Go Back


Homework Do’s and Don’ts

Homework hassles can make school nights miserable for the whole family. For some families homework battles can go on for two, three or four hours per night. People begin to dread the evening, relationships are strained severely and the child in question learns to hate schoolwork more and more. There are no easy answers to the problem; children’s needs vary depending upon their intelligence and the presence of handicaps such as learning disabilities and ADHD. There are ways though, of making things more tolerable and more productive.

What Not to Do

Don’t go around asking the child every five minutes if he has homework or if he’s started it yet. Instead try to pick the best time to start and stick with it— consistency is very important here. Don’t interrupt the youngster in the middle of his favorite TV show to tell him it’s time to begin. There’s no better way to get no cooperation. He should not start watching a show in the first place if it’s going to overlap with his regular homework time.
            Don’t let the would-be student do work with the TV on. Believe it or not, a radio or iPod may be OK because it provides consistent background noise, but the television is always out to get your attention. If you can avoid it, don’t let the homework time change each day. One of the best ways of setting things up is to have the child come home, get a snack, goof off for about 30-45 minutes, and then sit down and try to finish his work before dinner. Then the whole evening is free.

What to Do

Consider trying the following steps in order (you can combine them as you go), and be sure to use plenty of positive reinforcement with whatever else you are doing.

  1. Natural Consequences

If you are having trouble with homework for the first time—say with a fourth grader—consider using Natural Consequences first. That means do nothing. Keep your mouth shut and see if the child and the teacher can work things out. If this approach doesn’t seem to be working after a few weeks, then go on to the next step.  Natural Consequences is obviously not the method to use if you have been having homework problems for years and years.

    2.  An Assignment Sheet

Assignment sheets or notebooks can be extremely helpful. They tell you exactly what work is due for each subject. Many schools now have web sites where forgetful but fortunate kids can access their homework assignments online. The idea of the assignment sheet, of course, is that after the child does the work, parents can check it out against the list of items to be done. If this is the procedure you are considering, you must routinely include two basic principles: the “PNP Method” and the “Rough Checkout.” Failure to do so will result in unnecessary misery.

    3. The PNP Method

Suppose your daughter has just completed her midweek spelling pretest. There are ten words on the list and she spelled nine correctly and misspelled one. When she brings you her paper, your job, naturally is to first point out to her the word she spelled wrong. Right? Wrong! PNP stands for “Positive-Negative-Positive.” Whenever any kid brings any piece of schoolwork to you, the first thing out of your mouth must be something good. Then, after saying something nice about the child’s effort, you may throw in something negative, if it’s absolutely necessary.   Finally, you conclude your insightful remarks with something positive again. Using the spelling pretest as an example, you would first say something like, “Gee, you spelled ‘consideration’ correctly. That’s a pretty hard word. And you also got ‘appearance’ right. In fact, there’s only one word on here that I can see you didn’t get. Not bad.”  You might stop here and try to kill her with suspense. See if she’s dying to find out what the wrong word is. If she’s not, you can tell her. Then end the conversation with another positive comment.  Remember the rule: every time she brings you some work to check, the first thing you say must be positive, even if it’s only the fact that she brought the work to you. Kids will never want to bring you anything if your first response is consistently to shoot from the hip with criticism.

     4. The Rough Checkout

The Rough Checkout idea is based on the fact that 8 pm is no time for scholastic perfection.  You have worked all day, and your child has also put in just about the equivalent of a day on a full-time job— before she started her homework.  Unless there is some major indication to the contrary, if her work is anywhere near 80 percent  neat, correct and thorough, consider calling it a day. Let your youngster and teacher worry about the assignment tomorrow. This advice is doubly true for ADD or LD children who are already having a tough enough time with school. If, on the other hand, the child is generally a very good student (not potentially, but actually), you might consider raising the required percentage to 90 or more.   If the youngster’s work is about 80 percent neat, correct and complete, use the PNP procedure. You don’t have to tell the child that it’s perfect, just that it’s good enough. Some perfectionists may squirm at this suggestion, but they should try to stay in touch with the emotional realities of childhood.

      5. Charting

Charting lends itself very well to homework. Here’s an easy system that can be used.  Since it’s usually the older kids who have trouble with homework, a fivepoint scale can be used for them instead of stickers. Five is a high mark and one is a low mark. A child can earn one point for each of the following things:

Neat 1 point
1 point
1 point
No complaining
1 point
Starting on his/her own
1 point

The kids can get each of the first three points by doing better than whatever approximate percentage of neatness, correctness and completeness you have required. The last point is the crucial one: if you can get a child to start on his own, the battle is half won. You can set up friendly incentive games with this last point. For example, three days in a row of starting on your own at the proper time earn a bonus point. Or starting more than fifteen minutes early and finishing in a reasonable amount of time earns a bonus point. Put on your thinking cap and see what other schemes you can come up with. Remember that for many kids with academic handicaps, you may very well have to use artificial reinforcers to help motivate the child over the homework hurdle.  Also, don’t forget that kitchen timer. Sometimes it can be used to help break up the work into smaller, manageable pieces. If the child complains that the ticking bothers him (most don’t), use some kind of sand hourglass or a quiet electric timer.


Phelan, T. (2008). Homework do’s and don’ts.  Parent Magic Newsletter, June 2008.  Retrieved from


 Our Mission:  Hanover County School Counselors provide all students educational services, in collaboration with parents, school and the community, that foster
                       academic, career and social/emotional growth toward lifelong success and effective, responsible citizenship for a diverse and changing world.