Arranging a truce on homework

November 04, 1990

What should you do if your child is resisting homework?

William R. Stixrud, a Washington psychologist, offered this advice to the National Committee for Citizens in Education, a Columbia-based parent advocacy group:

* First, if your child is having problems doing homework, make sure he doesn't have a learning disability that is interfering.

* Then, initiate a discussion along these lines:

"I love you too much to continue fighting with you over homework. I realize that you don't like to fight, and I don't like it either. In the past I've made the mistake of thinking that I could make you work harder or better, but I've learned that isn't true. I'm afraid if I keep acting like that, you'll get the idea that someone besides you is responsible for you. Also, learning can be really fun, but if I'm always hassling you, how can you possibly enjoy learning? I'm ready to change. I still want to help you when you need help, and I'll be happy to be your homework consultant, but from now on I'm going to remember that getting your work done is your job."

* Offer to help find the best time and place to study and to explain directions, proofread or help in drills, making it clear that you'll help only when it's wanted.

* Set time limits on your involvement, offering to be available every evening from 6:30 to 7, for example. Work overtime only as a reward for good effort, never because of lack of effort.

* When the time for homework arrives, ask your child if he wants help. If he says no, don't badger. If homework remains undone by bedtime, be firm about your child going to bed. Let him do it in the morning before school, but remember that your helping time is 6:30 to 7 p.m. Let your child face the consequences of not doing his homework. "Children rarely spend more than a night or two of testing to see if you mean business," Dr. Stixrud says.

* Explain that you are responsible for providing an environment conducive to doing homework. Don't allow television, computer games or other distractions during homework hours.

* When you are helping, keep a positive tone. Agree to a short break if either of you feels frustrated. Focus on successes, praising effort.

* Develop rewards for reaching homework goals, perhaps watching a special television show.

* If this doesn't work after two or three weeks, Dr. Stixrud says, maybe it's time to see a family therapist. "Preserve and build you child's self-esteem at all costs," he says.

* And keep it all in perspective, he says. "The actual content of many, if not most, school assignments is of less importance than the attitude in which they are approached. Developing a love for learning and an interest in pursuing learning independently is more important than completion of 100 percent of assigned work sheets."


The National Committee for Citizens in Education operates a hot line for parents who need advice or information about school-related problems. The local number is 997-9300. The toll-free long-distance number is 1-800-NET-WORK. The organization also has published "The Middle School Years: A Parents' Handbook," which offers insights into early adolescence and has a short section on homework problems. The handbook can be ordered from the NCCE, 10840 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 301, Columbia, Md. 21044. It costs $9.95 plus $2 postage and handling.

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