelling, complaining, or reprimanding.  Don’t get me wrong, you need to correct and reprimand as a parent. But make a conscious effort so that every time you do this, you will follow it with many positive interactions. The human brain remembers the negatives much more than the positives. Most kids will be happy to listen and be guided by the people in their lives who they like and respect.

4. Should you give consequences when kids don’t do homework?

Parents always ask whether or not they should give consequences to kids if they don’t do their homework—or instead just let the chips fall where they may.  I think you can give consequences, and that might work temporarily—maybe even for a while. Perhaps your child will learn to be more responsible or to use anxiety about the consequences to motivate themselves. You can’t change someone else, but consequences might help them get some homework done. You can’t “program” your child to care about their work, but you can create a work environment that promotes a good work ethic. Kids who regularly get their homework done and study do better throughout school and overall in life.

5. How structuring the environment can encourage studying

Again, you can’t make a child do anything that he doesn’t feel like doing, but you can structure his environment to create the greatest probability that the work will get done. When your child’s grades slip, or you find that he’s not getting his work in on time, you are automatically “invited in” to supervise and help him get on track. You can make sure that for certain periods of time, he will not be able to do anything other than schoolwork. The rule is during that time, no electronics are allowed—just homework and studying. By doing this, you are providing a structure to do what your child probably can’t do yet for himself. The hour and a half that you set aside should be a time when you will be around to enforce the rules that you have set. Give a fixed amount of time and once that time is up, your child is free to go elsewhere, homework done or not. Stay consistent with this plan, even if he fights you on it. This plan will accomplish the possibility that your child will get some homework done and maybe over time, create some better work habits. That’s all. This plan should be in place, whether or not he has homework. He can read, review or study if he doesn’t have any during that time. Let him know that these rules will change when his grades begin to reflect his potential and when you are not getting negative reports from teachers about missing homework. When he accomplishes this, tell him you will be happy to have him be fully in charge of his own homework.

6. Parents of Defiant kids

 Extremely defiant kids who don’t seem to care about consequences really try their parents. Some of these kids suffer from ADHD, ODD, learning disabilities, emotional issues and many other issues. Defiance has become a way for them to try and solve their problems. With defiant kids, parents need to be very cognizant of working to develop positive relationships, no matter how difficult. Above all, work to avoid getting pulled into a power struggle. Your child will need many more learning opportunities and more rewards and negative consequences—and more time to learn these lessons than less defiant child. And if nothing changes, and your child continues to be defiant, you must continue to work on your own patience and be thoughtful about your own bottom line. Most important, continue to love your child and keep showing up.

7. Your simple message to your child

Be clear, concise and direct. Your simple message to your kids, which does not require lectures or big sit down conversations is, “Your job is to take care of your responsibilities, which includes getting your homework done and helping out in the house. That’s my expectation for you. Once you’ve done that each day, you are welcome to do what you’d like.” Remember, as a parent your job is to essentially help your child do her job.

Related content: What to Do When Your Child or Teen is Suspended or Expelled from School “My Child Refuses to Do Homework” — How to Stop the Nightly Struggle Over School Work

About Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC

For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

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Frustrated mom This is by far the very worst parenting advice I have ever heard. Can it be anymore vague and general? There’s literally nothing in this article that deals with actually doing homework! In fact it is more so a guide on things that most parents already know and should More be doing! The other part of this article is basically saying that you should allow your child to be their own authority. Do kids not need to learn to obey rules in today’s world? A lesson in life is that your children aren’t always going to be given a choice and when they are given a choice, it doesn’t mean they’re going to like any of the possible outcomes. Allowing them to think they have a choice in order to circumvent basic responsibilities is completely and utterly counter productive! I had to do homework when I was a kid whether I liked it or not! I knew this even as a small child. Children historically do not make the best decisions on their own. There’s a reason we have an age where it’s considered by society that you’re officially an adult. Until children reach that age, they don’t have a choice!

I am a special education preschool educator. Yes, I do send homework home for the following reasons:1. It starts good habits relating to reinforcing skills taught at school.

2. It allows me to educate and inform parents on what skills children need to be learning.

3. Some skills need more effort to be learned- such as name writing.

4. I want my kiddos to have a headstart and school is important! Homework is a way of getting kids ahead.

Hands down- my kiddos who learn skills at home- for example "economics homework" are more likely to master this skill when taught at school AND at home! It helps! Trust me! and all kiddos undergo assessments when entering kindergarten and often it is considered a predictor in success for the year!

georgeesmith Very methodical, can give a try to make it possible :)

lisakelper9 Sounds good but very hard to implement in reality. But still its a good attempt.

JackRusso1 I disagree with this as a whole. This person has no idea what children are really like. Children are stressed a lot, nagging them won't help. They don't want to talk about homework at home because then the parent asks irritating questions. It's not that they don't care, it's that More they need to do things on their own. When a parent is constantly on their backs the child gets stressed out. In my eyes, few parents understand this. Believe it or not...I'm 13 and I can do better then you. This isn't a helpful list of tips, it's a list of how to make the situation worse!

Oh my goodness!   This all sounds very charming but has no real application!  

Let me give you my scenario of raising a "Defiant" child:

Our homework structure is that she work at her well organized desk...quite charming in fact.  

She is expected to work 15 minutes per subject which is a grand total of an hour and 30 min.

No tech unless all work is complete and no matter what, no tech before 6:30 pm.

Down time for reading (which she loves) is after homework and her home chore is done.

we have a rewards currency.  We have a consequence system.  

Guess what?  It is not that simple.  She will waste her time "studying" so we require her to log notes on what she is reading so does not just sit and stare at her books for an hour and a half (which she will do).  We periodically check her log as she is working and help review info.  Again...quite charming.

She is failing most of her subjects because she does not bring ANY assigned work home.  None.  And then she lies about the work that we track down.  

She is not internally nor externally motivated. 

Sometimes a child is not emotionally mature enough to handle things like this and their brains are unable to really connect action and consequence.  Sometimes you need to let your child fail.  I hear from her teachers "I have no idea what to do with _________"  My response is....there is nothing YOU can do.  Only what ______ can do and she chooses not to.

A child who is unable to focus on learning is focusing on something else instead.  For my daughter it is the undying need for acceptance....peer acceptance.  So how to retrain the brain is tough.  Wish me luck because THERE IS NO ANSWER!  THERE IS NO FIX!

I often wonder about the value of homework. While I appreciate the article and noted some key takeaways here that will be very helpful to me, such as "Learn how to inspire, not control" and "Measure your success as a parent by how you behave"...I often find myself yelling at my seven year old angel because she just doesn't have an interest in learning..and then I spend the rest of the night disgusted with myself for being angry with her. She is the sweetest, most lovable little girl filled with street smarts. But she's behind in school, slow with reading, and fights me constantly with her homework.

I stepped up over the summer and had assignments all summer long so she could hopefully catch up. But little has changed. She continues to have no interest, which I interpret as lazy. She would much rather watch Netflix or play; something I try to balance. I wasn't a great student in school but I did love homework. I hated the "institution" and rebelled against control. But I've managed to make a good life for myself because I've been highly motivated, driven and disciplined. My concern is she doesn't seem to have those traits...yet. It might still be too soon. However, I struggle to push too hard (contrary to how it sounds) because I'm a big advocate of work-life balance.

She is busy all day with school and activities and the idea of having her do more when she gets home before she rests, plays or unwinds, seems like corporal punishment. Yes. And I'm not dramatic. But really? I get the importance of establishing a good work ethic. However,  I work all day. When I get home, I'm tired. I take a break before I tend to house chores. Nothing gets neglected but I pace myself. I also take home work but that's done later in the evening, after I've tended to my family AND had some down time. Don't kids deserve down time too?

I hate putting this pressure on my child, yet I know the pressure she feels being a slower reader, struggling with phonetics, etc. is as great if not worse. I can see her as a very successful person later on because she has very strong social skills and a kindness that far surpasses most of the other kids I've seen. But I struggle with finding that balance between pushing academics and just letting time prove itself. I am a big advocate of moderation and balance, yet I really struggle with applying that value in today's academic world which starts as young as kindergarten!

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Defiant children who refuse to do homework: 30 tips for parents.

child won't focus on homework

  • Your child doesn’t understand the work and needs some extra help. It’s possible that your youngster doesn’t want to do his homework because he really needs help.  Also, it can be challenging for moms and dads to accept that their youngster might need help with homework, because there is often a stigma attached to kids who need tutoring. 
  • Your child is addicted to TV and video games. Moms and dads often find it very difficult to limit these activities. But, understand that playing video games and watching TV doesn’t relax a youngster’s brain.  In fact, it actually over-stimulates the brain and makes it harder for him to learn and retain information.  Too much of watching TV and playing video games contributes to your youngster struggling with school and homework in more ways than one.
  • Your child is exhausted from a long day at school. In the last 10 to 20 years, the needs of kids have not changed, however the pace of life has.  Most moms and dads are busy and have very little down time, which inevitably means that the youngster ends up with less down time too.  He is going to be less likely to be motivated to work when there is chaos all around him.  
  • Your child is not sleeping enough. Sleep is one of the most under-appreciated needs in our society today. When a child doesn’t get enough sleep, it can cause him to be sick more often, lose focus, and have more emotional issues. Kids often need a great deal more sleep than they usually get.  
  • Your child is over-booked with other activities. Moms and dads want their youngster to develop skills other than academics. Because of this, they often sign-up their youngster for extracurricular activities (e.g., sports or arts).  
  • Your child is overwhelmed by your expectations. Moms and dads want their youngster to be well-rounded and to get ahead in life.  Along with this comes getting good grades.  All these expectations can put a lot of pressure on your youngster and may cause him to become burned-out and want to find an escape.
  • instructions are unclear
  • neither you nor your youngster can understand the purpose of assignments
  • the assignments are often too hard or too easy
  • the homework is assigned in uneven amounts
  • you can't provide needed supplies or materials 
  • you can't seem to help your youngster get organized to finish the assignments
  • your youngster has missed school and needs to make up assignments
  • your youngster refuses to do her assignments, even though you've tried hard to get her to do them
  • Do you understand what you're supposed to do?
  • What do you need to do to finish the assignment?
  • Do you need help in understanding how to do your work?
  • Have you ever done any problems like the ones you're supposed to do right now?
  • Do you have everything you need to do the assignment?
  • Does your answer make sense to you? 
  • Are you still having problems? Maybe it would help to take a break or have a snack.
  • Do you need to review your notes (or reread a chapter in your textbook) before you do the assignment? 
  • How far have you gotten on the assignment? Let's try to figure out where you're having a problem.

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How phones ruin concentration.

Multitasking leads to shallower thinking and more time spent working, especially for kids who struggle with attention

Writer: Rachel Ehmke

Clinical Expert: Matthew Cruger, PhD

What You'll Learn

  • Why doesn’t “multitasking” work?
  • Why are kids with ADHD more vulnerable to tech distraction?
  • How can parents help kids not be distracted by phones?

Kids today are never far from their phones. Even when they’re doing homework, kids often stop to check a new message or take a quick social media break. Adults do it too, and we often call it “multitasking.”

Multitasking seems like a good way to work. You’re getting everything done and maybe also having some fun. But experts say that multitasking actually makes it harder to focus. For kids, this often means spending much more time on homework. The results might not be as good, either. This could be because they weren’t focusing well enough to figure out the best way to do an assignment. Or it could just be because they keep starting and stopping to look at their phone.

Kids with ADHD are particularly vulnerable to tech distraction. One reason is because social media and phone apps are designed to be easy to focus on and offer immediate rewards. This is very appealing for kids who struggle with attention. But there’s another reason, too. Kids with ADHD struggle with “executive functions,” which are skills for shifting between situations, controlling impulses and getting organized. These are all skills kids use during homework. Unfortunately, it becomes harder to use them when their attention is distracted.

Kids might not want to stop using their phones when they’re working. Explain that it will make homework easier and they’ll have more free time in the end. For kids who still want to check their phone sometimes, try establishing regular breaks. These are times to walk away from homework and check texts and social media. But these should be planned breaks that don’t bleed into homework time. Ideally phone breaks should be away from their study space, too.

We know texting while driving has consequences, but what about texting when doing homework ?

It’s something almost all kids do, and most parents have also been known to check their text messages at their desk. If we’re being honest, most of us have our cell phone within arm’s reach when we’re at work, and we will glance at it from time to time. When we’re defending the practice we call it “multitasking.” How bad could it really be?

Pretty bad, according to a recent study that found the mere presence of a smartphone reduces a person’s ability to focus. In the study, undergraduates asked to leave their phones in another room did better on cognitive tests than those who were asked to silence their phones and leave them face down on their desk or in a bag.

In the experiment, even students who said they weren’t thinking consciously about their cell phones still experienced a loss in ability, which means some of this distraction is happening on an unconscious level. This is bad news for those of us who think we’re pretty good at not being distracted by the phone when we’re working.

“I hear about these issues about technology all the time,” says Matt Cruger , PhD, director of the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute. He says that with the kids he works with, he isn’t concerned about their capacity to be able to do homework, but with “the capacity to really get in the mindset of thinking about homework-related activities.” In other words, they could do their work if they were able to focus on it. And while trouble focusing on homework is hardly something new for children, captivating new technologies aren’t making it any easier.

Distraction devices

Why are tech devices so distracting? For starters, most apps and web content are engineered to be as user-friendly and addictive as possible . They ping us with notifications when we get a new message or when someone has posted something we might be interested in. They are reliable sources of validation that tell us when someone likes something we’ve posted.

And we know there is always something new to look at. Even if we haven’t heard the buzz alerting us to something new, we might find ourselves restlessly reaching for the phone to scroll through the constantly updating feeds full of pictures and headlines and jokes curated just for us. We might also feel some pressure to keep up.

But there are also some less-obvious reasons why kids may be particularly hooked. Phones are where young people do a lot of their socializing now , especially as they reach the pre-teen and teenage years, when their major developmental goals are to start crafting an identity separate from their parents and to prioritize forming friendships with their peers — goals that are made for spending hours on social media.

Compared to adults, kids also have a less developed ability to control their impulses . If it’s sometimes hard for their parents to unplug, imagine how hard it is for a child who struggles with impulsivity or a teen with a new BFF to resist checking her phone. Prioritizing getting started on a book report or even studying for tomorrow’s test won’t be nearly as compelling.


Many adults and kids share the idea that when we are texting or monitoring feeds while we work we are still being productive — we are able to juggle everything at once. But neuropsychologists aren’t optimistic about how productive multitasking really is. “Having multiple sources of technology at your fingertips and available at all times probably is almost a guarantee of a reduction in performance and productivity,” says Dr. Cruger.

For one thing, there’s what experts call “resumption lag.” That’s the period of time between when you were interrupted from a task and when you resume it. Transitioning between tasks isn’t seamless, and the time spent collecting your thoughts prior to resuming a task add up.

A study out of Stanford in 2009 examined how well multitaskers are able to process information. People considered heavy media multitaskers were found to have more difficulty ignoring irrelevant but distracting things in their environment. As a result they actually performed worse on a test of task switching ability when compared to people who were lighter multitaskers.

Multitasking means working less efficiently even when you think you’re applying yourself. That’s because people dividing their attention aren’t able to engage in their work with the fluency they might otherwise have. “They’re not free to think about what’s the best way to do something,” Dr. Cruger explains. “Kids will start a task, try to get the task done, but not take the time to travel along and figure out how to do the task best.”

While the work might still get finished, multitasking adds up to shallower thinking and more time spent actually working. But it’s hard for kids to see it that way. “If you haven’t really established a disciplined routine for learning and thinking, it’s hard to have a sense of what to compare your current performance against,” notes Dr. Cruger.

Kids who struggle with attention

There’s a kind of myth that kids who have ADHD are uniquely suited to multitasking.

At a Child Mind Institute event about how children are affected by technology, Ali Wentworth, actress, comedian and host of the event, described how she found her teenage daughter the evening before: She was doing her homework on one screen, texting on another, with  Gilmore Girls  playing on a third. When Wentworth protested, her daughter told her, “I have ADHD. This is how I do my homework.”

In reality, multitasking during homework can be particularly difficult for kids who have ADHD.

“There’s pretty compelling literature that suggests that nobody is actually good at multitasking, but I think kids who have ADHD also have a set of cognitive distortions about their skills and capacities,” says Dr. Cruger. “They’re probably worse at multitasking than people without ADHD, but they often think they’re better at it.”

That might be because the constant stimulation offered by tech devices is very appealing to kids with ADHD . Short bursts of attention, with immediate rewards, are easier for them than paying sustained attention. But trying to do both at the same time — juggling homework and Snapchat — would be particularly difficult for them.

That’s because people with ADHD struggle with executive functions , which are the self-regulating skills we use to do things like shift between situations, control our emotions and impulsivity, and organize and make plans. These are all skills that are integral to doing homework and they are weakened further when we are dividing our attention across multiple platforms.

“One of the psychological impacts for people with ADHD is they have to make smart decisions about how to use their resources wisely because they have limited attentional resources and they have limited capacity to do the hard work of learning naturally,” explains Dr. Cruger. “It just takes more effort for them.”

Given that kids with ADHD are particularly susceptible to the stimulation that tech devices provide, and that focusing on homework is already harder for them, successfully doing both would be incredibly difficult.

A distraction-free mind

Setting up a homework routine that minimizes distractions is important, especially if your child struggles with attention, or seems to be finding that her homework is taking much longer than it should.

Let her know that the goal is to make doing homework easier and less stressful. Removing those distractions should improve her homework experience and leave her with more actual free time.

If it’s difficult to get your child’s buy-in, establishing regular homework breaks where she gets to walk away from her homework and check social media or check her texts can make this an easier sell. But to be effective, the breaks should be planned and discrete — they shouldn’t bleed into homework time and ideally they should happen away from her study space, which should be a place for focusing.

This sort of discipline might not come naturally to kids or adults, but learning to unplug from distractions is a life skill that will become increasingly important as technology becomes more absorbing, and the need to learn and stay focused doesn’t go away.

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  1. What to say to your child about trouble with focus

    Talking about challenges When you talk to your child about challenges, there are two important messages you need to get across: You understand or want to understand. You're there to help. Focusing is a skill. When kids struggle with a skill or a task, they're not doing it on purpose.

  2. My Child Refuses To Do Homework

    876 For many parents, getting their kids to do their homework is a nightly struggle. Some kids refuse to do their homework. Others claim that they don't have homework, but then the report card comes out, and you realize that their work was not being done. So why is homework time so difficult?

  3. Homework Struggles May Not Be a Behavior Problem

    Mental health challenges and neurodevelopmental differences directly affect children's ability to do homework. Understanding what difficulties are getting in the way—beyond the usual explanation ...

  4. Five ways to help your child focus and concentrate

    If your child is struggling with focus at school, try having your child walk or bike to school. ( One school had great success having kids take PE right before their most challenging academic class.) If homework is the problem, make sure they get some playtime after school or get them to do some physically challenging chores around the house.

  5. 6 ways to help your child focus

    1. Jump right into projects. The longer you put off starting a task, the harder it can be to focus on it. That goes for projects for school and around the house. That doesn't mean your child has to do everything at once, though. To make it easier to get started, try breaking tasks into chunks. The important thing is to not delay getting started. 2.

  6. How Parents Can Help Children Who Struggle with Homework

    Parents can be monitoring, organizing, motivating, and praising the homework effort as it gets done. And yes, that means sitting with your child to help them stay focused and on task. Your presence sends the message that homework is important business, not to be taken lightly. Once you're sitting down with your child, ask him to unload his ...

  7. How to Get Your Child to Focus on Homework and Stop Procrastinating

    Tip 1: Start With a Small Exercise. Studies show that cardio-based exercises boost memory and thinking skills. Cardio based means doing something that accelerates the heart rate. If you get your child moving before starting schoolwork, it will get the blood flowing.

  8. How To Help Kids Focus And Pay Attention

    1. The Mistake: Forgetting Your Child's Focus Issues Are Developmental Or Situational, Not Purposeful The Better Approach: Notice and explore. There is something triggering about having to remind your child for the millionth time to focus on their chore, start their classwork, or finish their latest homework assignment.

  9. Understanding why kids have trouble with focus

    Quick tip 1 Make sure they're actively listening. Help kids focus by asking them to repeat back what you say. Then, follow up and make sure they remember it. Quick tip 2 Remove distractions. Turn off the TV or go to a quiet area away from other people who are talking. Get rid of clutter in a work space.

  10. Natural Ways to Help Your Child Focus on Homework

    SHOP ADULTS "Finally something natural that works." Break it Down, Start Easy A little planning can go a long way towards making homework seem manageable to your child. You can accomplish this by helping your child to write down each assignment, on paper or on a whiteboard. Then ask him to work through the assignments from easiest to hardest.

  11. 9 Simple Tips for Teaching Kids How to Focus on Homework

    #1 Keep It Short When it came to doing homework, we kept it short and broke it down. Generally, that meant one ten-minute stint a day, instead of one 30-40 minute block each week. Each time she wandered off task (mentally or physically), I would gently guide her back to the homework. I kept the focus light and pointed out the fun parts of her work.

  12. Five tips to get kids to focus on homework

    January 27, 2014 at 12:38 p.m. EST Wouldn't it be great if homework time looked this cheerful and easy at your house? Maybe it can be. (BigStock) When my daughter began the routines of first...

  13. How to Get Children to Do Homework

    Stop the Nightly Fights The way you can stop fighting with your kids over homework every night is to stop fighting with them tonight. Disengage from the dance. Choose some different steps or decide not to dance at all. Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student.

  14. Stay on Task And Reduce Homework Distractions

    If you're a parent with a child who needs some help staying on-task, try these tips to reduce homework distractions: 1. Schedule Small Breaks. It's important to give your child enough breaks so that he or she doesn't get overly frustrated, bored, or start drifting away from the material. Take a 5-10 minute break every 20 to 30 minutes.

  15. A Parent's Guide: How to Focus on Homework without any rama

    Easy Ways to Help Your Kid Focus on Homework by Alisha Grogan MOT, OTR/L | School Age Kids, Sensory Issues, Strategies | 2 comments Modified: November 6, 2023 Teach your child how to focus on homework with these easy tips, ideas, and strategies so you can stop the nagging and daily battles over getting it done! this …

  16. 10 Reasons Your Child Can't Focus In School

    Common signs that your child is having trouble concentrating in the classroom include: Low grades A dislike of school Disruptive behaviour in class These signs don't automatically mean your child has a learning difficulty.

  17. Focusing Problems in Children: Symptoms, Causes, What to Do

    Focusing problems include challenges with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. If your child is hyperactive, they may be fidgety and move around constantly. Impulsive children often act without thinking. Children who are inattentive tend to drift easily off-topic, daydream, and lose focus often.

  18. Child Not Doing Homework? Read This Before You Try Anything Else

    Child Not Doing Homework? Read This Before You Try Anything Else by Tanith Carey. (This article is part of the Be Positive series. Get free article updates here .) With less than an hour to go before my seven-year-old daughter's bedtime, my home was a long way from being the oasis of calm I was hoping for at that time of evening.

  19. What If Your Child Refuses To Do Schoolwork?

    " Empathize when your child refuses to do schoolwork It is important to empathize with your kids before you try to solve the problem. Step into their shoes as you ask yourself: What's it like to be them? What are they feeling? Are there basic needs (nutrition, sleep, outside stress) that could be causing them to struggle?

  20. Homework Battles and Power Struggles with Your Child

    7 Ways to Stop the Parent-Child Power Struggle Over Homework By Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC 326 Do you find yourself in full-on homework battles most nights of the week? It's no surprise that most children and teens will dig in their heels when it comes to doing schoolwork.

  21. Defiant Children Who Refuse To Do Homework: 30 Tips For Parents

    4. Communicate regularly with your youngster's educators so that you can deal with any behavior patterns before they become a major problem. 5. Consider adding in break times (e.g., your child might work on her math homework for 15 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break).

  22. Help your child revise and prep for exams

    It's important to relax, keep a clear head and have a laugh between revision sessions.Make sure your child is taking breaks and getting some fresh air, catching up with friends or a having a...

  23. How Phones Ruin Concentration

    Kids with ADHD struggle with "executive functions," which are skills for shifting between situations, controlling impulses and getting organized. These are all skills kids use during homework. Unfortunately, it becomes harder to use them when their attention is distracted. Kids might not want to stop using their phones when they're working.