Kids these days have twice the amount of homework that we did. And when your kids have homework, you have homework, too. I’d like to take this opportunity to share tips from Irene Gutmann, an academic coach who works with teens and college students on achieving academic success. Also, I’d like to invite parents of elementary school-aged children to attend my “Relief for Homework Headaches” teleclass scheduled for Fri., Sept. 22 at Noon CT. (See the class schedule for full details.)

1. If parents could do just one thing to help their kids establish great skills in getting homework done, what would you recommend?

Irene: I think that routines make homework a lot less painful. If you can help your child find a good time and place to do his/her homework and try as much as possible to stick to that, it becomes somewhat automatic and, she will be partly through the homework before it really hits her that she’s doing it.

Ex. My son comes home from school, putters for a few minutes, then goes upstairs and gets some work done before his younger brother comes home from school. This is great because he gets distracted when his brother comes home. Then he works some more and goes out to play. If he has a lot of homework, he may save a little of it for after dinner but usually, he’s finished by 4:30. His younger brother sits down immediately downstairs at the dining room table and gets his work done there.

Some children are too tired to work right after school. But if they’re not, I like to encourage them to do their work right away and then really relax or play without having the work hang over them. TV can be a huge de-motivator for kids. Some just feel tired and crabby after watching it and really fight doing the work. If you let them watch television, set a limit and give them a few minutes to switch gears before they start working.

2. What other strategies are important for parents to implement?

Irene: Find out your child’s learning style and help him/her find study techniques that work well for that style. Visual learners are naturally good students because most schools are set up for visual learners. Auditory learners may need to converse about the material, use a tape recorder, make up games (like Jeopardy), use songs, etc. Kinesthetic learners may need to fidget with something, walk or jump on a trampoline ex. The girl from the movie “Akelah and the Bee “found that she memorized well while jumping rope. They can also use objects to represent concepts and act them out. Ex. Using paper clips to represent the British and coins to represent the colonists in the Revolutionary War.

Some kids work well at the kitchen table when mom is preparing dinner. They feel that they have company and can ask for help. I will sometimes read a magazine in between cooking, so that they see me reading as well. Others do well to reorganize their rooms and make it conducive to doing homework. Some kids work well at a desk, others like to spread out their things on the floor or their bed. Ex. If your older child does most of his/her reading on the bed, set it up with a good light, a dictionary near by and a portable file holder near the bed for papers. Perhaps you can purchase a lap desk so that writing can be done sitting up in bed.

3. What can you do if your child is really unmotivated to do homework?

Irene: I would do a couple of things:

• Attach it to something he/she is motivated to do. Ex. Make a no TV rule until homework is done. Other motivators are video games, telephone, playing with friends

• Find out if there is a subtle learning problem that is frustrating your child. Ex. One of my children had difficulty with understanding his social studies book. I enrolled him in a speed reading/improved comprehension class and in practicing new skills, he got much better and grew in his confidence. Some private evaluators are experts in picking up on subtle issues that schools will miss.

• Most kids are motivated by success. Going into school enough days with the answers to class discussion questions, can feel great. My goal is to get kids hooked on that feeling. Encourage them to plan out their study schedule for the week. Teach them the concept of breaking down work into small pieces. When your child sees that they can be very on top of their work by doing a little bit at a time, he/she may be less resistant. I reward my son if he makes a study/homework schedule and sticks to it 75%. Do this until the internal rewards (feeling prepared) and the good grades kick in and become the motivators.

4. Should a parent check homework answers?

Irene: Some teachers want homework corrected and some want to see where the child is struggling. Even if you do correct mistakes, let the teacher know if you see a pattern of weakness. If a teacher does not want you to correct homework, I would check it occasionally anyway and frequently if your child is not working to his/her potential.

Sometimes when parents get too involved, kids get less responsible and come to expect the parents to drag them through their homework. It becomes a power struggle and the parents feel that they are working harder than their child. When this happens, it takes some effort to unravel. One suggestion is to use small rewards to start a child working more independently and explain that the ultimate reward will come when they can work well and claim it for themselves. Then fade out the rewards once your child gets hooked on success and being responsible. This may also be a good time to use a coach, tutor, or relative to help your children come up with study strategies. That person is more objective and can avoid the parent-child power struggle.

5. Most parents feel at a real loss in regard to homework when their kids enter junior and senior high. How can a parent build in checks and balances to make sure homework is getting done before their child gets too far behind?

• If your child is underachieving, stay in contact with teachers anywhere from weekly to monthly. This clears up misunderstandings about what’s required. Many teachers post homework on the school website.

• Use a coach, tutor, or relative to help your students manage time and find good strategies.

• Offer a paid or volunteer organizer ( you, a friend or relative) to help make their room a place conducive to getting work done.

• Use age appropriate rewards if necessary to reward responsible behavior. I would only do this is if really necessary. Success and self esteem are the real rewards. Being allowed to have a few friends over to watch a movie, eat junk food and sleep over is a good reward for sustained hard work.

• Encourage them to plan out their study schedule for the week. Teach them the concept of breaking down work into small pieces as described above.

• Help your child discover his/her learning styles and brainstorm ways to study. Ex. If you are auditory, how can you study for a math test?

6. What special strategies do you teach students to complete bigger projects like research papers, science projects or book reports?

Irene: I use the study/homework plan. We plan out steps and schedule them into the upcoming week. I don’t let them overburden themselves on any given day because that can backfire.

7. What are study skills? Which ones do you consider crucial to a student’s success?

• Again, I stress time management and study/homework plans. This is a life skill that can be applied to higher education and work situations. I’ve seen complete turn-rounds in students who do this consistently.

• Reading skills - I think that pre-reading a chapter in Social Studies, Science, (and sometimes English) is essential. Reading the vocabulary words, and questions at the beginning of a section or chapter, reading bold print and looking over questions at the end of the chapter help a student know what they will need to learn. Then when they read it, they are on the lookout for the important facts and meanings of new words.

• Writing skills – some kids freeze up at the thought of writing. If they can learn the structure of a good paragraph, essay, book report, that’s the first step. If he/she gets stuck you can have him/her talk out the topic, then write it down, or insert humor to loosen up the process. Often humor is appropriate and encourages creativity. Brainstorming ideas before deciding what to write is another strategy.

• In helping my children write, I often encourage them to use the computer. They enjoy editing (cutting and pasting) and are less hesitant to write if they know that they can delete something. If it’s okay to help them, I sometimes highlight parts that don’t sound right and encourage them to say them out loud, and then find another way to say it so that it sounds better.

Irene Gutmann, LMSW is an academic coach working with teens and college students to improve their grades. She also coaches women entrepreneurs. She can be reached at,, or (845)357-4191. Irene coaches students by telephone.

Author's Bio: 

Visit to receive the free mini-course “The 7 Worst Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Avoid Them!) and find instant answers to 17 common parenting problems. Toni Schutta is a Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist with 15 years experience helping families find solutions that work.

Visit to receive the free mini-course “The 7 Worst Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Avoid Them!)

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